The Not-So-New Populism
Modern right-wing populism set the world ablaze in 2016, with Brexit and Donald Trump’s election. But it didn’t start with Nigel Farage, or with Trump coming down the golden escalator. This political phenomenon has been building for two decades around the globe, and during this time the establishment governments have had many opportunities to squash it by addressing working-class voters’ concerns about government corruption, income inequality, free trade, nation-building, mass immigration, sovereignty, and terrorism.
The political class didn’t address these problems because that would have forced them tocompromise their orthodoxy that cultures and people were interchangeable and that people displaced by globalism could merely move away from industrial rust belts and learn new trades. As a result, governments became increasingly removed from the people they governed.
The Hungarian election in 1998 was the first sign that populist-nationalism could become a political force capable not just of mobilizing crowds but also winning elections. Hungarians were suffering through the Socialist Party’s (MSZP) austerity measures, efforts to open Hungary’s market to multinational corporations from the West, a money scandal that led to the indictment of politicians for widespread corruption, and an outbreak of domestic terrorism.
A 35-year old Viktor Orbán ran on a platform of law and order. He promised to tackle economic inequality; provide financial relief by restoring Hungary’s welfare programs geared towards the poor, families, and students; and promote corporate tax cuts aimed at small and medium-sized Hungarian-owned businesses. This brand of right-wing nationalist-populism excited voters and forced almost all other right-wing parties to shift their support to Orbán during the runoff elections. In the end, Orbán’s Fidesz Party took 28 percent of the vote, formed a coalition government, and elected him prime minister.
Orbán was the first right-wing populist to be democratically elected, but he would not remain in office long. During his tenure, his government was also engulfed in scandal, and the nation’s economy reeled from inflation. His party lost the 2002 election to MSZP.
Nonetheless, Orbán showed that right-wing governments could win national elections and would not be relegated to the political shadows as they had been for decades. Under France’s Jean-Marie Le Pen and England’s John Tyndall, right-wing populist-nationalist parties had been tarnished by charges of fascism and connections to neo-Nazis. Orbán, though he was criticized by international media outlets, succeeded, however briefly, in presenting himself as a reformer, providing a viable groundwork for future elections.
A changing Europe also provided fuel for right-wing populism. The consolidation of the European Union after 1992, opening borders to migrants and asylum seekers, and the agreement to abandon national currencies in favor of the Euro, riled up many voters. A pair of right-wing nationalist political parties in Central Europe capitalized on these frustrations.
Austria led the way with the Freedom Party (FPO)—a party founded by former Nazis in the 1950s—which found prominence under the leadership of Jörg Haider, who had taken over the party in 1986. During the 1990s, Haider transformed the party from a centrist free-market party to one whose policies focused on “Austria First.” FPO was firmly against mass immigration, the EU, and replacing the national currency with the Euro. “Austria is not a country of immigration,” was a central platform in the “Austria First” list of policy goals.
Haider’s fiery rhetoric motivated conservatives across Austria, as did a platform of economic reform that included tax reductions and privatization. He demanded a reduction in legal immigration and more direct democracy. In the 1999 election, the FPO took an astounding 27 percent of the vote, their highest percentage to date, becoming the second-largest party in Austria.
The FPO formed a coalition government with the center-right Austrian People’s Party (APP). Haider, in line to become Austria’s chancellor, was not permitted to steer the new government: the EU threatened economic sanctions if he were to take power. Haider stepped down from his leadership role and became governor of Carinthia, where he remained until his death in 2008.
Like Orbán’s Fidesz Party, the FPO wasn’t as good at governing as it was at winning an election. It gave massive concessions to the APP, and its voters soured on party leadership. They remained in the government until 2006 when they won just 11 percent in the National Council election.
Other European right-wing populists had more success. Just two weeks after Haider’s victory, the Swiss People’s Party (SVP), led by Christoph Blocher, came in first, running on a platform of opposition to Switzerland’s entrance into the United Nations and the EU, reducing refugees, and protecting jobs for the Swiss people.
Blocher was able to galvanize supporters who had become weary of the substantial number of Kosovar refugees the tiny country had absorbed. About 850,000 Kosovo Albanians, mostly Muslim, were displaced as a result of the civil war. Swiss voters believed there was a correlation between Albanians and criminality, a belief that a 2010 study from the Federal Statistics Office on crime and country of origin in Switzerland had confirmed. Immigrants from Serbia had three times as many the number of criminal convictions as native Swiss.
