POLARISATION IN AMERICAN POLITICS AND SOCIETY.

POLARISATION IN AMERICAN POLITICS AND SOCIETY.

Jonathan Myers.

The thesis is submitted to University College Dublin in part fulfilment of the

Requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in American Politics and Foreign Policy.

The Clinton Institute for American Studies.

August 2017.

ABSTRACT.

With the mobilisation of the far right in opposition of social liberalism, American society has become extremely polarised. Economic liberalism has reigned supreme since the fall of the Soviet Union. It has created a global economy that is ever evolving. With this evolution comes collateral damage in the form of unemployment and an unskilled workforce as heavy industry jobs were shipped overseas for cheaper labour. This workforce have been marginalised and are now the voices in the wilderness. They found a voice in a most unusual leader. That unusual leader was Donald Trump, whom has used this unique position to centre himself as the savour of the working classes. With his use of social media and especially twitter, Trump delivered his divisive campaign directly to the public and bypassed traditional media outlets. The working classes banded around a Trump campaign in the 2016 presidential election that saw Trump beat of Hilary Clinton to claim the presidency. Trumps success is owed to the risky busy of economic liberalism, which has created the environment to allow anger and disillusionment to grow. This anger festered in society and was used by the far right to further its agenda. The only way to quell this polarisation is by implementing a set of strict election rules that limit campaign donations by individuals and corporations. The media must play a larger role in elections by allowing all major candidates and parties to participate fully in the democratic process, which would see their full inclusion in all debates. The two main parties in the United States, the Democratic and The Republican Parties have hijacked the democratic process along with the far right. This must change.

Polarisation in American Politics and Society.

Across Western societies, we have seen a polarisation of politics in recent years, with the far right regaining credibility in democracies where such ideas and political programs had largely been marginalized since the end of the Second World War.

Following the election of Obama in the United States, with his administration’s strong liberal social agenda at home and a multi-lateral and free trade agenda abroad, for a while it seemed as if the Republican Party might be in terminal decline, such was its lack of cohesion and the inability of the Republican establishment to control the rise of movements like the Tea Party and other developments to the right of centre of the political spectrum.

Obama’s first presidential campaign made extensive and effective use of new social media, which bypassed main stream traditional news media outlets and communicated its message directly and unedited to an ever growing, personal media savvy electorate.

By the end of the eight years of the Obama presidency, the organised political far right, both within and at the margins of the Republican Party, had come to understand and make effective use of new social media in its political campaigning. It can be argued that the success of Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential campaign owed much to his exploitation of this form of direct communication with the electorate and doing exactly what Obama had done and bypass traditional news media outlets.

Trump understood and aligned himself to the voices in the wilderness, from a political establishment perspective, which was essentially anti liberal social agenda at home and the globalist economic agenda of the Obama administration. Trump had created a populist platform for himself.

Trump espoused an anti-gun control, anti-sexual equality rights, anti-prochoice on abortion, and anti-international trade agreement agenda, with the last of these being seen to have resulted in the loss of millions of American jobs in the heavy industry sector of the economy over the preceding decades and in particular since the realignment of global trade rules following the end of the Cold War in the 1990s.

Trump surprised and shocked the political and media establishment in the United States and internationally by successfully taking this route to the Republican Party nomination for the presidency, and by building from there to win the presidency itself with an unprecedentedly divisive campaign strategy.

Donald trump is now just six months in the White House, where his advisors and federal government appointees are largely drawn from the ranks of his campaign supporters. His inner circle includes individuals such as Steve Bannon, who was chief executive of Breitbart News LLC. Breitbart News is an online news organization that has advocated anti Muslim and anti-immigration policies. They have published articles denying the reality of global climate change and has given media time to conspiracy theorists such as Roger Stone, Alex Jones and Donald Trump himself.

When we analyse what has made politics in the United States so polarised, we must examine a number of factors to get the bigger picture. Factor one: We must first examine the rise of the far right into mainstream politics from the time of the Ku Klux Klan from the civil war. Factor Two: Examine the economic system in the United States and how it was liberalised. Creating a riskier financial system that is more susceptible to recession. This system has created a divide between the rich and poor. Factor Three is the creation of new media platforms and how easily accessible information and disinformation are and how they are shared. Factor Four: The political rise of real estate tycoon and reality TV celebrity Donald Trump and how he became the President of the United States.

In the United States today, both main political parties, The Democratic Party and The Republican Party find it difficult to compromise on most issues, if not because of political differences then in spite of the each other. The American people find their democratic institutions in gridlock for most of the time unless one party finds itself to be a cohesive majority. A majority that would allow that party to ram through legislation with little or no consultation from other representatives. However, not all majorities are cohesive as seen on the 28th of July 2017 with the slim health care policy[1]. When the Republicans failed, not for the first time to repeal and replace Obama’s health care known as the affordable care act[2].

In past elections, the main candidates would never steer too far from the centre ground. Previous candidates would advocate their policies, be them restrictions on abortion or gun control[3]. If a candidate were to run a campaign platform advocating an extreme policy shift, they would lose traction with the public, as in the 1990’s when most voters would be mixed between conservative and liberal views, depending on the topic but this statistic has shifted in the last number of decades.

There are a number of factors but one main factor is that the middle class in the United States was growing and the middle did not want that to change so they voted for low taxes and less spending by the government. They do not vote for extreme ideology, they did not like when politicians offer policies that could alter their growing middle class lifestyles. This would mean that politicians would be kept to the centre, no extreme ideas would be triumphant during an election, and candidates would keep their platform within some boundaries[4]. These limitations on policy extremes give a perception that candidates agree on some policies. This has served American politics well for a number of years[5].

When two candidates square off in a presidential election, whom do you pick when both have similar policies and the media fails to represent the other candidates outside of the Democratic and Republican parties? The American system is well known for its two party system but in reality, it has more than two. In the 2016 Presidential election, there were four main parties running candidates. The Republican and Democratic Parties were the two main establishment parties. On the outside, there was The Libertarian Party with Gary Johnson as its presidential candidate and The Green Party lead by candidate Jill Stein. The Libertarians and The Green party took in excess of 5 million votes. Jill Stein took over one million and Gary Johnson took over three million votes. Some of the reasons for the low vote share is down to poor media coverage of the third part candidates and their exclusion in the televised debates. In the United States as in most democracies, there is a rule that a candidate must have a certain percentage in the polls to be included in debates; in this case, Johnson and Stein required 15%[6].

There are times of bipartisan politics. This occurs when there has been a national tragedy like the tragedy that occurred on September the 11th. This was the date that commercial airlines were used to attack the United States. Two planes hit the World Trade Centres in Manhattan, New York. Another plan hit the Pentagon and the fourth planes crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Following these attacks, 98 senators and 420 house representatives voted in favour of joint resolution 64. Joint resolution gave the President of the United States, authorisation to use military force against any nation, organisation or person that planned or aided in the attacks on September the 11th. In total, 13 officials, 2 senators (2 not voting) and 11 representatives (1 nay and 10 not voting) did not vote for it[7]. When it comes to divisive policies on health care, gun control or the Supreme Court nominee, you will see a partisan congress (reference).

Politics in the US has become polarised because of varied influences. This influence has come in the form of media bias. This research will aim to demonstrate why American politics has become so dysfunctional, drawing on the rise of the far right into mainstream politics, the liberalisation of the American economy since Reagan in the 1980’s, the advent of new media and technology, the rise of Donald Trump and the extreme shift in the Republican Party.

My main sources will be from the media as my research is very contemporary and developing. Scholarly research, economic data for the economy and other relevant data for detailing the growth of the far right and how the media has grown and is utilised in today’s modern society.

  1. Chapter 1. The Rise of the Far right from the American Civil War.

Right wing politics and political polarisation is nothing new to American society. America itself was thrust into a civil war because of political differences. These differences varied from the institution of slavery, the sovereignty of the states and the power of the federal government. James McPherson in his book The Mighty Scourge said that there are a number of reason to why America went to war with itself. These reasons range from opposing the emancipation of slaves, which would result in the gutting of free and cheap labour in the southern economy. The view in the Southern States at the time of secession, they would tell you that it was because of the federal government interfering in the sovereignty of the States[8]. The view in the industrial north, they would suggest that it was about slavery and abolishing it from the territories of the United States.

As free black slaves began to express their new freedoms and rights, they were met with opposing forces. The forces would become known as the Ku Klux Klan and would dominate the far right movement for the next century and a half. The far right are an array of groups that range from the Ku Klux Klan, white nationalist and the alt-right. The Ku Klux Klan can be traced back to post-civil war America during its reconstruction period. Time when likeminded people came together to oppose and stop freed black slaves from exercising their newfound rights. The government of the day brought in new acts to stop the violence on black people. These acts would remain throughout the continuation of the reconstruction period[9]. The acts known as the Enforcement Acts were first introduced in 1870[10], the Second Enforcement Act, introduced in February 1871[11] and the Third Enforcement Act was introduced in April 1871. These acts stopped people from gathering on public highways, other premises and wearing disguises in public. Today these acts would be seen as regressive in terms of civil liberties but necessary at the time to stifle the growth of the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan rose once again in the 1920’s and 1930’s to not only oppress and violently attack black people but to attack Catholics, Jews, non-whites and immigrants. This was an expansion on their previous stance during the civil war reconstruction period.

The Ku Klux Klan grew hugely during these periods to have millions of members across the United States[12]. In the book, The Concise Untold History of the United States, Oliver Stone and Peter Kuznick mention that the Klan grew three to six million members between 1920 and 1925. People from working class and middle class backgrounds would have been members of Klan lodges and would have participated in local events and festivals.

The Klan, like many extremist groups around the world, opposed social liberalism and held religious devotion at the centre of its organisation. The Klan like most of the far right have this belief that non-whites and other religious groups were less and therefore will never be the dominant group in American society.

As is the case with most extreme organisations that are born out of fear, they subside after a period. The Klan that had seen significant growth in the 1920s based on the premise that foreign ideologies and people would enter the United States and the White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) would become the minority. When this fear was not realised the popularity and the membership of the Klan began to subside. Along with this unrealised fear, the American economy began to boom after a prolonged recession that followed the end of the First World War. With the economy booming, people began to go back towards the political centre and leave the extreme margins of the far right for a more comfortable position closer to the centre.

The Klan would continue to exist but mostly in southern and rural areas of the United States. The fall in the membership of the Klan was compounded by the great depression of the 1930’s and the Second World War. In the 1960s, the Klan found a reason to publicly rear its head and grow its membership. It was in opposition to the civil rights movement, which was mobilising black Americans around the country to take a stand and fight for their rights and desegregation. The Klan became extremely violent again and many murders, lynching and bombings of churches and homes occurred all across the Deep South. The black community was victorious in securing the civil rights act under Lyndon B Johnson, although developed initially with the John F Kennedy administration. This made desegregation illegal and yet the struggle continues today in practice (fix).

