The rise of women in right-wing populism

News reports are suggesting that Marine Le Pen may win the French presidency in 2022 when the election cycle reboots. Profiles on Le Pen during the last French election cycle describe her with values and policy ideals like that of Donald Trump. She boasts anti-immigration views, seeking to curb legal immigration and engage in protectionist and isolationist policies in order to further the goals of her party, and according to her, France. It is important to note that the party she leads, the Nationalist Front, was founded and run by her father, with whom she shares many troubling views. Thus, her connection to politics and right-wing populism is dynastic, as she shares few similarities to the populations she represents and advocates for, especially in terms of disenfranchisement. While we understand her connection to right-wing populism as dynastic, it is still difficult to fathom why a woman would engage in something that historically, and contemporarily advanced sexist and misogynistic policies and ideas. Do her views on anti-immigration and racism trump her identity as a woman? How is she benefitting from the targeting of communities made vulnerable? Considering the rising concern that she will win the next French election, and the overlap between her and the current government regarding secularism, interrogating the manifestation of right-wing populism in women becomes urgent.

While we can see in the United States that women are becoming more heavily engaged in right-wing populism, it is important to note that shared characteristics of identity exists within each region. Specifically, that many of these women are straight, cis, white women, much like Marine Le Pen. These identifiers are important as they provide insight to why these women feel comfortable within the right-wing populist sphere. Right-wing populism has focused on mobilizing the “left-behind, white, working class”. In addition to targeting white working class people, Le Pen and other right wing populists, have also begun to weaponize womanhood using anti-immigrant fears. While we can see that some white women share the same disenfranchisement as their male peers, capitalizing on xenophobia and misunderstandings of Islam and Muslims has become an important facet of their campaigns. Women are being incorporated into the right-wing populist movement despite patriarchal undertones by capitalizing on racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. In making women, specifically white women, fear the “other,” Marine Le Pen can capitalize and benefit from patriarchy, rather than attempting to dismantle the roots of women’s fear. She is not looking to alleviate their fear but profit off it.

What is important to note within all of this, is that while acknowledge understand the ways in which economic disenfranchisement and fear of the “other” can lead to a rise in right-wing populism, we cannot remove accountability for supporting and perpetuating racism and xenophobia. Marine Le Pen is garnering a significant amount of attention and support, enough for observers to make claims of a potential presidential win, thus meaning it is increasingly important to challenge these violent structures and reaffirm that voting for a xenophobic, racist, Islamophobic, regardless of reason, makes you at the very least, complacent with these actions. Economic disenfranchisement and unsubstantiated fear cannot serve as a shield to how votes impact marginalized communities, including women. If economic disenfranchisement and gendered fear were truly the main concern, community building with marginalized populations would become more mainstream, as immigrants and racialized peoples disproportionately face financial insecurity and violence, including gendered. When we see people justify their voting habits based on these types of fear-based policy and disenfranchisement at the expense of those targeted by right-wing populist leaders, we remove accountability for their actions and perpetuation of violence. If right-wing populists intended to alleviate economic disenfranchisement and help women, they would actively engage with those groups most impacted, which would be immigrant and other marginalized communities, not solely white women and the white working class. Yet, we do not see Marine Le Pen, or other populist leaders doing this. In turn, what we do see is the purposeful stratification of the population based on identity. Those who continue to choose their own economic prosperity and safety over the safety of communities made vulnerable are actively engaging in the violence of the leader and party.

We can no longer afford to legitimize the idea that people vote for right-wing leaders solely for economic reasons or perceived safety from the “other”; we need to reconcile with the fact that they are either ok with the rhetoric and actions of their party or actively holding and engaging in those ideals themselves.

Radicalizing Moderates

By: Lucas Lang

The world is becoming increasingly polarized. More and more, both the left and right are adopting with us, or against us, policies. These divisions are increasingly affecting moderate elements on both the left and the right as views that were accepted as middle ground or at least reasonable by opponents are becoming increasingly far-out. Those sharing even some of the beliefs of the fringes of the spectrum are being cast by the other side as being part of the problem.

