Right Wing Populism: Has it peaked yet?
By VRINDA GUPTA | June 6, 2017
Ruchir Sharma, author of “The Rise and Fall of Nations”, predicted the global recession of 2007 to trigger a certain demand for state egotism. Throughout the past decade, surely enough, there has been a call for conservative and even authoritarian leaders starting in Europe and now in other major democracies as well. Matteo Salvini, considered the Italian surrogate of United States President Donald Trump, resurrected Italy’s far-right political party. In Hungary and Poland, conservative parties manifest a growing presence. Three years ago, a conservative Hindu nationalistic party in India gained an overwhelming majority in the Parliament for the first time in sixty years. A prime example of this trend is the contentious outcome of the November 2016 election in the United States of America.
This increase of right-leaning presence is quite simply the result of dissatisfaction with mainstream politicians. The global financial crisis disrupted thousands of livelihoods, and the people needed someone to blame. Politicians refuse to address corruption and poorly managed inflation rates, and in turn, they criticize globalization. The campaigns of Mr. Trump and many of the conservative leaders in Europe relied on anti-immigration and protectionary trade policies. There is a common rhetoric of foreigners taking away jobs and political correctness hindering freedom of speech. They seem to express the common goal of dismantling the multilateral institutions, like the European Union, and prefer going back to a scattered arrangement of states. The Brexit referendum only encouraged talks amongst other members of the European Union to go back to their own currency, and Trump’s withdrawal from many international commitments shows beyond doubt that agreed upon treaties are a thing of the past.
On May 7th, France decided to forgo this trend and elected Emmanuel Macron into office of the President. As an Independent without the backing of any established political party, Macron represents a refreshing change on the French political stage. He defeated the well-known Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front Party, by a significant margin. His astounding victory, despite an ISIS-claimed terrorist attack bringing uncertainty just days before the primary election, shows that the people of France are willing to take a bet on this novice businessman to jump-start their economy.
Some might say that the result of the French election signifies the descent of conservatism. Either by sensing the difficulty of Brexit’s implementation, learning from the mistakes of the Trump Administration, or another reason altogether, the citizens of France did not give into Le Pen’s fearmongering. However, another perspective is to look at the 34% of votes gained by the National Front party in this election - a historic high. Even in the preliminary round of elections, Le Pen was behind Macron by just above 2% of the votes. Perhaps it is the case that the rise in rightist populism has yet to peak.
There is plenty resting upon Emmanuel Macron’s ability to appropriately tackle what lies ahead of him. A weak European Union, the threat of radicalism and a five-year low unemployment rate are just the beginning. He also still needs to secure a majority in the legislative elections in June to hold any “real” power. A failure in performance will culminate in an unhappy French population and could very well push this wave of rightist populism further along. This effect would be most critical in the German elections coming soon this year, where the incumbent Angela Merkel will fight for another term as Chancellor and perhaps even the existence of the European Union.
The popularity of rightist populism is either an attack on human rights or a new-found sense of nationalism, depending on who you’re talking to. Ideally, there shouldn’t be a tradeoff between social progress and financial prosperity and it is saddening that such a large majority would choose the latter so definitively. This form of populism stems from distrust, and it prevents us from embracing the rewards of modern society and the advancements from globalization. Macron winning this election is a sign of hope, but one must be skeptical and see it as just a glimmer. Right wing policies are still on the rise and liberals must wait for the inevitable political cycle to vote progressive men and women back into positions of power. But there is no telling when this change will come and how much damage would be done by then.