Högerpopulism har växt sig stark i en rad länder världen över under senare år, inklusive i större, betydelsefulla länder som Förenta Staterna, Indien och Brasilien. Filip Ericsson lyfter här fram forskning och politiska kommentarer om vad som utgör och kännetecknar.
Som bl a den kände statsvetaren Jan Werner-Müller pekar på så är populismens kännetecken att dess företrädare säger sig föra något slags enhetligt Folks talan visavi eliterna. En annan sak som förenar populister är att minoriteter undertrycks och opposition avfärdas som illegitim.
Filip Ericsson pekar på hur mycket Donald Trump under sin tid som president agerade på ett sätt som kan definiera honom som populist, särskilt i samband med stormningen av kongressen 6 januari 2021. Men att demokratin i USA stod emot – men nu inför höstens val åter hotas av Trumps hängivna väljare.
Ericsson pekar också på två centrala faktorer som förklarar populismens framväxt. Den ena är växande ekonomiska klyftor inom länder (som visat på brister i demokratins förmåga att leverera rättvist). Den andra förklaringen är hur kulturkriget med synen på genus, ras och klimatarbete blivit en ännu viktigare fråga för väljare än frågor om ekonomi och fördelning.
Donald Trump har varit extremt skickligt på att politiskt exploatera väljarnas starka känslor i dessa frågor. Detsamma gäller andra politiker, bl a företrädare för det polska partiet Lag och rättvisa.
Kulturkriget har gynnat den ryske presidenten Vladimir Putin som överlag delar högerpopulisternas syn på världen och det de gemensamt ser som västvärldens förfall.
Det faktum att många högerpopulister med sammanfallande politiska agendor agerar gemensamt, understödda av Putin, innebär betydande risker i så vitt skilda frågor som klimatarbete som – givetvis – i att stoppa det ryska angreppet på Ukraina.
Men demokratier har kunnat stå emot och måste nu än en gång försvara sina centrala värderingar mot imperialistiskt agerande från dagens Ryssland och Folkrepubliken Kina.
The rise of right-wing populism
ANALYSIS Waves of right-wing populism have swept across the world in recent years and gained significant political influence. This article high-lights important observations and definitions on right-wing populism and why and how it has gained support. The text also points to how right-wing movements threaten democracy and are supported by Putin’s Russia whose “traditional values” they often share.
Populism: elites vs “the People”
The political term “populism” is defined in “What is populism?” by Jan Werner-Müller, professor of political science at Princeton University. He describes populism a destructive force, harmful for the democratic systems of the Western democracies. Müller argues that populism is the rejection of pluralism, as populists will always claim that they – and they only – represent the People and their interests. This means that populist leaders wish to govern according to what they alone define as the will of the people. Therefore, according to Müller, all populism is anti-democratic.
Where democrats view popular protest or disagreement as acceptable within the frames of the political system as a possibility to make compromises between different points of views, populists see protests as results of foreign intervention, conspiracies among elites, self-hatred or treason. Thus, populists often discard other political parties and free press as illegitimate. Müller concludes that if populists gain enough power, they will try to create an authoritarian state that strives to exclude all those not considered to belong to the “proper people”.
Donald Trump, a modern right-wing populist
As one of the first populist leaders elected in a democratic country in modern time, Donald Trump serves as an obvious example of a right-wing populist. In his first one hundred days in office, Trump attacked mainstream media and the science community alike, undermining the public confidence in these institutions. In so doing, he aimed at undermining the very foundations of a democratic society.
Following his inauguration, Trump continued his attacks by blaming immigrants for the country’s problems, thereby deepening divisions in the country instead of trying to unite it.
Thus, from the beginning of Trump’s Presidency discrimination and more hate crimes became more frequent throughout the United States. This development fits well into Müller’s findings of populists excluding human beings not considered to belong to the “proper People”, and disregarding the rights of minorities.
Moreover, today climate denial tends to be frequent among right-wing populists, and Trump cut the budget for environment policies and abandoned global environment agreements, just as he promised during his election campaign. This actions were rooted in strong objections to scientific conclusions on green-house gas emission and in accordance with Trump’s denial and slander of the academic community.
So, was Trump’s populism a real threat to democracy, and did Trump try to dissolve the democratic system with methods Jan-Werner Müller warns for? The answer would easily appear to be “Yes”, as Trump indeed tried to tear up the democratic system. Particularly with his speech just before the storming of the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Fortunately, the democratic institutions in the US largely managed to check and control several of the Trump regime’s attempts to push through new laws and policies incompatible with democratic principles.
However, given the strong support Trump has today in 2024 among Republicans the possibility of him having a second term in the White House causes grave concern for the future of democracy in the USA.
Inequalities and popular distress as root causes for objections to elites
Across the globe, the rise of populism is often a symptom of failure of the political elites in many countries to address increased economic inequalities and popular distress.
Ruchir Sharma, Chief Global Strategist at Morgan Stanley Investment Group, points to economic factors in his book “The rise and fall of nations” (W. W. Norton & Company, 2017).