  • The Alternative Right

The far right today, consisting of the alternative right for short known as the alt-right. The alt-right is a diverse group of people whom oppose social liberalism and traditional conservatism. They represent what the Klan represented, white nationalism or rather, American nationalism. As I mentioned above, the far right now want the United States to have a smaller presence around the wold in terms of foreign policy, they oppose trade deals, open immigration, climate change policies to curb CO2 in the atmosphere and political correctness. They also have a hatred for the federal government and authorities’ associated with the federal government.

This group of people have been on the margins of American society with very little mainstream coverage. They have come to prominence in the last 10 years following the recession in 2008 that saw the global economy collapse with millions of people in the United States losing their jobs and their homes. This event stirred up a lot of anger towards the establishment and polices of the establishment. As with past events of a similar nature, extreme right and extreme left wing ideologies gain significant momentum in such circumstances.

The alt right have been a quiet and small group in the United States. They are founded on European nationalism and white supremacy. Donald Trump’s campaign slogan is ‘make America great again’ eluding that the America’s best days are in the past. The Alt-Right are against political correctness, which is seen a force in American culture today. Going against political correctness is one reason why young right wing individuals support the Alt-Right and why they are so prominent online.

The events that would take place between 2008 and 2016 would be unpredictable and shocking. High unemployment around the world, large cuts in public services like health care, unemployment benefit, millions of home repossessions, a significant increase in the number of suicides and depression. These financial crises tear apart the fabric of society. From a necessary element, jobs and educational needs are provided to maintain a cohesive and stable social society.

To summarise, the rise of the far right can be traced back to the civil. Their ideology has remained very much the same since then. Some elements oppose the federal government, most are racist and religion plays a big part in their groups. These groups find popularity during periods of crisis and instability. They found that following the 2008 recession and they found it again during the 2016 presidential election.

  1. Chapter 2. Reaganomics and the Creation of Division in American Society.

Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980 and set out to liberalise the American economy. His form of economic policy can otherwise be known as a neoliberalism drummed up by Washington based organisations like the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. A market based idea to free up the government from social expenditure and allow a bigger input by the private sector in a less regulated and a more liberalised economy. This was the start of a policy that allowed money to move through a less regulated economic system.

As these new policies created a new middle class, Americans were happy to support this new liberalised low tax economy. The United States was entering a new period of economic liberalism. This was the beginning of a labour shift, away from heavy industry toward an economy were you could make money from money[13]. This is known as creative destruction, a way one mode of production replaces another mode of production, a phrase coined by economist Joseph Schumpeter[14]. This saw the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs for working class people whom were making a good income at the time.

As Americans adopted to a new kind of wealth, the Democrats began to move to the centre from the left and the Republicans began to move from the right to the centre. When it came to elections, politicians began to have similarities and not much separated them except for the usual issues; the Democrats favoured big government: a strong federal government. The Republicans favoured a small federal government with more powers to the States. Other contested issues centred around spending on social programmes and higher taxes under a Democrat administration as oppose to lower taxes and spending cuts under a Republican administration. One thing they all supported was a neoliberal agenda[15].

Two-term president Bill Clinton in the 1990s lead the Democrats to the centre of the political divide and was very cautious in policy, not to alienate the more conservative wing on the Democrats Party and to appeal to Republicans. Bill Clinton had a relatively balanced approached. He increased taxes on those with incomes over $115,000[16]. He also cut spending on welfare and the length of time a person can collect welfare[17]. This cut lowered the number of welfare recipients from 12.2 million in 1994 to 4.5 million in 2004[18]. This to me suggests an approach of a centrist politician: increase your taxes but balance that with a decrease in social program spending to keep the conservatives happy. Bill Clinton reduced financial regulation to allow money to move round. He also repealed Glass-Steagall, an act that kept separate commercial and investments banks following the great depression.

Clinton introduced the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which allowed banks, insurance companies and investments banks to merge[19]. Raegan, Bush senior and Bush junior would be advocating for these policies, but for a Democrat to do so represented a big step into the center of the political divide. This change in the Glass-Steagall act would play a major part how banks and investments banks operated in the 2008 financial crash that would not only shake the foundation of the Washington consensus but also put a lot of strain on the European Union project.

Following the 2008 financial crash, far right and far left parties gained significant ground. In Greece, far left party SYRIZA came to power in 2015. In Spain the political party Podemos, founded in 2014, in response to mass protests against inequality and corruption[20]. Other major developments would be the rise of the far right nationalist party in France under Marian La Pen who now led the National Front. The main issues facing the European Union was the possible break up and separation of states. In terms of the Greek debt crisis that rumbled on for years without resolution, Greece has remained a member of the European Union for now.

In 2015, in a general election in the United Kingdom, the leader of the Conservative Party David Cameroon offered the electorate a promise. If the electorate voted for the Conservative Party, he would hold a referendum asking whether the United Kingdom should remain as a member of the European Union or leave.

In June 2016, the British public went to vote in a referendum that would determine the future if the U.K. The results were, 51.9% to leave the European Union and 48.1% to stay[21].The main issue throughout the referendum campaign was how politicians, especially those on the right, stoked the fear of the public with inaccurate facts[22]. This was not only a shock for Europe but also for the Washington consensus, it relied on free trade and partnership between governments to allow the flow of trade and services. These events would continue as antiestablishment sentiment swept across North America and Europe.

The economic system has played a central role in the rise of extreme elements. With unfettered capitalism, the risk of an economic down turn is very likely. This increased risk brings the possibility of instability to our societies and creates the crisis and instability that allow extreme ideology to take root and grow.

  1. Chapter 3. The Media and New Technologies.

Over the past century, technology has revolutionised communications. We have progressed so far from the days of the telegram in the 1800’s. The first two way phone communication by Alexander Graham Bell in 1876. We had the first radio audio broadcast in 1906, the first public television transmission in 1928, electronic mail (e-mail) in 1971 and then came the big bang in communication; this was the creation of the World Wide Web in 1990.

The next big change in communication would come in the form of Facebook and similar social interaction web sites and smart devices. Smart devices are portable personal devices, a mix between a laptop and a cellular phone. These technologies can get instant alerts about breaking news, the weather and blogs posts. Individuals can do this while on the move and even broadcast their own thoughts about any subject and at any time. With the creation of these new technologies came a lot of positives and negatives. One positive is that people can now communicate instantaneously with one another regardless of where they are in the world.

Although we can now share all kinds of information between one another, inaccurate information can also be shared just as easily. By having billions of people connected, allows for easy sharing of these types of inaccurate information to go viral. A viral post is when a person posts a typed message, image or video publicly to a large audience and they forward that post themselves so even more people see it. This process continues and suddenly millions people have now seen what once began as a video seen by a small number of people. After this has happened, the post would be deemed viral.

Over the past number of years, the number of false and misleading stories that were shared online or digitally has exponentially increased. The Oxford Internet Institute demonstrates an example of this during the 2016 presidential election in the United States. The Oxford Internet Institute collected data between November 1st and November the 11th. The data was narrowed by attracting data that used political hash tags (example: #Clinton, #Trump). The Oxford Internet Institute collected 22 million tweets that were reduced down to 138,686 tweets from users who had put Michigan as their home state or city[23]. The report concludes that 46.5% of the news stories shared from November 1st-11th can be classed as propaganda based on its use of language[24]. Although the report avoids describing the news items as fake news, they do confirm that they are untrustworthy and unverified. To note, Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton were neck and neck in the polls up until the votes were counted. Trump was confirmed the winner in the State of Michigan with 47.3% of the vote beating Clinton’s 47% by just over 10,000 votes[25].

The numbers provided by the Oxford Internet Institute showed that Donald Trump had a more prominent presence online; I witnessed his presence on these online platforms far more than that of Hilary Clinton. The Oxford Internet Institute mentions that hashtags used In support of Donald Trump outperformed hashtags in support of Hilary Clinton by a ratio of 2:1 and that junk news, fake news, sensational and conspiratorial news were shared more than professionally researched political news and research[26]. This is not only due to the advancement of media and new technologies but extreme ideological ideas whose insemination has been enhanced by the development of new media platforms and a loss of trust in traditional institutions such as the media and the government.

In the days of Franklin D Roosevelt and his fireside talks, the nation would gather in their living rooms and listen to what he had to say on the radio. This was known as a shared experience. He spoke to them as if he were in the room with them. As an article in The Atlantic tells us, “when the world of Walter Cronkite gives way to the world of Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann—political leadership loses a consensus-building partner”[27].

The reason the nation loses that partner is because, rather than be critical and offer a number of perspectives on an issue; Glenn Beck and his likes would rather reinforce people’s predispositions. He would offer support for one side while demonising the other. He offers opinions on important issues that only compounds extreme ideology. Media bias in the United States is now a local issue. Fox News has local affiliate stations with local shows that are tailored to suit that local audience. David McKay notes in his book American Politics and Society, conservatives believed there was liberal bias in the networks created by big city intellectuals and snobs[28]. Ann Coulter in her book Slander created the argument that liberals lie about the American Right but Joe Conason refuted this in his book Big Lies: The Right Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth[29] and takes apart the argument.

The world has entered the age of tailored news. Shared experiences have become less of a norm. On Facebook and twitter, users can subscribe to follow people they like and ignore people they dislike. That means, a right wing or left wing individual can follow other similar minded right and left wing people and far right nationalists can follow other far right nationalists and never shall the two opposites meet online.

This is supported by research compiled by the Phew Research Centre. Their research demonstrates that in the United States consistent liberals and mostly liberal people would get their news from news organisations such as The Economist, BBC, ABC, NPR, CNN and more. As for Consistent Conservatives and Mostly Conservative would get their news from Fox News and local radio and TV shows[30]. By only reading and following similar minded people, an understanding of the opposition and the possibility for consensus is lost.

Fox News presenter Glenn Beck not only has the power of TV and Radio but he also has the power of social network, as did Donald Trump in Michigan. Glenn beck and others can send a tweet, free, to millions of people around the world. These people can read that tweet and believe it for what it says without the tweet being fact checked for its accuracy. Simple tweets now have as much of an impact on people as does TV and radio.

The positive side of platforms like twitter means, everyone can have a voice online and the audience has a choice of what people they wish to receive updates from. Sometimes, giving everyone a bullhorn results in many loud noises and no one is heard, truth and consensus are lost.

When we consider the advent of social media, twitter, the rise of polarising shows and their hosts, we can began to understand why America has become such a polarised society. When a small number large media corporations in the United States controlled most of the media and were the custodians of news and formers of opinion, the vast majority of the country would have read the same news, the same opinion and would have come to a similar perspective. According to a Business Insider article, six media corporations’ control 90% of what Americans read, listen to and watch[31]. These few media corporations own hundreds of local TV stations, radios stations, print companies and online news web sites. Although they control it, as they did in the past, they now have hundreds of local outlets like radio, t.v and print. A single individual now has the choice to choose from thousands of sources, local and national, conservative and liberal, trusted and untrusted and arrive at a perspective completely different form one another.

