What Trump’s victory could mean for Right parties elsewhere

Donald Trump’s victory underlines the fact that right-wing populism is now a credible political strategy. His win could further boost such forces grappling with the downside of globalisation elsewhere. The next phase of nationalist churning is bound to be in Europe. How the Right will fare there may depend on how trump starts out as president

world Updated: Nov 14, 2016 00:22 IST
Sushil Aaron
Sushil Aaron
Hindustan Times
Donald Trump,US Presidential elections,Right-wing politics
Republican president-elect Donald Trump delivers his acceptance speech during his election night event at the New York Hilton Midtown in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016 in New York City. Donald Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States. (AFP/Getty Images)

Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election confirms the ascendance of conservative politics in the world. Figures like Vladimir Putin in Russia and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been around for more than a decade but the shift to the Right in major countries has been more perceptible in recent years. Benjamin Netanyahu has been prime minister of Israel since 2009, Conservatives have been in charge in the UK since 2010, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt won both parliamentary and presidential election in 2011-12 (before being ousted in a coup), Shinzo Abe’s second stint as prime minister of Japan started in late 2012 and Narendra Modi was elected in India in 2014.

Read:Shiv Sena calls Donald Trump America’s Narendra Modi

Trump continues this trajectory but his victory signifies something different. By prevailing despite being a hate figure for much of liberal America, Trump underlines that right-wing populism is now a credible political response to the inequalities generated by globalisation. Put differently, the unnerving aspect about Trump’s election is that his clones can now be elected or gain influence in any democracy in the world. Trump has shown that if a leader consistently panders to a majority that believes that it lost out in terms of job and opportunities as the world has globalised, and focuses his critique on liberals who allegedly control the establishment, and targets migrants and Muslims who are accused of changing a country’s character, it is possible to rally support – regardless of what the debate is about a candidate’s character.

Read:We don’t know what this means: ‘Shocked’ world reacts to Trump presidency

The Big Win

Trump’s victory thus promises to embolden right-wing forces in countries that are grappling with the downside of globalisation. It is little wonder then that far-right leaders were among the first to congratulate Trump. The Dutch politician Geert Wilders who wants to shut down mosques in his country, ban the Quran and tax women for wearing the hijab, hailed Trump’s victory as a “patriotic spring” and tweeted “the people are taking their country back, so will we”. Florian Philipott, a senior strategist for France’s National Front, tweeted, “Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built”. Matteo Salvini, the Italian far-right leader of the Northern League, tweeted, “Americans, thank you, thank you and thank you!”

Europe will be the continent to watch as the crisis of the Eurozone and the waves of refugees from West Asia are provoking heated debates about national identity and immigration in countries and bolstering conservative parties. It is worth clarifying that conservative parties in Europe are not of one stripe but span across the spectrum – from classic right of Centre formations to far-right, anti-Semitic groups, but in the current moment, hardline nationalists are prospering.

Donald Trump’s victory underlines the fact that rightwing populism is now a credible political strategy. His win could further boost such forces grappling with the downside of globalisation elsewhere

DONALD TRUMP, USA: The most polarising right-wing figure in the world. Known for his sexist, racist, anti-Muslim rhetoric. Is poised to take the US and the world into uncharted territory.
THERESA MAY, UK: Eurosceptics in the Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party drove the Brexit campaign in July, stoking fears of immigration. Prime Minister Theresa May is also fairly hardline on immigration; her government is reportedly considering a proposal to ask companies how many foreign workers they employ.
VLADIMIR PUTIN, Russia: At the helm since 1999. A former KGB official, an authoritarian leader who does not tolerate dissent, Putin has often clashed with the West in recent years and is committed to maintaining Russia’s role as a great power in world affairs.
MARINE LE PEN, France: President of the National Front. Daughter of controversial figure, Jean-Marie Le Pen. A trained lawyer, Le Pen is anti-immigration and wants France out of the EU. She secured nearly 18% of the vote in the 2012 presidential elections and is expected to contest again next year and make it to the second round. Once compared Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation of France.
HEINZ-CHRISTIAN STRACHE, Austria: Led by Heinz-Christian Strache, the party says protection of cultural identity and social peace requires Austria to stop immigration. Norbert Hofer will contest presidential elections in December, which he narrowly lost in May. He says "Islam has no place in Austria".
VIKTOR ORBAN, Hungary: Prime Minister and leader of Fidesz known for his tough anti-immigration stance. A former anti-communist youth leader turned conservative, Orban has built a 100-mile razor wire fence along its border with Serbia. Admires Vladmir Putin and "illiberal democracy". Hungary also has Jobbik, a far-right, anti-Semitic group which has emerged as the third largest party in Parliament.
JIMMIE AKESSON, Sweden: Democrats, an anti-immigration party that wants a referendum on EU membership. Led by Jimmie Akesson the party secured 13% of the vote in 2014 elections and holds the balance of power in Parliament. Its ratings in opinion polls are improving and is expected to do better in the 2018 election.
GEERT WILDERS, Netherlands: Party for Freedom led by leader Geert Wilders. Wants a referendum on the EU and is opposed to immigration. Wilders wants to shut down mosques, ban the Quran and tax women for wearing the hijab.
FRAUKE PETRY, Germany: Alternative for Germany led by Frauke Petry, who is described as the most talked about politician in the country. Opposes "Islamification" of Germany and Angela Merkel’s immigration and refugee policy. Secured 4.7% of the vote in the 2013 elections but is now polling 15% nationally.
MATTEO SALVINI, Italy: Lega Nord (Northern League) led by Matteo Salvini. Critical of EU and a tough stance on immigration. Polled only 4 percent in 2013 elections, it now has polls 16% in opinion polls. Has the potential to be part of ruling coalition after the next election.
NIKOLAOS MICHALOLIAKOS, Greece: Golden Dawn, a neo-fascist party known for its violent tactics and extreme anti-immigrant views. Sixty nine members of the party, including its leader Nikolaos Michaloliakos, are on trial on charges of running a criminal organisation. The party surprised many by securing seven percent of the vote and coming in third in the 2015 election.
SHINZO ABE, Japan: Prime Minister and leader of Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). Abe has called for a debate on rewriting Japan’s pacific constitution, which would allow it to mobilise troops to defend itself. His comments on Japan’s wartime conduct and visit to the Yasukuni Shrine, which commemorates the war dead, has angered neigbhours.
RECEP TAYYIP ERDOGAN, Turkey: President and his Justice and Development Party (AKP). Erdogan has been the most dominant figure in Turkish politics since Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Survived a coup attempt in July. Turkey is now witnessing a massive purge of suspected opposition figures. More than 100,000 government workers, including judges, military officers and teachers have been dismissed. More than a 130 media organisations have been shutdown.