Sharma argues that all Western countries have experienced a general drop in growth ever since the 1970s. One crucial factor is the effects of demographics, where most Western countries have seen a decline in fertility
rates. The fact is that families have become smaller, the labour force has shrunk, and the retirees are growing in numbers every year. This, argues Sharma, has had a negative impact on economic growth, giving empty spaces of popular dissatisfaction for populists to fill.
“culture war” replace traditional left-right divides
In a research paper at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Ronald Inglehart (Research Professor, Centre for Political Studies) and Pippa Norris (lecturer in comparative politics) concludes that the traditional left-right divide, i.e., economics as the pivot of politics, is on the decline.
With Brexit, Trump and populist candidates in Europe, analysts have noted that economic factors are not the most powerful factors for their support. (Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash | Harvard Kennedy School)
Inglehart and Norris note that the shift began in the 1970s “when young people embraced a postmaterialist politics centred on self-expression and issues related to gender, race, and the environment. They challenged authority and established institutions and norms, and they were largely successful in introducing new ideas and recasting politics and society. But they also produced a counter reaction:
“The older generation, particularly men, was traumatized by what it saw as an assault on the civilization and values it cherished and had grown up with. These people began to vote for parties and candidates that they believed would, above all, hold at bay these forces of cultural and social change.”
According to Vanessa Williamson (doctoral student in Government at Harvard University) and Theda Skocpol (Professor of Government and Sociology, Harvard University) the core motivations of Tea Party followers were not economic, but cultural. They also concluded that the strong hostility towards Barak Obama showed that race also plays a role in this reaction. (No Job Name (harvard.edu), Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism, OUP US, 2016).
Subsequent to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election in 2016, Fareed Zakaria came to similar conclusions in his article “Populism on the march – Why the west is in trouble”, published in the December 2016 issue of Foreign Affairs. (Populism on the March | Foreign Affairs)
Zakaria adds that
“Trump’s political genius was to realize that many Republican voters were unmoved by the standard party gospel of free trade, low taxes, deregulation, and entitlement reform but would respond well to a different appeal based on cultural fears and nationalist sentiment.”
Europe: right wing gains support, particularly in the East
Statistics from the European data institute Parlgov, testifies how right-wing populists have gained ground in national elections throughout Europe in recent years. European populist parties’ vote share on the rise, especially on right | Pew Research Center
In Hungary, the national-conservative party Fidesz with its leader Viktor Orbán has led the country since 2010. In recent years, the party has kept an increasingly more illiberal, authoritarian stance, politics that has caused the EU parliament to call Orbán’s reign “a hybrid regime of electoral autocracy”.
In Poland, the populist Law and Order-party reigned for almost two decades, alone or in political coalitions. It received strong international criticism for trying to tear down the control systems that were in place to secure the power-sharing functions of society, crucial for the rule of law. In 2023 however, it lost the election and was replaced by a liberal government.
In Slovakia, the left-wing populist Smer pro-Moscow party won the national election in late 2023 and could create disunion within the EU as well as within NATO. This case shows that populism on the left can be equally problematic as right-wing populism. It also demonstrates that Moscow is attractive for populists at both political ends.
Right-wing movements have also become stronger in Western Europe, notably in Italy, where the right-wing populist Brothers of Italy gained power in 2022 with Giorgia Meloni as Prime minister. Right-wing populists are also strong in France, Germany. And Sweden.
The Russian president Putin has for decades actively promoted and economically supported right-wing partes in Europe as a means to weaken what Russia perceives as a “decadent Western culture” which has abandoned traditional family values, embraced homosexuality and challenged gender roles.
Global right-wing populism and collaboration
In the democratic world outside Europe, right-wing nationalist parties or coalitions of parties have won national elections in Israel, India and Brazil. However, some of them have lost power such as in Brazil (and Poland). Thus, illiberal right-wing populism can evidently be a fluctuating phenomenon.
However, warm and cordial relations between several right-wing populist governments and leaders can be extremely harmful and affect international politics, for instance in much required need for combatting climate change.
Populism has also had dire economic and military consequences for the support to Ukraine, where Hungary as well as Slovakia have chosen to object to assistance to the attacked country.
Furthermore, the crucial economic and military support from the US to Ukraine is presently at risk due to objections from the Republican party. If Trump should win the 2024 presidential election, prospects could be even more dire.
By tearing down democratic systems, political instability follows. This weakens the position of the free world vis-à-vis imperialist dictatorships like China and Russia, who see the chance to exploit these weaknesses, and thereby creating a more insecure existence for the citizens of the free world.
However, the strength of the Western world has traditionally been its ability to uphold democratic development, resulting in political stability and a healthy economic development, which in turn have enabled military strength.
These values are vital but under threat – and indeed worth fighting for.
Filip Ericsson, statsvetare, arbetar nu för Uppsala kommun och har bl a skrivit om Rwanda 20 år efter folkmordet och Irak 20 år efter USA:s invasion.
Redaktör: Gerd Johnsson-Latham
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