More crime, higher than usual levels of unemployment, and an influx of Muslim refugees, led Swiss voters to endorse a clampdown on the refugee population. And unlike the parties led by Orbán and Haider, the SVP managed to govern without splitting into minor coalitions or abandoning the policies they had campaigned on, becoming the largest political party in the country during the 2003 election.
Internal forces inside Europe were responsible for the rise of right-wing populism in the late 1990s, but the motivating factor shifted to international concerns after September 11, 2001. In the wake of the terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., populist parties across Europe presented their policies as an effective response to the threat posed by Islamic terrorism.
Americans increasingly began demanding that their government decrease the rate of legal immigration. Gallup polls found that nearly 60 percent of Americans wanted the government to reduce immigration and close the borders. Instead, George W. Bush’s government went to war in the Middle East, told Americans to go to the mall, and increased immigration.
Europeans also became more aware of the threat of Islamic terrorism, and mass immigration started reflecting those sentiments in national elections.
In Denmark, Pia Kjærsgaard’s Danish People’s Party (DPP) garnered 12 percent of the vote by promising to toughen laws on chain migration, protect the welfare state from fraud, and combat terrorism. The DPP entered a coalition government with the center-right Liberal Party and for the first time since 1901, conservative parties had an outright majority in the Danish legislature. The two parties would be re-elected two more times. They passed sweeping measures in 2002 that made family reunification more difficult, a law The Washington Post would later characterize as a “Muslim ban.”
In the Netherlands, Pim Fortuyn made waves with his political party Pim Fortuyn List (LPF). Fortuyn believed that the West and Islam were incompatible, and he called for a “Cold War with Islam.”
Yet in other ways, Fortuyn broke with forms of cultural conservatism often championed on the Right. A 54-year-old gay man, he was a strong advocate for the rights of gays and women; he also supported euthanasia, drug legalization, and freedom of speech. While the Dutch press compared Fortuyn to Jean-Marie Le Pen, he considered himself to be in the tradition of John F. Kennedy and wanted to preserve Dutch liberalism and tolerance.
Just two weeks before the 2002 Dutch parliamentary elections, Fortuyn was assassinated by a far-left extremist. But Fortuyn’s murderer did not put an end to the political party he created. LPF received 17 percent of the vote, the second-highest that year, and entered into a coalition government with the Christian Democrats. Their time in power was short-lived, however: without Fortuyn the party fell into disarray, and when snap elections were held the following year, LPF lost nearly 70 percent of their seats.
Despite his brief moment in the political spotlight, Fortuyn became a martyr to the national populists. In 2004, he was voted in a public poll as “The Greatest Dutchman of All-Time” and helped launch the career of Geert Wilders.
Just two weeks before Fortuyn’s assassination, another political earthquake occured France. Jean-Marie Le Pen, the leader of the Front National (FN), scored a massive upset in the presidential election and advanced to the second round against Jacques Chirac. This would become the high watermark of Le Pen’s political career. Le Pen had made no attempts to moderate his far-right stances or walk back remarks he made about Jews and the Holocaust, and would go on to lose the second round by 64 points.
Despite Fortuyn’s murder and Le Pen’s blowout loss, populism had not exhausted its possibilities. Over the next four years, populist parties would make significant gains in Poland and Slovenia as the continent was rocked by a series of terrorist attacks in London and Madrid by Islamic terrorists. High-profile murders by Islamic extremists also sprang up across Europe including the beheading of Dutch artist Theo Van Gogh in 2004 by a Dutch Muslim who killed him for criticizing Islam.
Trust in the EU also began to fall—from 50 percent in August 2004 to 45 percent in August 2005—while distrust climbed from 36 percent to 43 percent, according to a study by the European Commission. The study also showed that Europeans were increasingly worried about the speed with which the EU was expanding. This was especially true in the UK, Finland, Denmark, Sweden, and the Netherlands, where a plurality, if not an outright majority, were fearful of losing their national sovereignty to a stronger EU.
Despite these growing concerns in Western Europe, a majority of EU nations enjoyed the fruits of the economic boom in the mid-2000s, and establishment parties maintained their majorities and ignored what was brewing.
On February 22, 2006, just a year after Van Gogh’s murder, Geert Wilders formed the Freedom Party (PVV), running on the slogan, “Stop the influence of Islam in the Netherlands.” In a year that saw a wave of left-wing electoral victories, the PVV won 6 percent of the vote and gained nine seats.