When we speak about the media, fake news and tailored news, we must discuss the bool Manufacturing Consent. Noam Chomsky and Edward Herman outlined in this book, that there are five filters which news goes through before the mass public get to see it.

  1. Media ownership: how the ownership of the media will bend the news to

support their own interest.

  1. Sources: The media rely on credible sources to produce their news and by relying on these sources; the media can be easily influenced by them.
  2. Funding – The mechanism for which the media makes its profits from is advertisement. Advertisement is key to the survival of the media. With such reliance on advertisement, this puts the advertisers in a strong position with a lot of influence.
  3. Flack is negative feedback. This feedback come in the form of complaints. This feedback affects the media if it comes from high-level people or organisations such as the government, advertiser and organised groups. This tends to further consolidate the power of these dominant sources[32].
  4. A common enemy is used to unite the citizens against that enemy. The September 11th attacks and the passage of joint resolution 64[33] is an exmaply of that. Since 2001 anti-terrorism has been public enemy number one but in the past year with Donald Trump’s election campaign and presidency, Russia has once again taken the top spot for the media, rightly or wrongly.

New technology and new forms of media has liberalised what news is shared, how it is shared and who sees it. Gone are the days of the shared experience listening to the same source and arriving at a similar perspective. There have been many positives with the advancement in technology but there has also been many negatives. We can communicate easier than ever today but fake news can be shared just as easily and is unfiltered and not checked for its accuracy. Thanks to research about media trends and their impact, there is now an active attempt to minimise the number of fake news stories on social media sites like Facebook[34]. This is an important step by Facebook, which now has over 2 billion active users[35].

  1. Chapter 4. The 2016 Presidential Election: The Rise of Donald Trump.

By 2008, the Global economy was on the brink of collapse. The American government had just approved an emergency bailout. The bailout covered major American Banks such as Goldman Sacks and real estate giants Fanny May and Freddie Mac. These companies had accumulated major losses due to a turn down in the housing market, which became inflated due to risky lending and over leveraged banks (glass-Steagall reference). The ordinary American citizen lost so much during this recession. Millions of people became unemployed, many homes repossessed and poverty levels had risen.

Between 2006 and 2007, the estimated poverty level was at 12%. By 2010, poverty levels had risen to 15%[36]. With such a large proportion of society affected, an anti-establishment perspective increased in the United States. Over the next number of years, the political class, the media and classical liberalism would come under extreme scrutiny, the people would lose faith in well-established institutions, and they would lose faith in globalism. During that period people who would have described himself or herself as both conservative and liberal were angered by globalism and the sort of global economy and society it has created that everyone wanted some kind of change that Obama was offering.

According to the World Bank, the economy of the United States retracted by -0.292% in 2008 a further -2.776% in 2009 and only began to grow again in 2010 when the economy grew by over 2.5%[37]. In January 2007, the unemployment rate stood at 4.6%, by October 2009 it had peaked at 10%[38]. This only added to the woes of classical economic Liberalism.

The 2008 Presidential campaign between Barak Obama for the Democratic Party and John McCain for the Republican Party was a hotly contested election. Barack Obama and his Vice Presidential Nominee Joe Biden would be victorious in the November election. Obama’s campaign, centred on the premise of change. Change was needed in the United States as the economy had taken a fall; millions of jobs were about to be lost and massive bailouts were requested by huge financial institutions but Obama took over a country that was now in crisis. The people were demanding change and activists and activism were starting to take root in American towns and cities. Classical liberalism, used as a way to tie people together to bring about peace through common interests was now tearing society apart.

Based on an article in The Guardian, there has been a hallowing out of the middle classes in American cities. In the article, they represent this hallowing out of the middle class with animated graphs. The graphs are of 20 major Cities in the United States and they show that, since 1970 up to 2015, wealth has moved away from the Middle classes and into the upper 20% percent of the population[39]. This meant that wealth had gone up and those previously in the middle were now moving toward the lower tiers of the working class brackets[40]. A they and we society was increasing in American society. That sentiment of them and us would carry forward to the 2016 presidential election.

The presidential election of 2016 and the anger from the disillusioned and disenfranchised citizens would rock the entire political establishment. For the Democratic Party, socialist candidate Senator Bernie Sanders was making waves while running a campaign that fought back against classical liberalism and offered a new way forward through socialism. He was campaigning against political heavyweight Hilary Clinton.

At the very beginning of the Democratic primaries, a few gave Bernie Sanders a fair shot and assumed Hilary Clinton had the nomination all but guaranteed. Senator Sanders not only ran a platform that many millennials agreed with but a platform that garnered a lot of support from a large section of the political left, the middle class and the working class. These voters gave Sanders not only the perception of becoming President but also the donations needed and the votes required.

All of Sanders fundraised money came from Individual donations. These donations gave the perception of the man of the people and raised his profile as a candidate who is not in the pocket of large corporations. Bernie Sanders would go on to win 23 of the 57 contests in the Democratic primaries, pulling in over 13 million votes compared to Hilary’s 16 million votes and 34 contest wins. Bernie Sanders had rocked the Democratic process by opposing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), he favoured Main Street over Wall Street, universal health care and many more changes. Hilary Clinton favoured everything that represented classical liberalism. As I mentioned above, people were angry about liberalism. That is why Bernie garnered so much traction in his opposition to it.

As with the old left resurrection in the Democratic Party under Bernie Sanders, the Republicans had begun a move to the far right many years earlier. It has been reported that the Republican Party is to blame for many of the problems in congress. In an article in the Washington Post, the authors note that the Republican Party has moved so far from the centre it makes it difficult for the political system to deal constructively with the country’s challenges[41].

John McCain in a speech on the 25th of July 2017 during a health care debate said, “Sometimes, I’ve let my passion rule my reason. Sometimes, I made it harder to find common ground because of something harsh I said to a colleague. Sometimes, I wanted to win more for the sake of winning than to achieve a contested policy…” This is precisely what the Republicans wanted. Large elements are will to drag The Republican Party to the far right to achieve this. They want to create an identity far removed from the centre and from The Democratic Party.

When winning an election, be it presidential, congressional or otherwise, the Republican Party have become the main opposition to well established political norms such as, affordable health care, equal rights and immigration. Although they still support capitalism, they now stand opposed to classical liberalism. A backlog in congressional hearings and nominations during the Obama administration was a tactic of opposition for the Republicans. An annual battle over the debt ceiling, a health system that is frequently used as a political football. Constant arguments and protests about the role of the federal government in society, abortion rights, same sex marriage, civil rights and voting rights have become so divisive that compromise is unlikely.

The aim for the Republican Party is to be perceived as a party that has something new to offer to the American people. Donald Trump’s election win was a game changer, not only because he beat Hilary Clinton, a former first lady and recent Secretary of State but also because he opposed everything Obama had stood to represent. He went further and stood in opposition to some of the policies that his fellow Republican candidates represented.

  • The Trump Campaign.

Trump was battling against all odds when he began his campaign in 2015. What he represented was an extreme version of the Republican Party. This extreme version of conservatism was welcomed by a broad church of people. It ranged from traditional republicans and extended to the far right. Those who have a liking for and would be considered members of the Ku Klux Klan, white nationalists, white supremacists, religious extremists and those who have been left behind by liberal economic policies.

Donald Trump’s campaign needed the backing and skills of some long time campaign organiser roger Stone. Roger Stone is a well-known political trickster and has worked as far back as the Nixon Campaign. Roger Stone is a unique individual. Stone has over four decades of political experience behind him. He has worked for many candidates, either running for Mayor or the White House. Stone, known widely for his political tricks, otherwise known as lies and disinformation.

Notable tricks include the use of the pseudonym Jason Rainier, who donated money to the Pete McCloskey campaign as the Young Socialist Alliance, and then sent the receipt of that contribution to the Manchester Union Leader to prove that Pete was a left-wing stooge[42]. Stone is a political operative, as much as he has a conservative ideology and libertarian leanings, his role in American politics has been about winning and to do so he has undermined political tradition and has used disinformation to undermine an oppositions campaign. These kind of political tactics create division and disconnect between the public and the democratic political system.

Stone has created his own rules, known as Stones Rules they are “Attack, attack, attack. Never defend,” “Admit nothing, deny everything, launch counterattack” and “Nothing is on the level”[43] It is these rules that have created a divisive political landscape. Playing by these rules mean candidates avoid questions, issues become second to political and personal spats and the entire process is turned into somewhat a reality TV experience. The American people miss truth and the integrity of the democratic process is called into questions.

The crisis in the economy in 2008 and the aftermath gave way to extreme elements in society but also gave many Republican a reason to mobilise and to stand in opposition to a President who was advancing a liberal agenda.

The conservative elements of society felt they were the voices in the wilderness and mobilised in 2016 in support of a president who opposed social liberalism but also insisted he was against economic liberalism abroad. Donald Trump was a populist president and offered up campaign slogans to an electorate that was listening. His main one line was American First and his main slogan was Make America Great Again. This gave Donald Trump a base to work form and advancement his agenda.

With the support of some conservative campaigners, a very divisive campaign emerged, with the support of conservative and far right Americans. This campaign propel led Donald Trump to the general election of November 2016.

  1. Chapter 5. Cause of disagreement. The Supreme Court.

In 2016, Antonin Scalia a revered, conservative member of the Supreme Court died. His death would catapult the Supreme Court back into the centre of politics. This was not some ordinary time in American politics; it was campaign season for the presidential election with an outgoing two term Democrat.

As we hear in political commentary, there are two main strands when it comes to the Supreme Court. The first strand would be socially liberal and the second strand would be conservative. A liberal leaning justice would be expected to make decisions in favour of access to abortion and in favour of same sex marriage. As a conservative judge would be expected to lean against access to abortion and lean against same sex marriage. These two issues are among a dozen hotly contested legal battles that play out in the Supreme Court from time to time.

These decisions can be influenced by how a justice views the constitution. There is originalism and non-originalism in terms of interpreting the constitution. Antonin Scalia interpreted the constitution in its original form and would go against decisions that he would deem not covered under the thinking of the signatories to the constitution. Non-originalism would allow for progressive thinking, like same sex marriage and abortion that was not envisaged in 1778.

There are a number of ways to change the dimensions of the judiciary. One way is to flip the balance of decisions to a liberal or conservative view. Another way is to change the structural absence of diversity. As mentioned in a New Yorker article by Jeffrey Toobin: Obama was more interested in diversity and allowing the courts to represent people who he felt had been underrepresented. Obama appointed more openly gay judges, more women, black, Hispanic and Asian judges. Obama actually went for structural change in the courts in terms of race, gender and sexual orientation. We can assume they were rather liberal as Obama was a Democrat but these structural changes offered more than just diversity, they offered new relatable faces to the court for those who come before it. They were more representative of the diverse American society of the 21st century.

