The National Review makes an interesting point about the global populist wave rolling over Europe and the United States:
Most of these parties have only the occasional issue in common with each other or with the Trump insurgents. What unites them is not ideology or policies (which are usually responses to specific national situations) but a raw spirit of revolt. If they were to attain power, they would start to look very different as they put their ideas into effect.
Not to sugarcoat what’s happening in Europe, but it’s a mistake to reduce it to something as simple as a “far right” political takeover of the continent. Doing so limits one’s imagination of how the left can respond to it.
The five stars of the Five Star Movement in Italy, which is the clear winner in this week’s failed constitutional referendum led by soon-to-resign Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, stand for the following: publicly owned water, sustainable transport, sustainable development, right to internet access, and environmentalism. Not a single one of those planks can be mistaken for an inherently “right wing” or “conservative” value.
And yet the collapse of the Italian government (which is almost a yearly occurrence in that country) is widely understood as of a piece with Brexit, the popularity of Marine Le Pen’s Front National in France and the rise of the Alternative for Germany party next door, the ascendance of the Danish People’s Party and other “far right” tides of change on the continent, as well as the election of Donald Trump in the United States.
And of course they are of a piece: each of them is a response to the failure of traditional political parties, with their bureaucracies and dogmas and entrenched leaders, to respond adequately to the complex and evolving cultural and economic changes brought by globalization.
But the way those failures, and the uprisings they provoke, look in each country varies widely by those countries’ respective cultures, political configurations, and economic circumstances. In no way is it pre-ordained that the outcome of a populist political shake-up in a given nation is a right wing takeover.
Even the Front National, so often castigated as “fascist,” has distinct left wing elements in its message and platform. Le Pen has put her party’s xenophobia, chauvinism and Islamophobia in the service (rhetorically) of defending the welfare state and safeguarding France’s commitment to tolerance and plurality. The FN may be a far right party, but only by co-opting parts of the left has it achieved the strength to seriously contend for national power.
The Five Star Movement, with its anti-immigrant bent, is hardly progressive (its leader is frequently compared to Mussolini). But nor is it “right wing.” It’s both, and it’s neither. To force it into one category or the other is to default to the antiquated political framework that parties like it are in the process of displacing. Doing so practically commits you to misunderstanding the whole phenomenon.
To an American observer, the lesson to draw from this puzzle is that there is nothing inherently right-wing about the populist wave that ushered in Trump, either. For a number of reasons that should set off alarm bells for Democrats, it was the right instead of the left that ultimately succeeded in capitalizing on the surge of discontent and organizing voters around it. But as Bernie Sanders’ unexpected success in the primary showed, racism, Islamophobia and anti-immigrant hysteria were hardly the only vehicles with which to shape and direct that anger. The Democrats just happened to choose as their nominee the most prominent representative of the ancien regime at exactly the time when the old order was being toppled throughout the Western world.