Wilders is unique because he became the first international nationalist-populist political celebrity. Known for his platinum blonde hair and quick one-liners, Wilders garnered the attention of the international media, especially after the release of his 2008 short film Fitna, which highlighted the growth of Islam in Europe. The film was even talked about by American conservative media personalities including Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh.
Economic conditions would then lead to unexpected opportunities. In 2008, the world was rocked by the financial downturn, and unemployment soared across Europe and America. The debt crisis quickly followed, and nations such as Greece, Italy, and the UK were put under austerity measures.
The gap between the richest and poorest Europeans grew wider. Eastern Europe experienced a massive brain drain of young people leaving for Western Europe in the hopes of a better life. Western Europeans, especially Millennials, began rioting as a result of the crumbling European welfare state and a youth unemployment rate of 20 percent.
Conditions were especially severe in Hungary where unemployment climbed into the double digits, the economy contracted, and the ruling Socialist Party, already plagued with scandal, was forced to borrow $27 billion from the International Monetary Fund. It was too much for Hungarian voters to stomach, and they voted to give an absolute majority to the former prime minister Victor Orbán. Coming in third place was Jobbik, an even more extreme right-wing party.
In addition to a shaky economy, tensions were also rising in Western Europe over the growing Muslim population, which sparked concerns over a lack of assimilation as well as fears of terrorism. French President Nicolas Sarkozy instituted the nation’s first burqa ban, and the Nordic countries experienced their very first suicide attack linked to Islamic terrorism.
Mainstream right-wing parties in France, Italy, the UK, and Germany tried to sound more nationalist. Angela Merkel and David Cameron spoke out against multiculturalism in 2010 and 2011, respectively, calling the experiment a failure. Yet this new nationalist stance was merely rhetoric, as no changes were made in regards to immigration laws, approaches to multiculturalism, and the growing rift between the classes.
At the same time, mainstream leftist parties began to abandon their working-class base in favor of the highly educated and racial minorities. Identity politics changed left-wing parties around the globe, especially in the UK. After his electoral victory in 1997, Tony Blair fundamentally altered the UK’s immigration policy, causing a massive movement from the UK’s former colonies. In 1997, 327,000 people immigrated to the UK; by 2010 that number reached nearly 600,000, or about a 1 percent population increase annually.
In 2009, Blair’s former adviser Andrew Neather admitted the massive increase wasn’t to help Labour voters or the working poor but instead to “rub the Right’s nose in diversity” and engineer a “truly multicultural country.”
By 2010, with millions of new voters from the Third World, Labour wasn’t as dependent on the working class as they used to be, and hundreds of thousands of their voters began quietly looking for a new party.
Nationalist-populist parties secured a series of victories in 2010 running on these issues. Geert Wilders’ PVV won 15 percent of the vote in the Netherlands, winning 24 seats running on a platform of banning the Koran and taxing Muslim women for wearing headscarves. PVV became part of the coalition government with the conservative People’s Party for Freedom and Democracy. It created the first government in 92 years to exclude the Socialists and Christian Democrats.
Further north in Sweden, the Swedish Democrats (SD), led by 31-year old Jimmie Åkesson, entered parliament for the first time after winning nearly 6 percent of the vote. Åkesson and fellow Gen Xers Björn Söder, Mattias Karlsson, and Richard Jomshof took over the SD in 2005 and purged the party of neo-Nazis and other outspoken racists and moderated the party by focusing on populist-nationalist issues including reducing immigration, preserving the welfare state, reducing carbon emissions, and renegotiating Sweden’s membership in the EU.
Establishment parties did everything they could to prevent the SD from gaining traction. They were not invited to debates, private television stations refused to play their commercials, and 500 left-wing protestors violently prevented them from holding an election rally. All of this caused a massive backlash with voters, and Åkesson’s party gained a foothold in Swedish politics regardless. The following year, Finland elected a nationalist-populist party to its coalition government: the True Finns received 19 percent of the vote, running against the EU’s bailout of Greece.
Across the Atlantic, another right-wing populist movement was brewing. Americans soured on President Barack Obama after the Democratic Party enacted changes to Americans’ healthcare. Democrats won a supermajority in the U.S. Senate but overreached by passing the Affordable Care Act by a unanimous vote without even trying to work with moderate Republicans.