In 2014 and 2015, Congress had used a tactic not new to Washington and that was to slow down Obama’s nominations as the Democrats lost control of the Senate following congressional elections. This would only be the start of a battle between both main parties. A battle that was not new but could be a huge game changer for decades to come. As I mentioned above, Justice Antonin Scalia died in early 2016. Obama had one year left in office. He would attempt to fill his constitutional obligation by nominating a judge to fill the empty seat in the Court. He done this with the knowledge that the Republicans would not entertain any nomination he made.

Obama’s nomination was a judge from the appeals court in the District of Columbia. His name was Merrick Garland. The Republicans were of course not keen and did not want Obamas nominee to succeed. Remember, this was election season and in 10 months’ time, there could be a Republican President-Elect. That would mean if a Republican wins the November election, they would not only nominate someone to fill Antonin Scalia’s seat but possibly one or two more seats in their four year term, fundamentally tipping the balance of the court. Two current justices of the Supreme Court are in their 70s and one in their early 80s. This would give a huge advantage to whatever political leanings that president had.

As the months rolled on, it was clear that Garland would not be confirmed as the new justice of the Supreme Court. This was a disaster for the house Democrats and the President. All hope of a socially liberal judge leaned on the hope of a Democrat winning the presidential election.

Following the November election, Republican nominee Donald J Trump would be victorious and triumph over Democratic nominee Hilary Clinton. This left Donald Trump the opportunity to appoint a justice to the Supreme Court. Trump and his advisors chose conservative leaning Neil Gorsuch. The Democrats said they would filibuster the Gorsuch vote. Filibuster is a tactic of prolonging talk to hold the floor of the house to disrupt the progression of legislation or confirmations. In response to this, the Republicans said they would use the an option known as the nuclear option to assure Neil Gorsuch was confirmed.

There is a rule that nominees to the court require 60 of the 100 votes, or two-thirds majority to be confirmed and Republicans only had a slight majority of two representatives, 52 in total. This is why the nuclear option was essential, as they would not be able to get the required 60 votes. The nuclear option would change the procedural rules and only require 51 votes for the confirmation.

On April 7th 2017, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed with a vote of 54 to 45. This brought to an end a bitter battle concerning this nomination. There would likely be more Supreme Court nominations in the four-year term of President Donald Trump that will see battles that are more divisive. The main battle could occur if a liberal leaning judge steps down and a Republican President has the opportunity to nominate and confirm a conservative leaning justice that would dramatically shift the court to the right. This would allow for challenges on some many issues ranging from abortion to Trumps most recent travel ban.

  1. Chapter 6. The Trump Administration and the Media.

Under the new Trump administration, the media have had a tough time. Throughout his campaign, Trump turned the crowd against the media. He constantly called them fake news. By doing this, Trump created a distrust in the big liberal media corporations. Since taking office he has continuously sent out tweets against CNN and calling other news items that are about him, his family and the administration all fake news.

A story emerged in July of a meeting that took place between Donald Trump Jr, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and a Russian Liar. Trump Jr released the email chain that related to this meeting. In support of his son, President Trump tweeted out “Hillary Clinton can illegally get the questions to the Debate & delete 33,000 emails but my son Don is being scorned by the Fake News Media? This is an attempt to undermine the reporting of Presidents Trumps administration.

Another example is this tweet which was sent out by Trump on July/12/2017 at 6:22am “Remember, when you hear the words “sources say” from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist”. These kind of tweets have been a weekly ritual of the President.

Trump has gone so far as to ban some media organisations from the White House press briefing room. The organisations banned were the ones that would offer up analysis and criticisms of the President, they included, The Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC and more. Those allowed entry to this gaggle event were conservative leaning organisations such as Breitbart, The Washington Times and more; Trump is trying to sideline and identify liberal media as fake and untrustworthy[44].

Since Trump has come to office, one of his main policy promises was to introduce a ban on immigrants entering the United States. Since January 2017, Trump introduced two executive orders to ban people from seven Muslim majority countries[45]. These countries were Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen.

To note, all of these countries have somehow fallen into the cross hairs of the United States. In Syria, the United States are involved in the civil war, backing opposing forces to President Assad. The US was and still is involved in Libya following the overthrow of Gaddafi and the no fly zone in 2011. In Yemen, Saudi Arabia are involved in a war against Houthi government, in favour of the internationally recognised government of President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi.

The United States has carried out drone strikes and supplied resources to the Saudi effort. The US and Iran have a long-term feud. Donald Trump is asking for more sections is pushing this feud to old levels not seen for a number of years. This travel ban can be seen as a policy based on race but also an attempt to stop refugees seeking a safe haven in the United States, a country that has contributed hugely to the aftermath the refugees find themselves in.

The first travel ban, halted in part thanks to a case being ruled against by a federal court in Washington State, along with other cases around the nation[46]. The case put a temporary restraining order on major parts of the travel ban. This was a major loss for Trump as a win for liberals. The second travel ban was very much based on the same idea with some language tidied up but that also was defeated in Hawaii and other appeals court[47].

In the latest development of the Trump travel ban, the Supreme Court partially allowed the ban to come into effect for the 90 days and said that it would review the case in the fall to make a decision on it. The court made an exception for persons with bona fida relationships in the United States. A federal judge in Hawaii challenged the definition of this and expanded it to include grandparents and other extended family members[48].

The courts have been a thorn in the side of the Trump administration and demonstrated why appointing judges who are politically aligned with you is of extreme importance. That is why Neil Gorsuch has been the only major win for Donald Trump since he had become President.

Other notable failures of Trumps populist platform was to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obama care. This attempt has failed to reach the requisite votes in the Senate on a number of occasions.

In June of 2017, President Trump withdrew the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement[49]. This was an attempt to please his voter base and to show that he was willing to restrict American Co2 emissions and would bring back heavy industry jobs to the United States as he had promised during his campaign.

  1. Chapter 7. Reform

Major reforms are required in the United States to decrease polarisation nationally. These reforms can be done by changing the rules to gerrymandering, campaign finance reform and media reform. Seth Masket, a professor at Denver University outlined a number of ways to alter political polarisation in the United States.

Here is a list of some ideas that Seth Masket considers for reform. He takes into consideration the merits, feasibility, and cost of each. He considers the possibility of reforming all of the following: Primary elections. Congressional redistricting and gerrymandering. Media coverage and analysis of congressional elections. Members’ social networks (meeting with colleagues from the other major party). Earmarks and awarding of federal spending outside normal budgeting processes. Barring fringe candidates. Ranked choice voting. Campaign finance[50].

Masket first defines that a party Is an assortment of people ranging from “…donors, interest groups, officeholders, candidates, even some media officials—working together to advance a set of policy goals by controlling party nominations and winning elections.”[51] This creates a bad perception of parties and those actors that are involved because there are some many interests being pursued.

One of the key factors that Seth Masket points to is the lack of a clear party leader. He explains how Rush Limbaugh holds as much influence over the Republican Party and whom it nominates even though he holds no position in government or in the Republican Party[52][53]. Rush Limbaugh is a Radio and TV host who has an estimated audience of 20 million people. It is this combination of firebrand commentary, conservatism and large audience that give Rush Limbaugh the influence he holds today.

  • Baring Fringe Candidates.

Another example of reform that Masket suggests is to raise the barriers that potential candidates must pass before registering. This could prevent fringe candidates from contesting in the election. He suggests the possibility of raising the fees candidates need to pay when registering or increasing the number of signatures required. As part of the required signatures, Masket also suggests a geographical component. Potential candidates would not only need a certain number of signatures but they need to be from all districts or zip codes. This could certainly help to eliminate fringe candidates.

  • Campaign Finance Reform

How do you counter political polarisation? What steps can be taken to try to find compromise or soften people’s extreme views? The best way to counter political polarisation is to reform the very systems that influence it and insist on discussion and debates between all parties involved.

These influences, as mentioned in previous chapters, come from the media and financial contributors. Following a ruling by the Supreme Court in favour of Citizens United in 2010, which allowed for independent political expenditure[54]. Independent political expenditure allows corporations to support a candidate in an election by funding advertisements and other means.

As candidates need to raise money to fund their campaign and party this puts them in a very vulnerable position. Party members who can raise a lot of money hold a lot of influence in their party. This means that those who make large donations in turn also hold a lot of influence and those who donate a lot of money can control the nominating process as mentioned above. That is why you see organisations or individuals donating vast sums of money toward a campaign or candidate. It is because a campaign or candidate supports a policy that benefits the contributor.

Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino tycoon has supported right wing conservatives for a long time. Between 2012 and 2016, Adelson donated over $93 million in soft money to super PAC’s[55]. This sort of financing is done indirectly of the candidate’s campaign and gives Adelson a lot of influence of which candidates can run and the resource they get. As for small contributors, like the average citizen, they can never have such influence on a policy, a candidate, the campaign or the party of affiliation. The reason this money matters is that to run an election in the United States it now costs billions of dollars. In the 2016 and in the 2012 presidential campaign, the combined spend for both elections supposed $4 billon. According to data presented by CNN and filled by the Federal Elections Commission, the total spend during the 2016 presidential campaign was over $2 billion. Of that, $1.4 billion was spent by Hillary Clinton and just under $1 billion for Donald Trump[56].

What is now required is reform. Reforming who can contribute and how much they can contribute. As with other countries in Europe as is in the Republic of Ireland, strict rules dictate campaign financing. To look at the financing of our own political elections here in Ireland, an article in the Irish Times details how Irish elections are financed. Donations to parties are limited, individual donations and corporate donations. The parties are funded through a mostly pubic system. Individuals can donate €2,500 per year no more[57]. If an individual donates more than €1,500, they must disclose it[58] if the donation is less than €1,500 they do not need to disclose it. Corporations are limited to €200 per year[59]. A similar cap on donations should be introduced in the United States. Although a limitation on campaign funding will not stop polarisation as Seth Masket says, it could worsen polarisation, and although it may produce other positive results, it is fruitless[60].

  • Gerrymandering

Although it is not a main theme in this research, Gerrymandering has been a tool used, not only the United States but also around the world to redraw constituency lines to help a candidate win. Constituencies have been altered down party or ideological lines, guaranteeing an election win for candidates in that constituency and in turn, they do not need to compromise on their views to appeal to a broader electorate[61]. There needs to be strict rules on gerrymandering so politicians are required to take into account the views of a broader electorate.

Conclusion.

The rise of the far right and especially the Ku Klux Klan can be traced back to the American civil war and their opposition to freed black slaves. The Ku Klux Klan were a violent racist group formed from the days of the reconstruction period in hatred to black people. The Klan developed into a more broad church and began violently attacking people of other religions and affiliations.

