As we’re all well aware politics recently has been turned on its head. Brexit in June, Donald Trump in November and potentially the hard-right Marine Le Pen and Geert Wilders as the French President and Dutch Prime Minister in 2017. There is also the anti-immigration, anti-EU Alternative für Deutschland party competing in the 2017 German Bundestag election. 18 months ago, I’m confident no one would have foreseen hard right-wing populism snowball out of control to this extent, even the most attentive political boffins. But the reality is that the future for Britain, Europe, the USA and the world is increasingly looking unclear as the aspirations for progressive politics pales and fades into the unknown. Sorry to dampen your day in advance.
This populist shift to the right has vindicated racism, xenophobia, bigotry, sexism, animosity (the list is endless) in Western society. In the weeks following Brexit, hate crime rose by 42%. Recently, the governments of Britain and France disputed over who was going to take in Syrian child refugees following the Calais Jungle’s dismantlement. At Trump rallies, I can repeatedly recollect moments of discrimination against minorities. In Virginia, an Arab-American was branded a ‘terrorist’ while in another rally in Iowa, Trump encouraged the audience to ‘knock the crap’ out of protestors. Furthermore, Geert Wilders compared the Quran to Mein Kampf and stated that if Islam isn’t opposed, ‘we will lose everything: our freedom, our identity, our democracy, our rule of law, and all our liberties.’
I believe that people such as Trump, Le Pen, Wilders and Farage deliberately evoke the prejudices and fear in society to further their political goals, whether this is the executive office or exiting the EU. Essentially it’s the ways and means of achieving this goal that’s unacceptable. But this isn’t politics! Politics is ‘the art of the possible, the attainable… the art of the next best’ as Bismarck once asserted. Resorting to easy populism and spewing divisive rhetoric which scapegoats those weakest in society should not be the ‘next best,’ yet it’s increasingly becoming this.
However, we can change this. As young progressives entering our adult lives in an anti-establishment, anti-liberal, anti-factual culture, we must take the initiative and challenge the rhetoric and false claims of demagogues and bigots and try to allay the concerns of their followers. Not through belittling them by branding them racist or dismissing their fears as hot air but through discoursing with them and addressing these issues.
I’ll finish with this note. Throughout the Presidential and EU referendum campaign, a significant factor to why both Trump and Leave succeeded in the manner they did was because the opposition, usually the establishment, failed to address people’s chronic concerns such as immigration levels or unemployment fears. We allowed Trump and Farage to set the agenda, to exploit these credible fears and to evoke the worst in humanity. But instead of allaying these concerns, we dismissed them and in turn this powered the rise of dangerous demagogues. Let’s not make this mistake again.