Polarization has gotten to the point where those holding moderate views are forced to take more extreme sides or face rejection by both sides of the spectrum. An example of this could be an individual with a view that conditionally accepts abortion. The extreme right might reject them for being even open to accepting the murder of babies. Meanwhile the extreme left might reject them for even considering refusing a woman her right to choose. In such cases moderates are forced to yield to viewpoints which they may not completely agree with due to fear of rejection.

Some scholars are becoming concerned that current polarization is creating similar circumstances to those that led to the Spanish Civil War. Preceding the conflict, both the left and right engaged in increasingly violent actions creating division within society. The ensuing conflict further separated the population into opposing sides. A vast assortment of factions including Liberals, Conservatives, Catholics, Anarchists, Monarchists, Republicans, Fascists, Socialists, and Communists were forced to co-operate with factions they did not always agree with (resulting in significant internal conflict) in order to defeat “the other side”.  Comparing current U.S. events to the Spanish civil War, history professor Ian Dowbiggin notes that, “The Spanish example is a warning of what happens when there is no middle ground.” Ultimately, the people in the middle are being forced to pick sides, and the loss of the middle ground only makes polarization more severe.

Recent re-evaluations of Social media are further inflaming the situation. Crackdowns on extreme points of view and efforts to silence radicalizing content on multiple social platforms are not only enraging radical elements but also detrimental to efforts to reduce polarization. While some hope that as an alternative to “radical” content, extremists may view more content from the other side, a 2018 study found that exposure to “opposing political views on a social media site such as Twitter might be not only be ineffective but counterproductive.” Furthermore, as the example of Parler demonstrates, that banning of radical elements only forces them to seek new methods to communicate their worldview. In the ensuing effort to silence radicals, it is the center that suffers most.

While no one can argue that the center is flawless, elements acting within it often act as a calming voice to both sides of the spectrum. While they themselves vary in extremity, they do serve to reassuring their respective sides that the other is not an unreasonable disease. Through media, moderates can platform views, if not uniting, that can at least seek coexistence.

Through a polarized lens though, to someone, somewhere, any view can be considered radical. Efforts to rid the internet of so called “radical content” are a clear and present danger to moderates. Its hard to argue that the other side is reasonable when they are looking to ban your content for your views being too radical. Such action only serves to dis-empower moderate views while proving radicals correct when they argue that the other side cannot be reasoned with. Such was the case in early 20th century Imperial Russia. Moderate liberals and socialists seeking change were cast out by the Tsar, being imprisoned, or exiled, forcing them and their supporters to turn to more radical elements for the change they desired. Without moderate voices in our own time, can we expect any different?

As the world enters a new decade, the world is ever more polarized. In politics across the globe sides are being taken and lines are being drawn. Fear, anger, and hatred echoing a conflict that occurred 85 years ago are haunting us. We know what happens. Maybe its time to find a new path, before the moderates are forced to take sides.  

Are populist movements really this hard to pinpoint?

By Gabe McReynolds

The field of political science has long benefited from identifying and categorizing political ideas, values, and organizations. However, sometimes the drive to categorize misses its intended mark. This is in large part due to the confusing and seemingly arbitrary designations populist movements are given on the political spectrum, and the wide range of political views they themselves hold. This is especially the case when examining Left-wing populism.

Populism seems to be driven by a loss of trust in the establishment and economic disenfranchisement. This is called the economic insecurity perspective. The other idea is that it is driven by cultural backlash against progressive liberal views. These are two very different motivators with left-wing populism being portrayed as being motivated by the former.

In 2016, Dr. Ronald Inglehart and Dr. Pippa Norris reviewed the relationship between economic and cultural insecurities and populism around the world using the Chapel Hill Dataset. Their findings suggested that the primary motivator for populist sentiment is cultural backlash. This means that it is reaction against progressive liberal value changes.