Over the early decades of the 20th century, the Ku Klux Klan rose in membership. As they century wore on, the Klan declined and was survived in rural America. They rose again to prominence in the 1960s in opposition to the civil rights movement. Then came the 21st century and a new form of extreme right was emerging, known as the alternative right or Alt-Right. This group would play a major role in the nomination of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

Following the end of the Cold war, a void remained in the global economy. This void was filled by the Washington consensus, which had dominated American economic policy home and abroad. The Washington Consensus is a set of economic policies that liberalised the economy. The neoliberal policies that had taken off in the United States under Ronald Raegan in the 1980s and in the United Kingdom under Margret Thatcher were a new form of economic policies.

Europe was a capitalist society but after the end of the Second World War. Europe became a region that believed in providing the basic needs of those who are unable to provide for themselves to aid in the recovery. It was capitalism with a social security net. As neoliberalism took hold around the world, trade deals between countries and between regions were being signed. Liberalising the economy, altering working conditions and dismantling the power of trade unions.

Manufacturing and heavy industry jobs left the United States through the 1980s and the 1990s, leaving many people unemployed and unprepared for the new modern economy. As those in Washington were pushing these neoliberal policies, the American people were being marginalised and angered. Not only those on the far left opposing this sort of economic liberalisation, but also those on the right. They were directly affected, they were the workers who were employed in the heavy industry and whose jobs were shipped overseas.

Throughout the last 10 years, the far right and conservatives have been mobilising in opposition to social liberalism. Exacerbated by the extreme wing of The Republican Party and extreme elements of the media, including but not limited to Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones and Glen Beck. With the predispositions of these citizens, compounded by local news shows added with new technology and new forms of media platforms, polarisation has increased in part because of tailored news and the vast array of choice. People can now choose where they can source their news.

Steve Bannon and Alex Jones, to name two, are right wing extremists who have their own form of media outlet. Bannon as a former head of Breitbart News and Jones who hosts a show called Info Wars. Bannon now occupies a role in the Trump administration bridging the extreme right to the most powerful office in the world. Alex Jones sits in front of a camera shouting about politicians and the policies they represent. Enraging the left and moderate while his kind of show only adds to the problem of polarisation.

This research attempted to explain and demonstrate why American politics and American society has become so polarised. In the previous chapters, I explained the short history of the far right and how the new Alt-Right has become popular. This was matched with the liberalisation of news and media through the advancement in technology. I demonstrated how this media is used to communicate directly with voters and how it was utilised in the 2016 presidential election. This direct communication has side-lined and undermined traditional news outlets. While at the same time, the liberalisation of the economy and the set of economic policies that has made the economy more vulnerable allowed extreme ideologies to grow in the midst of crisis. The result is a more divided and polarised society.

Major reforms are needed in the economic system. The idea that no other system other than unfettered capitalism can thrive is a narrow way of thinking and will only exacerbate polarisation in the decades to come. Politicians need to be more open minded and progressive, not only in social liberalism but also in terms of economic thinking.

Media reform for me is a major candidate for reform. If elections were covered fairly and in a balanced way, then the voters could be better informed about all parties, polices and the candidates who are running in the elections. When ideologues tune into their local or national news broadcaster, they will see a mix of shows but they will go to the show that agrees with their beliefs and political ideology. This will only reinforce their one sided thinking.

One national broadcaster could televise all the debates and offer a more balanced coverage on the election, the candidates and their parties. Bringing back the shared experience that has been lost. Third and fourth party candidates find it difficult to reach the required 15% polling numbers to be included in debates; this number should be lowered to cater for that fact. Another way to include candidates in the election debates is to implement an automatic inclusion clause if the candidates are registered in all states or be registered in enough states to win the Electoral College majority[62]. This means, those candidates who have the means to run an election and register should have just as much inclusion as those candidates running for the two major parties.

To bring to a close my research, polarisation in the United States has been exacerbated by the media, technology, campaign financing, and self-interest and outside influence. Media personalities play a major role in polarisation. They no longer require the need of large corporations for airtime thanks to the creation of new media and technologies that have liberalised and individualised the entire sector. The only way to reduce polarisation is to impose reform on the media and the political process. An examination must take place on all parts and how they interact with one another in the political economy and the reforms that Seth Masket outlined in his paper need to be considered.

In Seth Masket’s paper, he finishes off my telling us that, although some of the reforms he mentions may bring about moderate change in terms of decreasing polarisation but that the problem with polarisation runs deep in American society. Reforms and restrictions are the only way to begin to change this deep issue. A moderate decline in polarisation is still a decline.

Masket finishes the paper by saying “…we might do well to remember that polarized parties serve a valuable function in a democracy, offering stark policy choices, providing critiques of ruling administrations, and imbuing elections with meaning”[63].

Although this paper is focused on political polarisation, it is also worth remembering that the other extreme of polarising politics is parties that are too similar to one another. A strong democracy requires a strong opposition party or parties. Just as The Democrats and The Republicans had moved closer to the centre throughout the 1990s and mid 2000’s, they ignored those voices in the wilderness that clambered for an alternative and were ignored. Now the United States finds itself with a polarised political landscape and a divided society.

A strong democracy can only thrive when everyone participates in the political process and is invested. This can only occur so long as the system itself is clear of outside influences with strict restrictions on lobbying and full transparency on election financing.

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The Push to Establish. 

College

It’s near the end of September and I think this will be a good time to update you on where I’m at. I have just begun my postgraduate studies in the University College Dublin at The Clinton Institute in American politics and foreign policy. It is an unbelievably fascinating course, especially the classes on which I learn about the foundation of American political tradition and the foundation of American foreign policy. It gives me a much better understanding of the American psyche and why you always hear about American exceptionalism.

As it is September, that means I’m back coaching rugby. It just kicked off and we have played two games, one was a cup and the other was a league game. We have lost both games, although we have greatly improved game after game. We have narrowed our losing margin and improved our overall team performance an

http://365.worldrugbyshop.com/how-to-customize-your-team-rugby-ball/

d individual player development which is always a great thing. We are going into our second league game this weekend against an old rival and we hope that we can get together this week and put in a good win and propel ourselves up to the top of the league. We know that the months ahead will get dark, cold and wet and these are the tough months, they require a certain type of commitment and without that commitment these months can easily become the worst months of the season. If we can fight through these months with a number of wins, it will set us up very well for the new year.

Other updates…

Book 1 – I\m Just about to begin reading ‘George C Herring: from colony to superpower’ it’s a required reading for my studies.

Book 2 – Noam Chomsky, Imperial Ambitions Which I have being reading on and off over the summer.

Thanks for reading, liking and sharing. I’ll try follow up with a mid October post.

Latest Update

Finally!!!! after one year doing my portfolio and three more years in the National College of Art and Design, my undergraduate studies are now complete.I am now a holder of a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) in Fine Art.

My next step is to go to the University College Dublin and study American Politics and Foreign Policy. As far back as I can remember I have had two major interests, the first is art and the second is politics. I decided that I would study both, my undergraduate in Art and my postgraduate in Politics.

So here I am, looking for some opportunities in employment that will cater for the flexibility that the postgraduate requires. Ideally the work would be relevant but sure you can’t ask for too much. I had an interview for a job yesterday and now I have to wait to hear back. I just hope I can take it and mange my postgraduate studies and the job together, otherwise I’ll be screwed.

Wish me luck.

My Thesis.

This is my Thesis. Please have a read and share. Thanks

 

Contents

Illustrations                                                                                            4

Introduction                                                                                           5

 

Chapter One

1.1 An introduction to Alfredo Jaar.                                                 6

1.2 A short description of Installation and Conceptual Art.      7

1.3 A brief introduction to Socially Engaged Art.                            8

Chapter Two

2.1 A brief history of Rwanda, post-World War 1.                           11

2.2 The Rwanda Project (1994-2000).                                              13

2.3 Rwanda, Rwanda (1994).                                                            13

2.4 Untitled – Newsweek (1995).                                                       15

2.5 Real Pictures (1996).                                                                  16

2.6 The eyes of Gutete Emerita (1996).                                            17

 Chapter Three

3.1 Lament of the Images (2002).                                                      18

3.2 The Privatisation of Images.                                                       20

Conclusion                                                                                              23

Bibliography                                                                                           25

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Illustrations

Figure 1. Jaar, Alfredo. “Newsweek”. 2012.                                                 15

Figure 2. Jaar, Alfredo. “Newsweek”. 2012.                                                 15

Figure 3. Jaar, Alfredo. “Newsweek”. 2012.                                                 16

Figure 4. Jaar, Alfredo. “Real Pictures”. 2012.                                             16

Figure 5. Jaar, Alfredo. “The Eyes of Gutete Emerita”. 2012.                      17

 


Introduction

In this essay I will be giving a short introduction into installation art and conceptual art and how they can be a way to highlight global injustice in today’s world. I will explore Alfredo Jaar’s Rwanda Project 1994 – 2000 which developed as a result of his visit to Rwanda following the aftermath of the genocide in 1994, where it is estimated that nearly one million people had died. Contemporary society has become saturated with images and media files which are shared online through social media websites and instant messaging apps while real and credible news can become tainted by disinformation and amateur journalism. I will examine how Alfredo Jaar presented an alternative representation to the dominant media imagery of the genocide, his art work highlighting global injustice in a word saturated with imagery.

 

Chapter One. 

In this chapter, I will introduce the artist then I will then outline the concepts behind installation art and conceptual art, where the form of Alfredo Jaar’s work can be situated. Lastly I will give a brief insight into the field of socially engaged art, and how it is a practice that positions social and political issues at its core with reference to artists Rick Lowe, Kristof Wodiczko, Jeremy Deller and What’s the Story? Collective 2007 – 2011.

1.1. An introduction to Alfredo Jaar

Alfredo Jaar is a Chilean born artist. He attended Instituto Chileno-Norteamericano de Cultura, Santiago in 1979 and Universidad de Chile, Santiago in 1981. He is currently based in New York City in the United States. Alfredo Jaar works in film, photography, installation art and community-based projects. His work crosses many boundaries and social issues, from famine, Americas hegemony, border issues and of course, his work in relation to the Rwanda genocide in 1994. Alfredo Jaar’s artistic practice takes the form of written statements, declarations, definitions and invitations.

My interest in Alfredo Jaar arose when I visited Berlin in 2011. Alfredo Jaar had work showing at, Kultur, Galerie Thomas Schulte, Berlin, Germany, while I was attending a conference on socially engaged art, where I presented past work from my involvement in a collective known as the What’s The story? Collective. During this trip, I personally became drawn to Alfredo Jaar, not just because of the way in which his work highlighted certain issues, but also because of the way he situated and presented it in a gallery space. The exhibition, which mainly took the form of installation, it was beautifully upsetting, the emotional impact, feeling justified and necessary without the need for images depicting death and war i.e. shock images.