The Democrats’ approval ratings plunged, and political outsiders demanding a reduction in the size and scope of government won a series of high-profile elections in the Republican Party. The Tea Party, led by Alaska Governor Sarah Palin, helped GOP outsiders, including Rand Paul, Mike Lee, Marco Rubio, and Nikki Haley, achieve upset victories in the primaries. In the general election, Republicans won 63 House seats, the most for any party since 1938.
Rand Paul became an especially interesting figure in American politics, fusing libertarian philosophies with mainstream conservatism. The son of Representative Ron Paul—a staunch libertarian who was never able to parlay his devoted following into a successful nationwide or even statewide campaign—Rand held onto the core elements of his father’s libertarian political philosophy but purged some of the more extremist positions to appeal to a broader audience.
In Europe, Marine Le Pen took the same path, after her father, Jean-Marie, stepped down from his leadership role of the FN after four decades at the helm. She ousted extremists from the party and disassociated the FN from neo-fascist and other extremist European parties like the British National Party. Le Pen ran for president in 2012 and received the highest share of the vote in FN history, 17.9 percent. During that year’s National Assembly elections, two FN politicians were elected, including Marine’s niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen, who at the time was the youngest person in French history to enter the National Assembly.
On the other side of the continent, Norway elected conservative parties in 2013, including the libertarian/anti-immigration/populist Progress Party. Their right-wing coalition government won re-election in 2017.
Similarly, Pacific countries also saw the rise of right-wing nationalism with the election of Shinzō Abe in Japan and Liberal Party leader Tony Abbott in Australia. Once again, refugees had become a significant issue in the 2013 Australian election. Nearly 20,000 illegal aliens entered Australia in 2013 by boat, a 300 percent increase from 2010. Abbott had been a conventional conservative politician who believed in smaller government, traditional marriage, and free trade, but in 2013 he shifted toward populism, campaigning heavily on the issues of national sovereignty and illegal immigration.
As prime minister, Abbott launched “Operation Sovereign Borders,” which was extremely successful in stopping the boats of migrants before they landed. From January 2014 to April 2015, only one boat made it to the shore of Australia. Issues of sovereignty were also the cornerstone in the 2014 EU Parliament elections. A growing number of citizens around Europe were demanding serious reforms from their national governments, but EU regulations constrained them.
The question of sovereignty would ultimately have consequences for the United Kingdom’s shift toward populism. Nigel Farage and his United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) hit the campaign trail on a platform of constraining the EU’s power. “Brussels makes 75 percent of the laws governing the UK,” Farage said in campaign speeches. And the problem was not just from the Middle East and Africa, but from countries in the former Soviet bloc. As the EU was expanding eastward in 2013 to include countries like Romania and Bulgaria, rich Western countries like the UK saw a massive influx of low-wage workers, driving up housing costs and lowering the wages of unskilled labor.
The Schengen Agreement erased the borders of the individual countries inside the EU when it was signed in 1985, but that was when original signers France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and West Germany, countries with relatively similar levels of unemployment and GDP per capita, comprised the EU. When the EU added poorer countries from the former Soviet bloc, it put low-skilled workers from Western countries like the UK in direct competition with the cheapest labor in Europe, causing a major backlash.
This concern was addressed by populist parties but ignored by the EU, and became the main focus of Farage’s crusade.
Farage, unlike other European politicians who primarily focused on Muslim immigrants, attacked the open migration from Eastern Europeans, which made charges of racism less credible, although many opposition media outlets nonetheless characterized Farage in this way. And yet, his views were persuasive: Farage’s UKIP topped the polls and won 27 percent of the vote in the UK, gaining two million more votes than they had received in the 2009 election. Across the English Channel, Marine Le Pen’s FN saw similar success, coming in first place with 25 percent of the vote.
The results of these two elections sent shockwaves throughout Europe. As EU President Martin Schulz said of the results, “(the people) have lost hope and trust.” After these elections, with his coalition losing popularity, Schulz made no concessions like ceding more autonomy back to the member nations.
Another smaller but equally important election centering around immigration took place at the same time in Switzerland, which held a referendum to reduce legal immigration. The referendum was opposed by the banking industry, the EU, every major political party except the SVP, and many major corporations. Despite fear-mongering by opposition politicians and the media, particularly warnings that jobs would be lost and the economy would suffer, the referendum passed by 50.3 percent of the vote.
What do all these simultaneous movements demonstrate? Arguably, that voters believed the EU was either unwilling or unable to respond to the growing resentment about lost autonomy and fears over mass immigration.