Eye On Europe

Netherlands, to begin, goes to the polls in March. Wilder’s Party for Freedom is anticipated to come first or second, notwithstanding his inflammatory views. France will also see heated debates on cultural issues during presidential elections due in April-May next year, with the National Front’s Marine Le Pen making a bid for the presidency. Le Pen secured 6.4 million votes in 2012; she is expected to come first in the first round this time and her competitors are not ruling out her chances of an ultimate win. Le Pen wants France to leave the European Union and has stood trial (but was acquitted) for comparing Muslims praying in the street to the German occupation of France in World War II. Harvard professor Theda R Skocpol has called Trump’s election “a crisis comparable to the [US] civil war” – a Le Pen victory would be seen in similar terms as a catastrophic repudiation of the French revolutionary tradition.

The far-right has done well elsewhere too. Austria, which added 90,000 migrants last year to its population of 8.6 million, has seen the Freedom Party make big strides. Its candidate Norbert Hofer, who likes to carry around a pistol and says Islam has no place in Austria, lost the presidential elections in May by less than one percentage point but is due for a re-run on December 4, after a court upheld his party’s appeal about election irregularities. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban is a fan of Putin’s Russia; he prefers an “illiberal democracy”, has firmly told Muslims they are not wanted in his country and has built a 100-mile long razor wire fence along the border with Serbia. The far-right, anti-Semitic party, Jobbik, is Hungary’s third-largest party in Parliament. The Danish People’s Party secured 21 per cent in the 2015 general election and is the second largest party in Denmark’s parliament. One of its rising stars told an applauding audience that foreigners “spread filth, they cheat, they steal, they rape and they kill”.

Germany is the other major country where the far right is gaining ground through a party called Alternative for Germany. Its leader Frauke Petry, described as the country’s most talked about politician, wants to reverse Chancellor Angela Merkel’s migration and refugee policies. AfD seeks an end to EU’s internal open borders policy and opposes the “Islamification” of Germany. For a party that began only in 2013, the AfD has done well in regional elections and is polling about 15 per cent nationally, making Merkel concede that it poses a “challenge to us all”. Right-wing parties are also gaining prominence in Italy, Greece, Sweden and Finland.

The Right Influence

Europe, to be sure, is not about to be entirely overrun by the far-right, even though it has made steady gains. For instance, France’s National Front is yet to win a majority in any of the country’s 13 regions even though it tripled the number of its regional councillors. What such parties are able to do though is push mainstream parties further to the Right – as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) did by forcing the Conservatives to commit to the Brexit referendum.

The anti-minority, anti-immigration rhetoric of the far-right is also shaping how other mainstream parties imagine the social contract. Speaking at her party conference in October, UK prime minister Theresa May spoke of a spirit of citizenship that would entail “a commitment to the men and women who live around you, who work for you, who buy the goods and services you sell”. That spirit, she said, “means recognising the social contract that says you train up local young people before you take on cheap labour from overseas”. May decried people in positions of power who behaved “as though they have more in common with international elites than with the people down the road, the people they employ, the people they pass in the street.” And to reiterate the nativist point, May said, “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.”

Read:Trump may get caught between his promises and Republican ideology

Future Appeal

This then is what a world of want has done to conservatism. It invokes grand conceptions but shrinks them in application. Conservatives talk up the idea of community without allowing the word to breathe and envelop the world. They also do not have a rounded view of globalisation, despite bemoaning its effects. They do not generally direct their critique on structural factors like the disproportionate influence the financial sector has on the world economy and how it generates consequences like loss of jobs, inequality and the gaming of the political system (that sets up favourable tax regimes etc). Right-wing politicians would rather take the easy route and focus their attack on minorities, migrants, other vulnerable groups and enemies abroad.

That regressive trend just got a boost with Trump’s election. As said, the next phase of nationalist churning is bound to be in Europe. How the Right will fare there may depend, to an extent, on how Trump starts out as President. If he is able to address white working class concerns without too much disruption domestically and internationally, then that would add to the Right’s appeal. But if the internal climate in the US worsens with more racist rhetoric and instances of vigilante violence, then that could serve to rally liberals in Europe to avoid the weak voter turnout in the US that helped Trump win narrowly. In that sense, Trump is both an opportunity and a threat to conservatives elsewhere.

First Published: Nov 13, 2016 13:50 IST