1.2.      A short description of Installation and Conceptual Art. 

Installation art is defined as a broad term applied to a range of arts practice which involves the installation or configuration of objects in a space, where the totality of objects and space comprise the artwork…. (IMMA, 2015)

 An artist whose practice could be described as installation art is Carl Andre and his work Equivalents (1966), when removed from the larger work it is known as Equivalent viii (1972) commonly known as Bricks. This work consisted of 120 bricks, set out in a formation on the ground, layered as two levels with no adhesive. His work is sculptural, minimalists piece situated as an installation. It was purchased by the Tate Modern in London, received much criticism and many angry letters before it went on show. When the exhibition opened in 1972, although a controversial show, it brought in an audience that was radically mixed in reaction. His work is a sculptural, minimalist piece situated as an installation. Carl Andre is one of the founders of minimalism. Carl Andre seems to be concerned with space and raw material in their simplest form. In an interview on the financial times website with Julie Belcove, Carl Andre said ‘useless construction, and that is what sculpture was’. His work represented his life and who he was, it had no ‘secret meaning’ (Ft, 2013). but like much conceptual art, his work required the viewer to think beyond what as placed in the gallery.

Conceptual art refers to a diverse range of artistic practice from the late 1960s to the early 1970s, where emphasis was placed on the concept or idea rather than the physical art object…

…Artists sought the means to think beyond the medium-specific aspects of traditional art forms, such as originality, style, expression, craft, permanence, decoration and display… (IMMA, 2015).

Conceptual art traced back to the 1960’s, but also finds its roots in Dadaism, which was a literary and artistic movement born in Europe at a time when the horror of the first world war was going on. A group of artists, writers and intellectuals were upset that modern European society would allow the war to have happened so they protested by not participating in art and the art world. A very well-known example from this time is Marcel Duchamp’s fountain (1917) which was used, not for its practical use but as a means to challenge and raise many questions. What is art? Who decides what art is? These questions came to the surface when the Society for Independent Artists (to which Duchamp was a founder and member) when he refused to show the Fountain (1917) at the Grand central Palace on the opening night in 1917. While dadaism can be seen historically as key to conceptual and installation art history, it is also cited as an important movement of influence to socially engaged art.

1.3. A Brief Introduction of Socially Engaged Art.

The National College of Art and Design runs an MA in socially engaged art, describing it as ‘an artistic practice that requires a meaningful interaction with communities of place and/or interest and with broader social or political intentions at its core’ (NCAD, 2015). An example of socially engaged art is Rick Lowe’s work, Project Row Houses (1993) which is based in Houston’s Northern Third Ward in the United Sates. Project Row Houses (1993) was established to help revitalize the community that was and is ‘plagued by severe unemployment, early pregnancy, crumbling services and drug trafficking’ (Creative Time. 2013). Project Row Houses (1993) features in events organised by Creative Time, an organisation that engages and funds socially engaged art projects and works based on three core values ‘art matters, artist’s voices are important in shaping society, and public spaces are places for creative and free expression’ (Creative Time. 2015). Project Row Houses (1993) is just over two decades old. It is comprised of 22 houses, which houses a gallery, office space including exhibition space and residency space, a park and low-income residential and commercial spaces. It also provides residential spaces for young mothers and residency space for artists. Rick Lowe uses his strength in art to create a community of place who can participate, discuss, learn and bring about change.

Prior to my entry into NCAD, I was part of was What’s the Story? Collective (2007 – 2011), a project that could also be described as socially engaged art. The collective was an interdisciplinary group consisting of an artist, young adults and a youth worker based in Rialto, Dublin. The collective’s work was based on a collection of anonymous stories about power and powerlessness and took the form of live reading events involving An Gardaí Siochana, a six-week residency and exhibition, and the publication of a 24-page newspaper titled Policing Dialogues Review, which gave personal and analytical perspectives on the project. We also developed a training programme which is to be implemented as part of the induction course for future trainee Gardaí allocated to the Dublin South Central division. For me, this is a good example of socially engaged art practice in Ireland, which was led by the participants, highly political and resulting in agreements about policing specific neighbourhoods.

As with Project Row Houses (1993) and What’s the Story? Collective (2007 – 2011), artists such as Krzysztof Wodizcko and Jeremy Deller take on political and social issues in their work. Wodizcko’s public projection work, gives a voice to those who have been pushed to the margins of society like war veterans, homeless people and people of violence, examples: Hiroshima Projection (1999), Abraham Lincoln: War Veteran Projection (2012) and the Homeless Project (1988). While Jeremy Deller’s work Conversations about Iraq (2009) used a burnt out car to attract discussion about the Iraq war. The work travelled across the United States and was accompanied by an Iraqi citizen and an enlisted American Soldier. Again, art, dialogue, place and space, come together under what is often described as socially engaged art. It is my opinion that the work of Alfredo Jaar and in particular the Rwanda Project (1994 – 2000) can be described as socially engaged and conceptual art while also taking the form of installation art.

 


Chapter Two 

In this chapter I will introduce the context of Rwanda and the Rwanda genocide. I will introduce five art works, that form part of the Rwanda Project (1994 – 2000). The Projects will range from 1994 to 1996 starting with Signs of Life (1994), then onto Rwanda Rwanda (1994), Real Pictures (1996), Newsweek (1996) and The Eyes of Gutete Emerita (1996).

2.1. A brief history of Rwanda, post-World War 1.

During the First World War Germany lost possession of Rwanda and the territory was then placed under Belgian administration.  In the 1950s a time of decolonisation, tensions increased in Rwanda. On one side were the Hutu majority gaining momentum and resisting the democratisation was the Tutsi establishment on the other. In 1959 there was a violent uprising by the Hutu’s which resulted in the deaths of hundreds of people. Thousands of people were displaced and fled to the neighbouring countries. History states this was the start of the Hutu peasant Revolution lasting three years and leading to the end of Tutsi rule and increased ethnic tensions. Rwanda gained independence in 1962.

Following independence, exiled people in neighbouring countries staged attacks on the Hutu government leading to retaliatory attacks from the Hutu government. This violence lead to a large number of refugees. On October 1, 1990, the Rwandan Patriotic Force (A political and military group founded in Uganda, comprising mainly of exiled Tutsis) launched a major attack on Rwanda with 7,000 fighters. The government label all Tutsi people accomplices using their propaganda machine. Through the use of the radio, they spread rumours leading to increased ethnic tensions amongst the population. In 1993 a peace treaty was signed. Soon after the signing of the treaty, evidence emerged that elements of the Hutu majority were planning a campaign to exterminate Tutsi people and moderate Hutus.

On 6 April 1994, a plane carrying the presidents of Rwanda and Burundi was shot down. On that same day killings started in Rwanda, initiated by the presidential guard of the killings of Tutsi people. Roadblocks were established by Hutu militia and assisted by military personnel to identify Tutsi people. The ethnic killings were compounded by TV and radio in Rwanda which blamed the Rwandan Patriotic Force (RPF) for the plane crash that killed both the President of Rwanda and the President of Burundi. Following the death of the president, assassinations of both Hutu and Tutsi leaders took place. This continued with several weeks of violent massacres against mainly Tutsi and moderate Hutu people. A depleted United Nations force, inaction by the United Nations Security Council lead to many more deaths and a prolonged genocide. On 22 June 1994 the French led force authorized by the United Nations Security Council mounted a humanitarian mission. Killings in Rwanda continued until July 4 1994 when the Rwandan Patriotic Force took military control of the entire territory of Rwanda. It is now estimated that nearly 1,000,000 people were killed in the genocide and between ‘150,000 and 250,000 women were also raped’ (Un.org, 2015). Following the genocide during the trials in the mid to late 90s, the court also tried three media owners accused of using their respective media to incite hatred and genocide. The court convicted a suspect for rape as a crime against humanity and a crime of genocide, the first international court to do so.

2.2 Rwanda Project (1994-2000).  

In 1994 Alfredo Jaar visited Rwanda. He travelled to the capital Kigali. The city of Kigali was the epicentre of the genocide. Jaar began to collect stories from people. While collecting these stories he came across an old post office, the post office still had some postcards in stock so Alfredo Jaar bought up the remaining postcards, 200 or so in total. The postcards showed images of Akagera National Park which were taken by tourists in Rwanda. Using these postcards Jaar wrote the names of the survivors on the postcards like so:

JYAMIYA MUHAWENIMAWA

IS STILL ALIVE!

EMANUEL RUCOGOZA

IS STILL ALIVE!

CARITAS NAMAZURU

IS STILL ALIVE! (Signs of Life. 1994)

 

Alfredo Jaar then posted the postcards to a number of his friends and colleagues from a post office in Uganda on his way out, as the postal service in Rwanda was not in service this was the beginning of a piece of work that would become known as Signs of Life, (1994). Where Jaar was finding immediate ways to highlight the war that he was witnessing.

2.3 Rwanda, Rwanda (1994)

In Rwanda Jaar photographed everything wherever he went. This lead to a collection of over 3000 photographs at the end of his trip. While Jaar felt it was important to record everything in this way, he also felt compelled to capture the words and stories of people he met;

For me, what was important was to record everything I saw around me, and to do this as methodically as possible. In their circumstances a good photograph is a picture that comes as close as possible to reality. but the camera never manages to record what your eyes see, or what you feel at the moment. The camera always creates a new reality. I have always been concerned with the disjunction between experience and what can be recorded photographically. In the case of Rwanda, the disjunction was enormous and the tragedy unpresentable. This is why it was so important for me to speak with people, to record their word, their ideas, their feelings. I discovered that the truth of tragedy was in the feelings, words, and ideas of those people and not in the pictures. (Jaar, 2006)

 

The lack of imagery used his work RWANDA, RWAND (1994) was a direct result of how tough and photojournalistic the photographs were that he had taken in 1994 in Rwanda. In Malmo, Sweden, he was offered a number of light boxes around the city to display the images but declined to do so, instead he put in the words RWANDA RWANDA around the city. Jaar thought ‘A simple sign, in the form of an insistent cry, would get their attention’ (Jaar. 2006).

Jaar has mentioned in a video on Galerie Lelong website that ‘we have become numbed and they seem not to affect us anymore because we are producing billions of images every second and most of these images are not interesting’ (Galerie Lelong. 2006). That is evident today with the large number of refugees coming from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and North Africa. Thousands of images of hardship, riots at borders in Hungary and Death. One image gave a face to the refugee crises, young boy, Aylan Kurdi which was taken of him on a beach after his body had washed ashore in Turkey when his family made a journey across the Mediterranean to enter Europe. For a time, there didn’t seem to be many images coming through of the hardship the refugees faced but one could argue that the stream of images was so much that that they became blurred and unseen or as Jaar has said ‘…most of the images are not interesting’ (Galerie Lelong. 2006). Referring back to Alfredo Jaars work in Sweden with Rwanda Rwanda (1994), you can understand why he avoided the use of photojournalist images and instead refer to the simplicity of text.

