I am worried, genuinely worried, and I’m looking past the initial ramifications of Trump and Brexit. Both of these decisions will have far-reaching consequences as the sails of far-right and populist movements will be filled with rancorous air. It is truly a scary time.
We have enjoyed decades-long peace, the longest in human history, throughout Europe. The EU has knitted us together in ways that we haven’t even realised. And there is perhaps no price or value you can put on peace. As a result, our peacetime stability has been thoroughly taken for granted. Moreover, in having such a long period of stability, when it is rocked (such as by the immigration crisis, or by population density problems) the status quo is blamed, rather than appealed to for solutions. I cannot emphasise this enough: I claim that people react against the status quo, without realising it is that scenario that has brought about the stability to which any crisis is juxtaposed. The crisis is then blamed, in some part, on the framework that exists at the time.
When we look around the world, and particularly Europe, we see a groundswell in popularity of far-right, right-leaning and populist movements. Trump, with all his bombast and anti-immigrant, anti-woman, anti-everything stance is fuelling nationalistic fervour at the expense of liberal values that were starting to become embedded in the States (for all the right reasons).
Let’s look at some of the movements around Europe.
In Italy, the centre-left PM is facing a referendum on constitutional issues and there is a good chance he will lose, meaning he, according to his own claims, will step down. This paves the way for the Five Star Movement (M5S), which already runs Turin and Rome. It is run by comedian Beppe Grillo, who tweeted of Trump’s success that it was “the apocalypse for information, TV, the big newspapers, the intellectuals, the journalists.”
In May, former Green Party politician Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly beat Norbert Hofer, a far-right candidate, by less than 1% of the vote. Due to counting irregularities (the glue didn’t stick on postal votes), it will be re-run. You heard it. Austria. Far right. Hitler, anyone?
The Freedom Party, the far-right anti-EU, anti-immigration party will receive a huge boost in the event of such a victory by Hofer. It already holds 40 of 183 seats. Scary. (Although there is a theory that some newly turned 16-year-olds could tip the balance against the far-right. Let’s hope.)
The infamous Geert Wilders, far-right leader in The Netherlands who is presently on trial for inciting racial hatred, recently tweeted about Trump’s win: “We will make the Netherlands great again”. In March, he hopes to win a slew of victories in the parliamentary elections. He hopes to build on Brexit, which has fuelled anti-EU sentiment in Holland. His Freedom Party is set to get 27 seats, a huge take. They will either form a coalition or be hugely influential in policy creation and opposition.
Wilders wants “Nexit”, and he has a good chance of upsetting the establishment to this end.
Angela Merkels is not having it easy at the moment with growing resentment of the refugees taken in. Frauke Petry, the leader of Germany’s anti-immigration Alternative for Germany (AfD), has expressed her happiness with the Trump result. As the Guardian recently reported:
“The AfD is a challenge for all of us in this house,” the German chancellor told the Bundestag in a combative address in which she made clear that she had no intention of changing her course.
Following the CDU’s dismal showing in elections in Merkel’s constituency of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, she is under mounting pressure from within her party and in particular from its Bavarian sister party the CSU.
The CDU came third with 19% of the vote while the Social Democrats secured 30.6% and the AfD 20.8%.
On Wednesday Merkel urged politicians across the house to rein in the hostile tone of the debate over refugees. “If we seek to get the better of each other for short-term gain … the ones who’ll win are those who depend on slogans and simple answers,” she said. “I am quite certain if we bite our tongues and stick to the truth then we’ll win back the most important thing that we need, the trust of the people.”
Merkel sought to directly address the fears of some Germans that they face lower standards of living and a threat to their traditional cultural values due to the large number of refugees who have arrived since last summer. These concerns were among the most decisive factors in the AfD’s gains at the weekend.
Merkel said Germany’s economic strength meant it would continue to “take care of the weakest in our country”.
“Germany will continue to be Germany, with everything about it that we love and which costs us dear,” she said, stressing that healthy tax revenues, good economic growth and low unemployment would ensure the country’s future prosperity.
Amid growing concerns about security following two violent attacks carried out by refugees, Merkel said: “People can expect that we’ll do everything humanly possible to ensure their safety.”
Her address received warm applause from members of her conservative bloc, but she was criticised by other parliamentarians. Dietmar Bartsch, of the leftwing party Die Linke, which also suffered considerable losses in the state elections, accusing her of “ruling without a vision”.
Marine Le Pen, daughter of the infamous Front Nationale leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, has far outshone her father. Capitalising on rising populist sentiment, she has recorded a massive rise in popularity. She is expected to get through to the second round of the presidential election. In regional elections, the FN (think the National Front, now the British National Party in the UK) have received more than 27% support. That is almost one in three people voting far-right.
The centre-right Republicans and centre-left Socialists will no doubt repeat their deal-making to keep the FN out, but Le Pen is capitalising on Trump’s win by haranguing the press for supporting Clinton. Meanwhile, socialist President Hollande has fallen to the lowest ratings of a president since WW2. Le Pen thinks Brexit opened the door for the upcoming battles.
Troubling times in France.
Hard-right Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has hit the news with his anti-immigration position during the refugee crisis. The NY Times explains:
Viktor Orban and his right-wing Fidesz party, running on a joint list with the K.D.N.P., a Christian Democratic party, have won the last two parliamentary elections in Hungary, worrying many Western leaders about his increasingly authoritarian rule. The party also decisively won in voting for the European Parliament in May 2014.
Jobbik, a far-right, anti-immigration, populist and economic protectionist party, won 20 percent of the vote in parliamentary elections in 2014, making it Hungary’s third-largest party.
Its policy platform includes holding a referendum on membership in the European Union and a call to “stop hushing up such taboo issues” as “the Zionist Israel’s efforts to dominate Hungary and the world.”
Jobbik wants to increase government spending on ethnic Hungarians living abroad and to form a new ministry dedicated to supporting them. In a 2012 bill targeting homosexuals, the party proposed criminalizing the promotion of “sexual deviancy” with prison terms of up to eight years.
You may have seen Poland feature on the news concerning abortion. Luckily, women went on national strike, and a ban on abortion was rejected. In the 2015 parliamentary election, Poland’s right-wing Law and Justice party surged back into the government by winning 39 percent of the national votes.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
These charts, from the NY Times, show to just what extent the right is rising and has risen. Only Spain and Portugal remain to the left, probably because forty-odd years of the fascist Franco is still too fresh. People appear to have forgotten, I don’t know, who was it? Oh yes, Hitler.
What this is all doing is undermining international political cooperation. The whole ideal of working together to better the whole world is being challenged. The far right breeds on individualistic accounts of trying to make the world good for people like us, and only people like us, whoever the “us” might be. The in-group shrinks.
For socialists, on the other hand, there is an ideal of a growing in-group, to understand that the world is full of people and that we are all made of the same stuff, that we need to work together, socially and societally, to achieve the best ends.
I am truly afraid for the future of the world. At a time when we have the most pressing global concerns, we are shirking global responsibility and moving towards looking after only ourselves, and people like us. Paying into a central network of cooperation is apparently becoming a terrible thing to do.
And with all of this will come a new era of political instability and turmoil.
As the deputy leader of the Front Nationale has just stated:
‘Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built’
And that should scare you.