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Article by Dr. Basil Wilson for Carib News
There were worldwide concerns that Trump’s populist victory in the 2016 Presidential election would be the catalyst for populist movements in Europe to emerge as a dominant political force. That simply has not occurred and there is some evidence that the rise of Trump has contributed to the fall of populism in Europe.
Under Trump, populism is really a form of racketeering where the rhetoric is appealing to the white working class but the policy agenda merely siphons off more resources from the working middle class and give to the rich. The American Health Care Act which was passed in the House of Representatives is a classical reversal of Robin Hood as it provides a tax windfall for the wealthy and will deprive an estimated 23 million Americans of basic health care.
The American intellectual, Kevin Phillips, was a great advocate of populism and was convinced that the Republican Party of the 1960s would adopt populist policies that would advance the material interest of the white working class. When Kevin Phillips empirically examined the actual policies of the Reagan administration, he was forced to write his book, The Politics of the Rich and the Poor (1991). Conservatism only paid lip service to populism and was merely a cover to institutionalize a domestic agenda that would exacerbate income inequality. That is the legacy of Ronald Reagan.
Most western European countries from the early and mid-twentieth century had energetically embraced the welfare state. Unlike the United States, labor movements and democratic socialist parties were instrumental in creating conditions where wealth was fairly evenly distributed. The Scandinavian countries were a case in point and other western European countries like Britain, France and Germany followed suit.
It is always dangerous to make sweeping generalizations about political events that are cross-cultural because each country has its own peculiar historical class dialectics. The British referendum on whether to remain in the European Union or to make a gracious exit (Brexit) preceded the American presidential election of 2016. Despite the support of Britain’s two major political parties, the people of Britain voted to extricate themselves from the European Union.
The shock waves were felt around the world. The vote reflected the concern that older citizens of the United Kingdom had with the influx of immigrants from Eastern Europe and the existential fear that the “Brits” were losing their sovereignty and were being swallowed up by Continental European culture. The vote led to the resignation of David Cameron as Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservative Party in Britain and the rise to leadership on the part of Theresa May.
Lady May sought her own mandate as she was poised to begin negotiations with the European Union vis-à-vis the terms under which Britain would make its exit. May proved to be a poor campaigner and as the date of the general election drew near, Theresa May’s commanding lead in the polls evaporated. In the final outcome, she lost the Conservative majority in Parliament. Jeremy Corbyn, the fiery democratic socialist and leader of the Labour Party and who was dismissed as a political dinosaur, has managed to resuscitate the bed-ridden Labour Party and gained seats in the process.
What seemed to be decisive in the British election of June 2017 was the turning out of the youth vote that was missing in the Brexit election. Young people resonated to Labour’s manifesto of free tuition, raising the minimum wage and revitalizing the health sector.
At this juncture, Theresa May will be able to link up with the Democratic Union Party of Northern Ireland and thus put together a skinny majority in Parliament. But the British election vividly demonstrated the profound fissures in the British electorate even though the Conservative and Labour Party remain predominant. There is no neo-fascist or populist movement of any significance in Britain. The vote against the European Union did not reflect any protectionist or anti-globalist sentiments as personified by the Trump administration.
The Putin-Trump axis did support the neo-fascist Marine Le Pen in the hotly contested presidential elections in France in April, 2017. Marine Le Pen appealed to the worst instincts of the French people. She fervently opposed the European Union and was adamantly anti-globalist. Marine Le Pen’s National Front blamed France’s ills on immigrants and the external world. She managed to be in the run-off but was clobbered by France’s political wonder boy of 39 years, Emmanuel Macron, who obtained 66 percent of the electorate to Le Pen’s 33 percent. Macron has sought to synthesize left and right ideologies in an attempt to revitalize the French economy where economic growth has been stagnant and unemployment is over 11 percent of the labour force.
Already, in the first round of elections for the National Assembly, Macron’s brand new party, Republique En Marche is poised to win a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. Le Pen obtained 13.5 percent and is not expected to have meaningful representation in the National Assembly.
What is astonishing about contemporary French politics is the collapse of the socialists who constituted a majority in the National Assembly and won the Presidential vote in 2012.
The discontent of the French electorate did not lead to an embrace of inchoate populism and the scapegoating of immigrants and Muslims. There has been profound realignment in French politics over the last 14 months. Nonetheless, the French electorate has remained sane and has shown a sophistication that was non-existent in the American presidential election of 2016.
Europe seems to be coping and moving beyond the Neanderthal appeals to ultra-nationalism. The Germans will hold national elections in September, 2017 and all signs point to the re-election of Chancellor Angela Merkel for a fourth term. Germany’s Nazi past has not re-ignited any wide appeal to a new globalist generation. The alternative to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union is the Social Democratic Party. The German economy has remained competitive in global markets and Merkel has emerged as one of the pre-eminent leaders of the European Union.
Austria and Hungary do have substantive fascist movements. In Austria, Norbert Hofer was a mere whisker from winning the Presidency. Jobbik in Hungary has wide appeal and the message of anti-European, anti-globalist posturing has caught the imagination of a sizeable segment of Hungary’s electorate. But the major players on the continent, Britain, France and Germany, have steadied the ship of post-war Europe. The recovery of the European Union’s economy will be deterministic if the foolhardy ideology of populism will return to the dustbin of history. In the United States, Trump’s poll numbers have returned to his core supporters of approximately 36 percent of the American electorate.
The Russian Inquiry is eating into his shaky legitimacy and, thus far, he has proven that he is quite adept at his own self-destruction.