2.4 Untitled – Newsweek 1995.

Figure 1. Newsweek. 1995

figure 1

Figure 2. Newsweek. 1995

Figure 2

Alfredo Jaar’s Untitled – Newsweek, Highlights the role of the media during the genocide and more specifically, the Newsweek magazine in the United States. The work which consists of the front page of the magazine over the period of the genocide. Below each image is a sentence or a short paragraph that tells the viewer what is happening in Rwanda at the time of the published magazine and it includes the death toll thus far. As the genocide continued, the death toll rose because of the failure of the international community to act. The lack of attention of the international community on Rwanda was reflected by Newsweek failing to inform their audience of the horrors in Rwanda, instead they continued to feed them celebrity related news and consumption lead articles. Figure 1 and 2 highlight the lack of coverage Newsweek gave to the genocide.

The magazine cover on the right (figure 3) was published

Figure 3. Newsweek. 1995

Figure 3

on August 1st, 15 days after the end of the widespread genocide, for which it is estimated that nearly one million people had been killed. Alfredo Jaar’s work brought into question the responsibility and ethical position of the media throughout he genocide, for which, similar comparisons can still be made this day with regards to current conflicts.   

2.5 Real Pictures 1996.

Figure 4 Real Pictures. 1996.

figure 4

In 1995, in the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago, Jaar displayed his images in a piece named Real pictures. It consisted of 60 images that represented the genocide. However, rather than showing images, he put the them in black boxes and stacked the black boxes one on top of another. By stacking the boxes in the installation. Jaar created a monument. On the top of each box, written in white was a description of the image that lay inside that box. The work created a non-image installation, that bears witness to what is impossible to present. When I previously saw this work in 2012 in Berlin I was taken aback by it. The hidden images were much stronger than I expected and as I read the descriptions on the boxes I was hit suddenly with strong emotions that made me incredibly frustrated and angered by what had happened nearly 20 years ago and the lives that were lost. The media in North America and Europe were highly criticised for their lack of coverage of the genocide. As Noam Chomsky said in his book how the world works ‘the general population doesn’t know what’s happening, and it doesn’t even know that It doesn’t know’ (2012. P. 78). This is exactly how the media corporations work.

2.6 The Eyes of Gutete Emerita 1996.

Figure 5. The Eyes of Gutete Emerita, 1996.

Figure 5

In 1996, Alfredo Jaar produced another powerful piece as part of his Rwanda Project (1994 – 2000). The piece is named: The eyes of Gutete Emerita. As you enter the space there is text on the walls telling you the story of Gutete Emerita. A very visual part of this piece are the thousands of images of Gutete Emeriti’s eyes, they are piled upon a white light table. It is said that the work has no narrative but rather it is the eyes of a survivor who has witnessed an unimaginable systemic ethnic cleansing. Gutete not only witnessed the murder of her fellow country men and women but also the murder of her husband and two sons. Talking about the recent acquisition of The eyes of Gutete Emerita (1996), Katherine Hart says ‘It is one of the most important works of art about war and violence that has been created in the last thirty years’ (2006). Jaar offers the viewer a moment away from the image saturated society and to see things differently by not showing war and violence. but instead he has stocked the imagination of the viewer and challenged their perceptions.


Chapter 3. 

In this chapter I will highlight the privatisation of historical images and the online saturation of images in contemporary society. Alfredo Jaar’s work which is titled Lament of the Images (2002) informs the viewer that many millions of images have become privatised. Images that have historical importance. Then I will talk about the way in which he has situated his work and how he offers an alternative.

3.1.  Lament of the Images (2002).

As chapter two shows, Alfredo Jaar’s refusal to produce media like images of horror has led to him turning the lens on what the survivor witnesses and the stories and experiences of those who are living through war. Another project of his that evidences this process is Lament of the Images (2002). In one room there are three dark panels with text written in white. The first panel informs the viewer of how

Bill Gates had purchased and archived historically important images, approximately 17 million images in 2001. As the text reads on the panel the collection includes images of the wright brothers in flight, JFK Jr saluting his father’s coffin, important images form the Vietnam war, and Nelson Mandela in Prison (2002).

The text continues near the bottom and mentions:

Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft owns two other photo agencies and secured the digital reproduction rights to works in many of the world’s art museums. ‘At present, Gates owns the rights to show (or buy) an estimated 65 million images’ the images are said to be buried in a vault in an old limestone mine in Pennsylvania in the United States. (Lament of the Images 2002)

The second panel is about Nelson Mandela and his time on Robin Island in prison. It is more specific, its information is about the prisoners and how they would be taken to the limestone quarry and made to work in the heat. The light from the sun and the brightness of the limestone lead to Nelson Mandela having damaged retinas and that ‘it had taken away his ability to cry’ (Lament of the Images, 2002).

The third and final panel goes into detail and explains that just prior to the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001, the United States had purchased all rights to satellite imagery of Afghanistan and neighbouring countries. The panel explains:

It produced an effective white-out of the operation, preventing western media seeing the effects of the bombing, and eliminating the possibility of independent verification or refutation of government claims (Lament of the Images, 2002).

On a digital audio recording in MOMA, Jaar explains what the work is about ‘let there be light, I want to see… (2002)’ as he continues Jaar is talking about truth and justice. He ends this sentence by saying ‘it is the absence of images’ (2002).

What we have here is Alfredo Jaar visually telling us that private companies and the United States military have purchased the rights to images, images considered important on historical grounds but also important in terms of refuting the claims of the US war in Afghanistan and possible crimes committed. Through a decade long engagement with the Rwandan genocide and the media’s coverage of it, Alfredo Jaar responded as an artist, working to create work that would highlight such terror without producing typical images. His work also draws connections between powerful countries such as USA and their role through media and state intervention in the Rwandan genocide.

3.2. The Privatisation of Images.

The Rwanda project (1994 – 2000) was an attempt to communicate an atrocity without actually showing the photojournalistic pictures that we have come to see so much of in our interconnected world. With the dominance of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter with a combined active user base of 1.9 Billion (Statistica, 2016), images from crises such as war, famine, genocide and natural disasters are seen at a higher rate than that of the days of print media thanks to rapid sharing of photos, videos and articles. Because of this image saturation generation, I believe people have become somewhat desensitised to such images because of the pace at which they are shared around the world. Not only do we have the problem with rapid sharing, we now have a global games industry which makes billions of dollars a year with war games, such as the Call of Duty franchise which has earned $11 Billion worldwide since 2003 (ign.com). Central to these games are life images, further de-sensitising the Western population to imagery of war. A study carried out by professor Shahira Fahmy of the University of Arizona and her colleagues carried out an experiment to explore if the manipulation of the graphicness of war imagery impacted policy beliefs, attitudes and moods of individuals. In the experiment, ‘They found no significant differences in higher compared to lower levels of graphicness in perceived severity of war or stronger policy perceptions. There also were no differences in mood across graphicness conditions…’ (2011)

In the book The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies (Barthes, 1997), Genevieve Serreau talks about the affect or lack of affect that Shock Photos at Galerie d’Orsay had on the viewer.

We are in each case dispossessed of our judgement: someone shuttered for us, reflected for us, judged for us; the photographer has left us nothing-except a simple right of intellectual acquiescence: we are linked to these images only by a technical interest; over indicated by the artist himself, for us they have no history, we can no longer invent our own reception of this synthetic nourishment, already perfectly assimilate by its creator. (1997. P. 71).

Jaar’s work aims to inform the viewer. He has occupied the public and private sphere through interventions such as Signs of life (1994) and Questions Questions (2008). In the book Agonistic Politics and Artistic Practices, Chantal Mouffe talks about Hegemonic Intervention, and how ‘Alfredo Jaar’s artistic interventions chime with the hegemonic approach in several ways’ (2013, p. 94). – In sociology ‘when socially powerful people use their influence to convince less powerful people it is in their best interest to do what is actually in the most powerful people’s best interest, that’s hegemony’ (Sociology in Focus, 2012). Alfredo Jaars work Questions Questions (2008) is mentioned in the book and how it was an alternative to traditional advertisement in Milan which was majority owed by former Italian Prime Minister and media tycoon Silvio Berlusconi. By buying up the advertisement from Berlusconi in Milan, Alfredo Jaar replaced the old advertisements with question’s like ‘DOES POLITICS NEED CULTURE?’ and ‘IS THE INTELLECTUAL USELESS?’ (Mouffe. 2013, p. 95). This is an alternative to the traditional media and advertisement the general public see. Using the existing system, Alfredo Jaar can highlight the problem rather than opposing it with different means.

Many activists today prefer to oppose the establishment externally and believe by engaging with the establishment (exhibiting in museums or public institutions) they are somehow propping it up, similar to Dada and how he believed the ‘art world’ was complicate and part of the establishment. Noam Chomsky mentioned in a talk that he is part of the staff at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) since the 1950’s and how that it is funded by the department of Defence but yet he continuously lectures about the wrongs of US foreign policy. He does go on to say ‘the way to change them is from the inside’ (Chomsky. 2014). Again, in the book Agonistic Politics and Artistic Practices, Mouffe references the Yes Men, who describe themselves as people ‘who Impersonate bigtime criminals in order to publicly humiliate them, and otherwise giving journalists excuses to cover important issues’ (theyesmen.org). She describes their practice as ‘counter-hegemonic intervention’ (2013. p. 98) and goes on to say that ‘by putting Artivist forms at the service of political activism, these Artivist practices represent an important dimension of radical politics’ (2013. P. 99). The saturation of images in today’s society seemed to have influenced Alfredo Jaar’s creative process. His work Lament of the Images (2002) we are told about the privatisation of images yet in his work he doesn’t use images. Question’s Question’s (2008) clarified to me why this is. Just like Duchamp’s Fountain (1917), Jaar’s use of conceptualism was to raise questions in regards to Rwanda, the media, private companies buying up millions of images and once again to challenge the viewer.

 

 

Conclusion

In chapter One I introduced the concept of installation and conceptual art with reference to Carl Andre and his work Equivalents VIII (1966). I then introduced the field of socially engaged art and gave an example of this by referring to Rick Lowe and his work Project Row Houses (1993) and What’s the Story? Collective (2007 – 2011) which I was a member. I finished the chapter highlighting the important influence of Dadaism and Duchamp in the roots of these movements in art and I positioned the work of Alfredo Jaar within these frames.

In chapter two, I gave a brief history of the state of Rwanda following the first world war and how the genocide came to being and then introduced a number of works from the Rwanda Project (1994 – 2000). The projects ranged from 1994 to 1996. I began by detailing Alfredo Jaar’s trip in Rwanda which was the time he developed Signs of Life (1994), then I talked Rwanda Rwanda (1994), Newsweek (1995), Real Pictures (1996) and The Eyes of Gutete Emerita (1996).

In Chapter three I highlighted the privatisation of historical images Lament of the Images (2002) and how the online community has become saturated with images, referencing how Facebook and Twitter have a monthly active user base of 1.9 billion people. I explained how this saturation has led to people having ‘no significant differences in higher compared to lower levels of graphicness…’ (Fahmy, 2013). This result leaves us with no alternative but to find different means to communicate atrocities.

