The world has seen an epidemic of throwaway politics over the past decade or so. What do I mean by “throwaway politics”? Throwaway politics is the practice of treating entire demographics as expendable, useless, superfluous. Throwaway people are second-class citizens, Others, subalterns. They are often ethnic, racial, religious, gender, or sexual minorities, but not always—for example, Black South Africans were throwaway majorities under apartheid.
Politicians and constituents who adopt throwaway politics are usually on the right, but the right doesn’t have a monopoly on the practice—consider left-wing Hamas supporters’ callous attitude towards Jews, or certain left-wing politicians, such as Sahra Wagenknecht, who vilify migrants to outflank their right-wing counterparts.
The demographic characteristics of throwaway residents may vary, but the underlying dynamics are the same: there are some people who are less equal than others. In Europe and European-influenced countries, typical throwaway people are often Muslims, immigrants from the “wrong” countries, refugees from the Middle East (who are typically Muslims), LGBTQ+ people, and occasionally Jews.
Once you’re a throwaway, nobody cares about your rights. You’re not worth listening to. You may as well not even exist. You are no longer deserving of empathy or consideration.
We know where this leads: the events of 1933–1945. Hitler’s primary target was Jewish people, but Jews were not the only throwaway Germans. Disabled people, dubbed “ballast existences,” were targeted through the Nazis’ Aktion T-4. So were the Roma. The Nazis didn’t care much for Russians, either. Queer and trans people were also fodder for Hitler’s hate machine.
Why the hell are exclusivist ideologies, or the remnants of exclusivist ideologies, given any credence in supposedly inclusive (most Western democracies) or anti-fascist (Russia) societies? We know where this can go. It’s not as though we’re in 1920 and had no record of an industrial-scale genocide. Hitler’s Germany is still in living memory. Why are TERFs’ arguments taken seriously, especially when their “sex-based rights” model is a few steps away from Kinder, Küche, Kirche? Why is the Russian government endlessly pursuing LGBTQ+ people and claiming to be “anti-fascist” when their attitudes towards the community are little different from those expressed by the Nazis? Why are Christian fundamentalists, whether American Protestant or Russian Orthodox, treated as a legitimate political constituency when the same liberal or progressive politicians see right through their Islamist counterparts? Why do American police officers disproportionately target Black people with violence? Why are US presidents calling neo-Nazis “very fine people” and calling for the “complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”? Why is the new, modern, liberal, European government in Kiev treating ethnic Russians and Russian-speakers as fifth-column traitors, in a shadow of what the US government did and has done to Arab and Muslim Americans after 9/11 and now the Hamas attacks? Why is the Israeli government bombing Gaza instead of trying to live alongside the Palestinians? And why are supposedly “woke,” enlightened people claiming that every Israeli Jew is a throwaway person blocking Palestinians from their freedom?
I hate to say “the only way” about anything, but I think it applies here: The only way to avoid any of our societies’ turning into Nazi Germany or its modern equivalent is to reject all, and I mean all, anti-pluralist political movements, including ethnonationalism, religious supremacy (Christian, Hindu, Islamic, I don’t give a shit what religion it is), traditionalist conservatism (as a political movement, rather than an individual set of beliefs and practices), nativism, and new-wave sexism (mostly the TERF movement).
And by rejecting exclusivism, I don’t mean banning freedom of speech. My goal isn’t to shut down evangelical churches, as much as I hate what’s being preached there. I mean a kind of cordon sanitaire, a marginalisation of views that seek to unfairly marginalise others. There also needs to be explicit legal protection against reactionary exclusivism, especially the revocation of rights already granted to a minority group. This would prevent situations like California’s Proposition 8 from arising, or Russia’s myriad laws revoking rights to LGBTQ+ people that existed before Vladimir Putin’s increasing move towards autocratic rule.
We have to defeat exclusivist movements the old-fashioned way: through winning hearts and minds, by showing that Muslims, queer people, and immigrants aren’t out to get the general population. We need to be reminded of what was defeated in 1945, and why we must not allow it to occur again. I think we came close to understanding this in the early 2010s, but we’re starting to drift away again. Right-wing populists are winning seats in parliaments all over Europe, like the rabidly Islamophobic Geert Wilders in the Netherlands and Italy’s neo-fascist Giorgia Meloni.
I admit that I’m writing this for personal reasons; this isn’t just hypothetical. I’m a throwaway citizen on many levels, and I’m terrified to see what the future will bring if these exclusivist leaders have their way. That’s not to say that I lack political power or influence—I have some, at least a little, mostly because I live in an area known for its pluralism. But I can’t say that for my counterparts living in Florida, Texas, or Missouri—or people living further away in Russia or Hungary.
There should be no such thing as a throwaway constituent. Once we allow ourselves to consider entire swathes of the population expendable, we’re on the way to Auschwitz.
This process is not immediate; it never is. If it were, it would be more easily resisted. It’s a slow, grinding march towards eliminationism, persecution and genocide.
Fascists and other authoritarians typically start with easier targets with less political power. The Nazis did this with disabled and queer people.
Our modern authoritarian exclusivists do the same thing with migrants, Muslims, and queer people.
Migrants and refugees cannot vote, so they can be vilified with little political consequences. LGBTQ+ people are also an easy target, since we’re a small constituency that can be discarded with few electoral consequences, especially in societies with strongly entrenched patriarchal institutions, like those of Eastern Europe or the Middle East. In Western societies, Muslims serve a similar role to queer people, since very few members of traditionally Christian societies are Muslims, and many of those members are non-voting immigrants or refugees. Although Western Jews experience less overt antisemitism than they did before the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” this may be reversing with the advent of right-wing populism and retaliation against Jews after Israel’s attacks on Gaza.
They know they can’t get away with abolishing women’s right to vote, even though it’s the kind of thing traditionalist conservatives probably want. They can’t get away with bringing back Jim Crow segregation or slavery. They can’t even bring back an overt programme of 1920s-style eugenics. They certainly can’t bring back yellow stars and Jewish ghettos. Not yet, anyway. But they can get away with demonising Muslims, migrants, and queer people.
Never again. Nie wieder.