Furthermore, right-wing populist-nationalism was also growing outside of Europe and the English-speaking world. In India, the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Narendra Modi won an outright majority in the 2014 election campaigning against corruption, illegal immigration from Bangladesh, expanded healthcare coverage to the poor, rebuilding infrastructure, and growing the economy.
In South America, Óscar Iván Zuluaga and former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe created the Democratic Center Party after the Colombian government started negotiating with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a communist guerrilla movement. In the presidential election that year, Zuluaga made it to the second round and gained seats in the Colombian House and Senate.
A global view of these political changes suggests that between 1998 and 2014, the rise of populist-nationalism was small but steady; however, this political impulse was still limited until 2015. Then, the actions taken by President Obama and Chancellor Merkel turned the embers of populist-nationalism into a forest fire.
A key issue was the classic American error of attempting to export democracy. During the 2011 Arab Spring, Obama contributed to the destabilization of the Middle East by tacitly approving the overthrow of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. He then armed several rebel groups in Syria, prolonging the length and severity of that nation’s civil war. To date, over five million people have become refugees from Syria alone, pouring into Europe. Many died trying to make the journey, including four-year-old Alan Kurdi, whose body washed up on the Greek island of Lesvos on September 2, 2015. When the images of the child’s death went viral, there was a public outcry. Just three days later Merkel announced that “there are no limits to the number of asylum seekers” Germany would take in.
The floodgates opened. Within months, more than a million people from all parts of the Middle East and Africa attempted to flee to Europe, hoping they could make it to Germany. By October, more than 9,000 migrants were arriving in Greece every day. Without Gaddafi, Libya became a failed state and the home to human traffickers and slave traders who made a multi-billion-dollar business out of smuggling people into Europe.
By 2017, 1.3 million people had registered for asylum in Germany; France, Italy, and Sweden took hundreds of thousands more.
Unsurprisingly, this too would fuel the spread of populism in Europe. The feeling that Germany had finally moved past its own dark history of exclusion and had become the most welcoming country on Earth was short-lived. On New Year’s Eve 2016, more than 1,200 German women were sexually assaulted by migrants from the Middle East and Africa. News of the assaults went viral around the world and came just a year after former British Labour MP Sarah Champion had reported that the government had covered up Muslim grooming gangs that were responsible for the rape of more than 1,200 British girls. Sexual assaults also increased in Sweden, and a 2018 SVT study found that 58 percent of those convicted over the previous five years were born outside the EU.
Opponents of immigration pointed out that Europe had suffered more than a dozen Islamic terrorist attacks in 2015 and 2016, including a coordinated shooting and bombing in Paris that killed 130 people, an attack at the Brussels airport that killed 32 people, and truck attacks that drove into crowds in Nice and Berlin that killed 86 and 12 people.
Even before these events Europeans had begun to sour on immigration: a 2014 European Social Survey found that about 50 percent of EU citizens wanted few or no immigrants who were gypsies, Muslim, or came from poor countries outside Europe. As it had been in the past, nothing changed, and immigration from Africa and the Middle East only continued to grow.
Not surprisingly, Europeans turned to those who had voiced their concerns about immigration for decades to articulate solutions. In 2015, the DPP became the second-largest party in Denmark and re-entered a governing coalition, the Independent Greeks entered Parliament in Greece, the Law and Justice Party swept the House, Senate, and presidency in Poland, the SVP became the largest party in Switzerland since 1919, and UKIP won nearly 3.9 million votes in the UK elections by winning over former Labour voters on a platform of reducing immigration and preserving the welfare state.
By this point, most populist-nationalist parties in Europe were campaigning on those working-class priorities that used to be championed by center-left parties. The same eventually was true of Donald Trump in the United States. As leftists focused more on identity politics and issues affecting white liberals, populist-nationalists seized on this vacuum created by left-wing parties and all but gave up on winning more mainstream conservatives that campaigned almost exclusively on economic liberalism and limited government.
More shocks came the following year, first in Germany when the Alternative for Germany (AfD) came in second place in three state elections, campaigning against Merkel’s response to the refugee crisis. In the UK, Nigel Farage successfully led a referendum vote to leave the EU. Every major political party aside from UKIP and the Conservative Party were against the Leave campaign, and the Conservatives were neutral even though Prime Minister David Cameron was openly opposed. Fear mongering by the media told the British people that the economy would free fall into a recession, and the UK would lose their standing in the world, but they didn’t care. On June 23, 2016, 52 percent of British voters elected to leave the EU.
