By Bill Fletcher
Dec 18, 2015 – It is not just Donald Trump; nor is it just Trump and Marine Le Pen (leader of the Front National in France). The specter of right-wing populism haunts the planet and places us all in a state of perpetual anxiety.
Right-wing populism is not equivalent to the entirety of the political Right. It is a specific trend within which one can find movements such as fascism. It rises in response to progressive social movements and it specifically seems to emerge in times of economic crisis when the larger capitalist system has proven dysfunctional. It poses itself as the defender of the “people” against various elites and “alien” forces, frequently defining the elites in racial/ethnic/religious terms. While it may articulate language reminiscent of the political Left, it is more a caricature or a deception which aims to peel away supporters and potential supporters of Left and progressive projects.
Right-wing populism is dangerous in its irrationalism. As one can observe in the Donald Trump campaign, Trump has never been constrained by facts or the truth. Perhaps the most obvious example has been his repeated references to alleged cheering by thousands of Arab Americans (and/or Muslims) on 11 September 2001 at the time of the al-Qaida terrorist attacks. No documentation has ever been discovered of such alleged cheering, yet Trump insists upon it and many of his supporters have either been willing to take a pass on his suggestion or go so far as to back up his story.
There is a term for seeing things that don’t exist…
The irrationalism and revanchism of right-wing populism speaks very much to the crisis faced by the white population of the U.S. and, indeed, the crisis facing so-called whites in many parts of the capitalist world. While right-wing populism is not limited to whites — with a case in point being the Hutu genocide against the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994 — there is a particularity to right-wing populism in the advanced capitalist world. It is a combination of the sense that their [white] old world is disintegrating due to both massive economic changes as well as demographic changes. In the U.S., such a combination has fueled movements such as the Tea Party that emerged during the first year of the Obama administration.
With the rise of the Islamic State group, right-wing populism in multiple countries has shifted gears with Muslims becoming the target of choice. In fact, it can be argued that Islamophobia is the most acceptable form of open racism of the moment. Islam has been branded, by right-wing populists, not only the religion of terrorists but the religion of the brown and black barbaric masses that supposedly threaten Western so-called civilization.
Right-wing populism cannot be written off as irrelevant lunacy, despite its irrationalism. It is a powerful social movement that represents danger to progress wherever it raises its ugly head. For forces on the Left, the challenge is how to combat this phenomenon? While it will not be easy, it cannot be collapsed into simply offering an alternative for the future, though our work must contain that. It should include, but not limit itself to: (continued)