The world is witnessing a major and unexpected political phenomenon. The press likes to call it the rise of “right-wing” or “populist” parties.
From Argentina to Italy, to New Zealand to Holland, politicians who are not part of the mainstream of “establishment” political thought are rising to power. The term “right-wing” means one thing in Europe and quite another in America. Thus, the terms right-wing and populist don’t reveal the common threads existing among such disparate political trends.
There have been daily mass demonstrations in Spain, protesting a socialist takeover and an amnesty plan for Catalonian separatists.In Italy, the plucky female Prime Minister insults Macron in France, wants to stop uncontrolled immigration, and will not allow the production of fake meat and other synthetic food that violates Italian “food heritage”.
In New Zealand, the government fell, partly because of fascistic policies to address Covid. But, constant favoritism towards Māori interests and the denigration of English heritage, also seems to have been pivotal.
Let’s take the two most recent political earthquakes, Argentina and Holland.
In Holland, the society is being overwhelmed by uncontrolled mass migration, mostly of Muslims into the heart of Europe, and it was a factor in the election of Geert Wilders, an opponent of mass immigration. The policies of unrestricted, mass immigration have many Dutch voters concerned. How does honor killing and sexual apartheid for women, square with Holland’s social and sexual liberalism? It can’t, and therein lies the problem. It is not just the sheer number of immigrants that must be accommodated by an advanced welfare state, it is also their cultural differences with the native population.
Also a factor, was the government’s attack on the farming sector a factor, using the “existential risk of climate change” claptrap that seems standard for the international left. Holland has gone somewhere off the political rails but we will see what a governing coalition looks like.
In Argentina, a man who wanted to play professional soccer became an economist, and has ousted at least for now, the socialist Peronist monopoly that has governed the country since the mid-1950s. Immigration does not appear to be an issue as it is in Holland and Italy, but clearly, inflation above 200% a year was a factor. He explicitly campaigned against socialism and further said the climate change crisis was a socialist lie. Political corruption also was a theme.
The new president Milei is a complete outsider, some suggesting he is a Trumpian like force. He is a mishmash of political tendencies that defy “normal” categories. He has been called a libertarian, but he seems socially conservative, being an ardent opponent of unrestricted abortion. Upon his first visit to the US, his priority was to visit the grave of an esteemed Orthodox Jewish Rabbi. That seems a bit odd for a Roman Catholic. It is hard to place him in any standard political box.
The press likes to call what we are seeing as “populism.” Well, it just seems a lot more complicated than that.
This seems like a poor term to describe what is going on. Studies of populism in the US suggest it was a bridge to progressivism, which in turn morphed into today’s left-wing Democratic Party.
In populism, you had the Grange movement, general agrarian discontent with farm prices and railroad freight rates, and a movement for “free silver” or the resumption of printing Civil War Greenbacks (paper money not redeemable in gold or silver), which at the time was a call for inflation and debt relief. It additionally argued for public ownership of utilities. The Cleburne Demands called for policies to “secure to our people freedom from the onerous and shameful abuses that the industrial classes are now suffering at the hands of arrogant capitalists and powerful corporations.” It often called for government intervention and regulation (big government); hence it could be classified as a left-wing movement that was a precursor to the far more dangerous and intellectually successful progressive movement.
Some historians such as Oscar Handlin saw considerable anti-Semitism in the movement as well.
The only thing today’s political upheaval has in common with past American populism is that there are common elements of a revolt against the political establishment of the day and its unhealthy union with giant corporations. In today’s era of crony capitalism, politicians both regulate and subsidize corporations and then receive kickbacks in the form of campaign contributions. In so doing, they create a self-reinforced process to keep both of them in power.
Today’s populism likes free enterprise and market-based solutions, not crony capitalism. In some cases, it does argue against “free trade”, but what we have had was never “free trade”, but rather managed trade, often “managed” to the detriment of Americans. It is fine with immigration, but not mass uncontrolled and unrestricted immigration. It is concerned about the abuse of power, the assault on the Bill of Rights, and the recruitment of corporations and government departments to suppress freedom of speech, assembly, privacy, firearms ownership, private property, and government promotion of abortion.
Today’s populism largely calls for smaller, cheaper, and less intrusive government and devolution of power back down to the states and local communities. For the most part, it is pro-Israel and its Evangelical members seem friendlier to Judaism than many liberal Jews. In this sense, it is much different than the populist era of the late 19th and early 20th century that wanted more government power centralized in Washington, D.C.
In America, as an insurgent Trump climbs in the polls, the more things the government does to harass and imprison him. The border is out of control, many feel the affordability of the American dream is fading, and the interest of the people always takes second, third, or fourth place to sexual minorities, wokism, illegal immigrants, the climate, and the “international community.”
What, if any common threads can we draw between such a multi-factored global political revolt?
For one, it seems people all over the world think the government should give priority to the problems that affect the vast majority, and quit favoring immigrants and minority movements. They want economic prosperity, a stable currency, a rising standard of living, less crime, and social cohesion, not multi-cultural baloney.
This revolt generally wants not only less sovereign central government power but less international government power. The coterie of “world-looking socialists”, NGOs, and various agencies of the UN, seem to be pushing the same thing (Covid lockdown, unrestricted mass immigration, wealth redistribution, income redistribution through inflation, climate change fascism, Orwellian speech control, reparations for some oppressed class, anti-Semitism, and strange emphasis on paying vast attention to small, often dysfunctional communities (gays, transgenders, Muslims, and multi-culturalists.)
The majority seems fatigued by the constant denigration of Western values, feeling a sense of betrayal that their institutions no longer function for the benefit of the majority but have been hijacked by a quasi-socialist, globalist minority, that cares less about the concerns of the middle class than about the disintegration of society.
The term populism just does not seem descriptive, except to the extent that people want to take control back in their own lives, this time by getting the government out of their daily affairs.
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