Just four months later, the shockwaves continued when the American people elected businessman and reality TV show host Donald Trump to the presidency. Similarly to his counterparts around the world, Trump’s campaign slogans—“America First” and “Make America Great Again”—promoted nationalism. Unlike previous Republicans he promised to roll back free-trade agreements that cost blue-collar jobs, vowed to reduce legal immigration and deport illegal aliens, build a wall along the border with Mexico, and change direction in U.S. foreign policy by avoiding nation-building. Trump catapulted into the nomination by insisting America had been taken advantage of by other countries for decades, that European and American leaders made a mistake by opening their borders and markets to international competitors like China, and promising to protect citizens from violence.
The news of terrorist attacks and sexual assaults in Europe also helped fuel the enthusiasm of Trump’s base: voters flocking to his campaign believed they were looking into their own country’s future. When an illegal alien murdered Kate Steinle in San Francisco, and Muslim extremists shot up their own workplace in San Bernardino, it cemented Trump’s voters’ belief that their nation was falling apart.
The response of liberals, leftists, and neoconservatives to Trump and Brexit was utter shock and disbelief. Many questioned how this could have happened so suddenly; but it wasn’t sudden. The slow buildup was two decades coming and perhaps even avoidable, had other politicians taken the concerns of a growing number of voters seriously.
Yet the anger of being ignored, taken advantage of, or forgotten by their governments also exacerbated the problem. Working-class Europeans felt that they were being targeted by heavy taxes, no jobs for their children, and an ever-crumbling welfare state that poor immigrants from around the world were using. According to a study by the Chatham House, the calls to halt all immigration from Muslim-majority countries reached new highs, including 53 percent in Germany and 61 percent in France.
During this time European governments should have reflected that the populist monster they had created wasn’t going away. They should have granted more autonomy to EU member states, halted new asylum seekers, announced a moratorium on immigration from Muslim-majority countries, and invested billions in job training, education, and tax relief on blue-collar workers.
Instead, they were unrepentant, making no concessions and working overtime to try and limit their losses following Brexit and Trump’s victory. And right-wing populist-nationalists were far from finished in 2017. Marine Le Pen made it to the second round of the French presidential election earning more than 10 million votes, the FN gained eight seats in the National Assembly, the FPO re-entered a governing coalition in Austria, PVV became the second largest party in the Netherlands, an offshoot populist party called the Forum for Democracy also entered the Dutch Parliament, and the Freedom and Direct Democracy Party entered the parliament in the Czech Republic.
Right-wing populist-nationalism even came to Germany, where the anger at Merkel’s refugee policy had come back to haunt her. AfD captured 12.6 percent of the vote and became the third largest party in Germany while Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) hit its lowest level of support since the end of World War II. Elections in Bavaria and Hesse in 2018 saw a further rise of AfD and continued decline for the CDU. The series of losses called into question Merkel’s ability to lead, and on October 29th, she announced she would not run for re-election in 2021.
Also during 2017, the New Zealand First Party entered a coalition government with the left-wing Labour Party after they were promised a reduction in legal immigration. Italy was the next major Western country to move to the right with Matteo Salvini’s Lega Nord Party joining a coalition government with the populist left-wing Five Star Movement. Outside of Europe, right-wing populist-nationalists saw victories in Pakistan with Imran Khan’s Tehreek Insaaf Party, in Quebec, Canada with the Coalition Avenir becoming the largest party in the territory, and in Brazil with the presidential election of Jair Bolsonaro.
Salvini, like Le Pen, Wilders, Trump, and Farage before him, became an international representative of populist-nationalism. As deputy prime minister and interior minister, Salvini took a hard stance against illegal immigration, suspended refugee applications, and made it easier to deport anyone illegally in the country.
Across the globe, these parties and leaders are re-inventing politics and calling into question whether Francis Fukuyama’s 1992 essay “The End of History” may have been premature. In many of these cases, the established governments could have prevented the rise of populist-nationalism by making reforms, but they didn’t budge. Orthodoxy to their political religion has come at the cost of political victories. Liberals can dismiss these gains as a flash in the pan, but unless they find solutions to the problems caused by globalism, mass immigration, and income inequality, they will find themselves with more election losses for years to come.
Ryan Girdusky is a writer based out of New York. Follow him on Twitter @RyanGirdusky.