This thesis is suggesting a number of points. The first point: Art doesn’t have to be non-political to be liked, it can be aesthetically beautifully and useful. The second point: Free access to material is very important in today’s society, it has become too easy to only see one side of a story, biased or leading information. The internet has created a great way to communicate but at the same time we need to be vigilant, not only about the information we do see but the information we don’t get to see. My third point: The use of the non-image takes away that idea of a shock factor and allows the viewer to be consumed in the conceptual and to find their own shock within the work. I found this when I viewed Alfredo Jaars work in Berlin, no image was necessary but the concept, the structure and the information worked well. That day, I felt art had served a purpose higher than itself, it was useful.

In closing, I would like to draw on contemporary artist Tania Bruguera’s suggestion that ‘we have to put Duchamp’s urinal back in the restroom’ (2011). Through my exploration of the work of Alfredo Jaar and his use of art as a means to challenge global injustice, I believe in the power of art as a real alternative to media representation of war and terror. It is time for art to be useful again.

 

Bibliography 

Websites

[Accessed 14 December 15].

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[ONLINE] Available at:http://www.nyphotoreview.com/NYPR_REVS/NYPR_REV2476.html.

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WORLDWIDE. [ONLINE] Available at:http://ie.ign.com/articles/2015/02/05/callofdutyfranchiseearns11billionworldwide. [Accessed 17 December 15].

December 15].

[Accessed 17 December 15].

  • Yes Men. 2015. Identity Correction. [ONLINE] Available at:

http://theyesmen.org/. [Accessed 22 December 15].

  • 2015. MA in Socially Engaged Art. [ONLINE] Available at:

http://www.ncad.ie/postgraduate/school-of-education/ma-in-socially-engaged-art/.

[Accessed 20 December 15].

December. Available from: http://www.moma.org/m/tours/32/tour_stops/487?locale=en. [Accessed: 21 December 2015].

 

Books

  • Whelan, FW, 2014. TEN: Territory, Encounter & Negotiation. 1st ed. Dublin: Self

Published.

  • David Levi Strauss, 1899. Let There Be Light: The Rwanda Project 1994–1998.

Edition. Actar.

  • Jaar, AJ, 2006. Jaar SCL 2006. The university of California: Actar, 2006
  • Mouffe, C. (2013) Agonistics: Thinking the world politically. London: Verso

Books. In-line Citation:(Mouffe, 2013)

  • Ewa Lajer-Burcharth, 2010. Krzysztof Wodiczko: Guests. Bilingual Edition.

Charta/Zacheta National Gallery of Art.

  • Noam Chomsky, 2012. How the World Works. Hamish Hamilton.
  • Roland Barthes, 1997. The Eiffel Tower and Other Mythologies. Reprint Edition. University of California Press.
  • Krzysztof Wodiczko, 2012. The Abolition of War. Edition. Black Dog Publishing.

Podcasts

  • Chomsky, N. (2014). Surviving the 21st Century. Chomsky Audio Library.

Videos

My way, BA, MA.

Latest update…..

As off May the 31st, my final year in the National College of Art and Design has all come down to this final year assessment. As the new 3rd year degree class, we the 3rd years have been assessed and now we all await for our results which are expected some time after the 17th of June.

I have been studying fine art for the past 3 years and I have recently accepted a conditional offer to study an MA in American Politics and Foreign Policy. The two things that have interested in me while growing up were art and politics. The likes of Alfredo Jaar would be a huge influence on me and how he represented the Rwandan Genocide. In terms of politics,  It wasn’t specifically american politics that I was interested in but then the US lead invasion of Iraq woke me up to international politics. I came across people like Noam Chomsly, Norman Finklestein, Robert Fisk and others. When I read books from these people I use them to widen my view and understanding of the world.

It is because of all of this that I have chosen art and now politics as a path to follow as I believe they both benefit one another. Political art, political commentary, visual representations of theory and visual representations of current events has and is a good way to engage people from all sectors of society.

As my results come out and other things develop, I will continue to update.

Thanks for reading.

What to do after college …

following on from the last post. Here’s the latest…

Donald Trump has taken many steps forward to becoming the republican nomination for the general election. How on earth can people vote for this racist, scaremongering polarizing a**hole who speaks in general terms and without facts. Americans need to get behind Sanders. If Trump had his way he’d start a civil war in the U.S.

In other news, college is moving along and getting ever closer to the May deadline. I still have some questions to answer for myself in terms of my work and it’s purpose. With that, I met the careers advisor in the college who offered some advice and made aware post graduation offers to me. This is were I get lost, I can’t decide if I should apply to do a MA course and if I do, what MA curse will I apply to??? I also have a possible option to apply to go on the European Voluntary Service (EVS) which would mean spending a year volunteering abroad. The other two options on my plate at the moment is to try get an internship in the sector I like to see if that’s where I want to go and that could help me decide what MA course to study. The last option is to graduate and apply for a job, whatever job is available I suppose. I’d like to continue coaching rugby and develop my training and knowledge in that area so the options above will impact that.

So yes, a lot of option available and yet zero decisions made so far.

 

Where I Stand.

OK, so I’ve been busy lately. Let me recap.

Rugby

In rugby, we’ve been venturing on. The number of people at training has plateaued to 6 (if you include me). We’ve had 2 games scheduled since my last post. Game one was a loss by 1 point. Our discipline was very good for the first 30 minutes with only conceding a low single digit penalty count. The balance of the game dramatically shifted to them in the second half. This was down to our failure to exit our 22 metre red zone which resulted in tiredness, which had a knock on effect in terms of our attitude. This was compounded by the unbalanced refereeing calls. The crucial penalty which ended the game was awarded about 15 metres from our try line. The opposition took this penalty quickly (albeit no were near the referee and he was the mark) this lead to the final try of the game. The score at this moment was 17-16 to us. We had lead the entire game until that point. They kicked over the conversion and won 18-17. The referee had the score 15-14 in his book, so he calculated it wrong. The penalty count in the first half was a ratio of 2:1. They conceded 2 penalties for everyone 1 penalty we conceded and we ended up with a man in the sin bin on the 75 minutes. This unbalanced refereeing has always affected our club and it does play on the minds of our members, that is unfair and is creating a volatile atmosphere between ourselves and the referees which we are working very hard on our end to eliminate.

As a team must, we regrouped for our next Friday night away game. Most members met in our club early to travel as a group, some traveled directly to the away venue. While we were en route we received a call (75 minutes before kick off) informing us that the game has been cancelled due to a waterlogged pitch. It had been raining all day and I had assumed that morning it was to be called off but they failed to inform us in advance and relied on making a late decision. This seems like a minor thing but when some people ask their employers to leave early or take time off from work, college or family to play and the game is called off in the last moments, that is not acceptable. We returned to the club packed away the equipment and settled for a beer while watching Connacht Rugby play on TV.

 

College

My last update on college was centered around my work on temporary accommodation. I am still focused on this subject and I am building more structures in college along with some projection ideas. It’s all getting very close now as I have my Degree Exhibition on June 7th. Essentially I have 3 months to formulate, develop and exhibit.

Everything Else

I am currently looking ta volunteering with/through EVS (European Voluntary Service) after I complete college and officially graduate. Where will I go? what type of organisation will I work with? How long will it last for? all of these questions are currently in the process of being answered but will take some time.

Before that, I am looking to try and get away for a weekend, nothing has happened yet as I am also trying to get a couple of friends to also go but when you try organise something  with others it can be very difficult.

Currently reading ‘M Train by Patti Smith’. I just started this last night. After chapter one I am now interested so I will continue to read it. This is difficult because when I get home from College, Ruby, the gym or other things I do, I do be exhausted and find it difficult to find the time to read but I am prioritising it now so I hope to finish this book by the end of the week.

I’ll update next week. Thank you for reading.

If I work really really hard, just maybe….

Recently I seen the movie ‘The Giver’ …

In a seemingly perfect community, without war, pain, suffering, differences or choice, a young boy is chosen to learn from an elderly man about the true pain and pleasure of the “real” world.

This movie is fascinating. It debates the idea of equality, brought in through a system of sameness. A community where there is no war, pain or famine. A community where people have no choice in life, from choosing their family to their careers.

In the movie, the character played by Meryl Streep says “when humans are given choices they always make the wrong ones”.

It made me think a lot about our purpose and what we do with our time. The average life in Ireland lasts 81 years. When you consider that from the ages of 4-21, which is 17 years are spent in full time education, then the average person works until the retirement age of 65. That then leaves you with 16 years of your life, that’s 44 years working full time.

What is it all for ?

when I visualise this in my head I automatically think of a conveyor belt. The start of the journey is similar for most, but the turns you take, the levels you rise and fall are determined on the situation your family are in. Most likely their financial situation. The more money they have or make the more choices that become available to you as you continue this conveyor belt journey from play school, through primary and secondary school, then into university. To be “educated”  in one of the course choices you made on your CAO application, or so you thought! The course you chose can only become available if you attained the required number of points on your leaving certificate, this can be greatly influenced by the school you attended, whether you had an option of support out side of school hours and the educational level of your parents and family at large.

So to cap, you’ve studied for a long time, to get a course you didn’t particularly want, to become “employable” to work a job/career you have zero passion for, to buy lots of overpriced material goods, properties and services. To live through a number of financial recessions only to see your pay decline, taxes increase and public services stripped to the bone, even though you’ve contributed your earnings (tax) to them over the decades.

Now at the age of 45, the income you’re bringing home after years of working hard is now equal to or less than the income you started with on day one. If you’ve been lucky to keep your pay at the level it was before then the new taxes and tax increases will have gotten you, plus you’ve to pay a lot more to use public services like the bus. Did I forget to mention that you’re in negative equity. The 350,000€ home you bought 10 years ago is now worth 265,000€ thanks to the property bubble created by a bunch of lads and some women who don’t seem to have been affected that much, they’re now back in business, buying, developing and selling.

So now you go on your way and be a good citizen, work harder, longer hours, less pay, pay more in tax for reduced services so the government can pay back the billionaires that lost money and blame it one you, the citizens.

So I ask myself again, what is it all about?

My top must watch Documentaries.

Below is a list of Documentaries that I’ve seen and recommend. They are informative and thought provoking.

1. Bitter Lake by Adam Curtis

2. No end in sight. (Critical look at the American lead invasion of Iraq).

3. The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara.

4. Chasing Ice. (A multi-year chronicle of the planet’s rapidly melting glaciers).

5. The Genius of Photography. (mutli-TV series BBC)

6. Inside Job. (An examination of the 2008 financial crises).

7. Finding Vivian Maier (Street Photographer who took over 100,000 pictures)

8. Manufacturing Consent. (Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky)

9. the shock Doctrine. (Naomi Klein)

10. Inequality for all. (Robert Reich)

11. Waiting for Superman. (An examination of the school system in the USA and its decline).