Music video by The Clash performing White Riot. (C) 1977 Sony Music Entertainment UK Limited
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How racism and immigration gave us Trump, Brexit, and a whole new kind of politics
Donald Trump is not an accident.
It’s tempting to see Trump’s rise as something sui generis: something so bizarre, so linked to his own celebrity, that it could never be repeated. Yet it is being repeated: Throughout the Western world, far-right populists are rising in the polls.
In Hungary, the increasingly authoritarian prime minister, Viktor Orban, has started building a wall to keep out immigrants and holding migrants in detention camps where guards have been filmed flinging food at them as if they were zoo animals. In Italy, the anti-immigrant Northern League, led by a politician who has attacked the pope for calling for dialogue with Muslims, is polling at more than three times its 2013 level, making it the country’s third most popular party. And in Finland, the Finns Party — which wants to dramatically slash immigration numbers and keep out many non-Europeans — is part of the government. Its leader, Timo Soini, is the country’s foreign minister.
These politicians share Trump’s populist contempt for the traditional political elite. They share his authoritarian views on crime and justice. But most importantly, they share his xenophobia: They despise immigrants, vowing to close the borders to refugees and economic migrants alike, and are open in their belief that Muslims are inherently dangerous.
These parties’ values are too similar, and their victories coming too quickly, for their success to be coincidental. Their platforms, a right-wing radicalism somewhere between traditional conservatism and the naked racism of the Nazis and Ku Klux Klan, have attracted widespread support in countries with wildly different cultures and histories.
The conventional wisdom is that the economic losses suffered by working-class people throughout the developed world explain the rise of this new right. Hundreds of thousands of jobs are estimated to have been lost due to free trade pacts in recent decades, with industries like manufacturing absorbing much of the pain.
That’s created an ocean of angry and frustrated people — primarily blue-collar and primarily white — who are susceptible to the appeal of a nationalist leader promising to bring back what they feel has been taken away.
Donald Trump is a manifestation of this backlash, as are Brexit and the surge of support for far-right European parties. They show the extent of white Christian anger — the privileged who are furious that their privileges are being stripped away by those they view as outside interlopers.
It is that fury over immigrants that offers the best explanation we have for why the forces of intolerance are currently on the rise in the West. If we want to understand the world we live in today — and the one we’ll be inhabiting for years to come — we need to understand how immigration and intolerance are transforming the way white Christians vote. We need to understand that the battle between racist nationalism and liberal cosmopolitanism will be one of the defining ideological struggles of the 21st century. And we need to understand that Donald Trump is not an accident. He’s a harbinger.
Music video by Public Image Limited performing Rise. (C) 2013 Virgin Records Ltd
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