By JULIAN YERGER – There has been a political revolution sweeping Europe, and this November it finally reached the US.
Recently, a new group of far-right-wing political parties have triggered Britain’s exit of the European Union and are expected to win the first round of French presidential elections this spring. In another shocking movement, Donald Trump won the electoral college and is now the American president-elect.
These events have much in common, as they have all exposed the shifting priorities of many voters worldwide and how new politicians are answering the call. In Europe especially, the new right-wing parties have been galvanized by the issue of immigration.
Their platform consists of anti-immigration rhetoric as well as the fiscally liberal policies of a strong welfare state and protected social benefits. These parties have also adopted many socially liberal causes such as protection of the LGBT community, and fighting for equal rights for women. They cast Muslims as the enemy, reinforcing the anti-immigration message. As stated by The Guardian, their economic strategy could be summarized as “more welfare, but only for us.”
Many people have offered explanations as to why Britain left the EU, but the underlying theme is anti-immigrant.
The prevailing explanation for the vote is that poor, northern, ex-factory workers thought the elites had been allowing immigrants to pour into the country, and the people were rising up to rebuke them.
As explained by IHS Social Studies teacher Mr. Parker Dunlap, British citizen Michael Turner thought the decision was beneficial because, “Britain has always stood alone and does best when they look out for their own interests.”
This view is supported by data showing a strong correlation between age and voting to leave the EU, as well as an even stronger association between education and voting to leave. Also, if an area has many immigrants who are longtime residents, it is more likely to vote remain; if it recently experienced a surge in immigration, it is more likely to vote leave. In short, if an area had recently experienced changes that fit within the narrative of one side, the residents were more likely to support that side.
From the other side of the argument, many economists are certain that the decision will hurt Britain economically while offering no real benefit. Some IHS students are opposed to the idea too; freshman Nathan Birch stated, “I don’t think they should have left [the EU],” and sophomore Joey Bujdos agreed, elaborating, “If they have allies outside of the EU then Britain wouldn’t be respected by those allies.” Freshman Erin Okey had similar views saying, “This decision was not thought out very well and was a mistake in my opinion. It is damaging to the country and their citizens.”
In France, the presidential candidate Marine Le Pen is turning heads and threatening to bring about a French Brexit. Her political party is the French National Front, which according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, is a nationalist political party that was founded in 1972 and gained influence a decade later. Marine Le Pen is the daughter of the National Front’s early leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and she has reformed the party significantly.
In addition to the previously mentioned reforms of many European right-wing political parties, Le Pen has branded herself as a law and order candidate who seeks to improve France’s position abroad. To achieve these goals, she has many aggressive policies such as giving the Justice Department a 25% increase in funding and investing in expensive military projects such as nuclear submarines and a new aircraft carrier.
As the election currently stands, the likely outcome is that she will win or come in second for the first round of balloting, either of which would be enough to send her to the round of runoff voting. In that round, French voters are forced to pick one of the top two candidates from the first round, and it is unlikely that Le Pen would win.
Right wing parties are making waves in other European countries as well. The Danish People’s Party has combined a socialist platform with anti-immigrant policy and Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland has been criticized for comparing immigrants to compost.
Despite some complications and exceptions, there are many similarities between the revised European parties and the rise of Trump. All share similar anti-immigrant rhetoric, scapegoating the country’s problems on a certain ethnicity, religion, or race. Common themes here include increased border security and overt nativism. They also represent an intense desire for change and disruption, a revolution of the commoners against the ruling elite. These populist movements also share a sense of crisis, the idea that the country is under attack, what’s happening is a disaster, and the only way to fix it is to elect a law-and-order candidate. Despite intense criticism of the existing government, these movements also appeal to an intense nationalistic pride.
However, the messages start to differ on what they emphasize, because while they are pitching the same concepts, the politicians have to appeal to different voters. In America, the populist movement means pandering to the disaffected white male, in Britain it means appealing to nationalistic pride, in France it means creating a sense of security with an increased police force and military, and in the Netherlands it means strengthening the social safety net, but only for natives.
Many will agree that these political changes have been driven by the reinsertion of immigration into the national discussions. This has in turn been caused by the Syrian refugee crisis, making the Syrian War one of the most influential conflicts in history.