European nations not-so-quietly reeling from their own outbreak of xenophobic nationalism.
What was once a ripple of concern across Europe – lurking in the corners but ultimately marginalized in its real influence – has in a matter of months been transformed into an alarming systemic crisis, as European nations across the continent find themselves embroiled in their own conflicts of “Trumpism,” struggling to explain how right-wing nationalist parties could have gained so much traction in such a short amount of time.
In America, the rise of Donald Trump as the GOP standard bearer – a combative, controversial billionaire whose nativist, xenophobic vision for America continues to stoke age-old fires of racial and ethnic division in his bid for the White House – has in many ways distracted most media outlets from connecting him to politicians espousing inherently similar ideologies in Europe.
In America, that is.
With Alexander Van der Bellen narrowly defeating Norbert Hofer in Austria’s presidential election, it is clear that such trends are irrefutably connected across party lines, national borders, and even continents, as it is just the latest evidence of a growing rightward shift in European politics and policy.
Mr. Hofer, who was sworn in as the Freedom Party candidate wearing a popular Nazi symbol from the 1930s, catapulted himself to power on the heels of an anti-migrant, Austrian nationalist, us-vs-them political platform, fully exposing the deep divide between the left and right in Austrian politics.
Had he edged out Van der Bellen, it would have made him the first far-rightwing populist of any European state since the Nazis.
“Of course I am sad today,” wrote Mr. Hofer on his Facebook page conceding defeat, “I would so gladly have taken care of our wonderful country for you as president. The effort this campaign is not lost, but an investment in the future.”
His last comment, touching on “future” of Austrian/European politics is as troubling as it is factual when you consider that in the last year:
- Gert Wilders, the far-right nationalist from Netherlands currently facing criminal charges of inciting hatred, surged in the polls before stumbling in the general election, but not before claiming 10% of the electorate. He once asked a crowd of supporters in March 2014 whether they wanted more or fewer Moroccans in the Netherlands, triggering the chant “Fewer! Fewer! Fewer!,” to which Wilders responded with a sinister smile, “We’ll take care of that.”
- The National Front Party in France had a strong showing in the recent regional elections before failing to consolidate larger support in the critical second round of voting.
- In Denmark, the nationalist Danish People’s Party (DPP) finished in second in last year’s general election, riding a platform vehemently opposing multiculturalism and anti-immigration.
- In Finland, the Finns Party came in second in last year’s general election, advocating closing its borders to migrants and stipulating that “pure” Finns must be prioritized for social and healthcare spending.
- In Germany, the recently launched Alternative for Germany has claimed seats in half of the German state parliaments, and it’s stridently anti-Islam rhetoric sits in direct correlation to signs of discontent with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s open-door policy for Syrian refugees.
- Then of course there’s Greece’s Golden Dawn, which is widely accepted as a neo-Nazi party, whose support has surged in the midst of the country’s economic meltdown.
What is behind this rightward shift?
In a nutshell, the politics of 2016 are still struggling to escape the legacy of the financial crash of 2008, which had enormous impacts on the global economy.
Despite unemployment being cut in half from it’s catastrophic 2009 levels in the United States, many Americans find themselves still earning less income than they earned decades. European nations have not been as successful in this regard, and youth unemployment in many countries has continued to remain alarmingly high.
It has stoked fears among many in the shrinking middle class throughout Europe that the opportunities for improvement and upward mobility are a thing of the past, allowing an opening for anti-establishment campaigns to present their case.
Additionally, the migrant crisis in the aftermath of terrorist attacks in Paris and Brussels have only worsened these moods. It has become commonplace to outwardly legitimize xenophobia in the name of keeping the borders protected. Earlier in the fall, Hungary’s far-right Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that the country “has a right to decide that we do not want a large number of Muslim people in our country,” and the former Prime Minister of Poland Jaroslaw Kaczynski warned that Muslim refugees would bring parasites and diseases to its local population.
“The anti-immigrant sentiment is in many ways anti-Islam, and it’s cheap, it’s easy to play on,” said Professor Martin Schain of New York University, whose academic concentration primarily focuses on European politics, “It’s very, very troubling. While these parties have not gained governmental power, they have been very successful in setting the political agenda. They really drag politics very far to the right.”
In America, the results could not be more startling.
Following Mitt Romney’s resounding defeat to President Obama, Republican National Committee (RNC) chairman Reince Priebus announced in his “Growth and Opportunity Project” that “America is changing demographically, and unless Republicans are able to grow our appeal the way GOP governors have done, the changes tilt the playing field even more in the Democratic direction.”
“If we want ethnic minority voters to support Republicans, we have to engage them and show our sincerity,” the report continues, “If Hispanic Americans perceive that a GOP nominee or candidate does not want them in the United States (i.e. self-deportation) they will not pay attention to our next sentence…We are not a policy committee, but among the steps Republicans take in the Hispanic community and beyond, we must embrace and champion comprehensive immigration reform. If we do not, our Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only. We also believe that comprehensive immigration reform is consistent with Republican economic policies that promote job growth and opportunity for all.”
The report was issued in December 2012.
Fast-forward nearly four years later, and their presumptive nominee has ridden the coattails of a candidacy that regularly incites violence, flirts with white supremacists on twitter, calls for a deportation force to round up 12 million undocumented immigrants (that overwhelming majority of whom are law abiding citizens), and has pledged to ban all Muslims including political leaders – 1.2 billion people of an entire religion – from entering the United States.