This in and of itself is not anything particularly controversial or revelatory. However, it seems their idea and definition of populism was the foundation of any right-wing populist group, not one of general populism (which takes many forms). They say that their definition of populist is “protectionist policies…xenophobia over tolerance of multiculturalism…people and finance over global trade…and traditional over progressive values”. This provides a false starting point because these cannot be applied to left-wing populist parties. Which means the only variables that can be accepted in this experiment seem to be those groups espousing these far-right views. So, it would make sense that the key argument here would cultural backlash but it creates more answers than questions. Especially when you start to try to understand left-wing populism, as these are conservative right-wing values, and how it fits in. So, what does this mean?

Cas Mudde, who is a Dutch political scientist focusing on extremism and populism, is referenced several times in the Inglehart and Norris paper. He makes the distinction that populists always exclude, the political spectrum just reveals who they choose to exclude. He brings up the example of Podemos, a Spanish left-wing populist party who espouses leftist socialist ideals mixed with nationalist views.

This means they want to exclude or limit sectors such as big corporations from the vision of their country. This is different to right-wing views which exclude people. So according to him they would still fit into the definition of populism we are working with. This would clear up any previous confusion except that according to Inglehart and Norris, as well as the Chapel Hill Dataset, Podemos does not even classify as a populist movement!

As we can see, somehow left-wing populist groups (Like Podemos and Syriza) have been classified as cosmopolitan liberal groups. This is also strange considering who is classified in the spot reserved for left wing populism. Groups such as the Greek Golden Dawn (Gre_XA), a neo-Nazi party group that is a nationalist and fascist. Other examples include: Greeks Independent Greeks (Gre_ANEL) an ultra-conservative nationalist group, Jobbik is a right wing Christian nationalist party from Hungary, and Atak which is a Bulgarian ultranationalist party. All of these are classified as left-wing parties according to these scholars.

How is this possible? I am not attempting to dispute the credentials of any authors or academics here. However, I do not see how this correlates with their respective positions on the political spectrum in this graph.

Take for example AFD, as they are on the populist right side of this graph. They are German nationalists, conservative, anti-immigration, and advocate a return to traditional gender roles. Their desires for government are the same as well. This is no different than Golden Dawn or Jobbik. So how did they come to be on opposite sides of the spectrum? How are conservative, nationalist populist groups that have xenophobic tendencies being portrayed as left-wing populist movements?

This may be in part to the patchwork tendencies of populist movements as they are responding to a variety of popular frustration. Regardless, the fact that there are disagreements and completely different views of these groups reveal how hard they are to classify.

The European Green Deal: A Solution for Post-Pandemic Recovery?

By Jackie Howell

2020 tied with 2016 as the warmest year on record, sparking a need to address climate change. The European Union (EU) aims to combine climate efforts with a post-COVID recovery plan. However, can member-states overcome their political differences and come to a consensus?

COVID-19 highlights the relationship between health, the economy, and the environment. The European Green Deal, introduced in December 2019, seems like the perfect opportunity to address the effects of COVID-19 and climate change. Local and regional leaders are prioritizing a green recovery from COVID-19, as outlined in the ENVE Commission of the European Committee of the Regions’ 2021 work program. Over the next decade, the EU will mobilize €1 trillion of investments to create a clean circular economy, restore biodiversity, and reduce pollution.

Responses to the Climate Crisis

Climate change has already been on most governments’ agendas. In 2018, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released a report detailing the impacts of global warming, arriving at the conclusion: Earth is experiencing a climate emergency.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has prioritized greening the EU economy. In 2019, the European Parliament voted in favour of declaring a climate emergency and committed to becoming the first climate-neutral continent by 2050. The EU also committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to at least 50% of 1990’s levels.

However, ongoing divisions between the East and West and the North and South pose additional hurdles for EU consensus. Dissenters such as the right-wing European People’s Party (EPP) warned against giving this impression of panic, downplaying the urgency of climate change. A few right-wing political groups even advocated to postpone the European Green Deal and refocus on economic recovery.

The 2008 Financial Crisis vs. the COVID-19 Recession

The COVID-19 pandemic has created a new wave of green measures, such as renewable energy investments, reductions in fossil fuels consumption, support for electric vehicles, and investments in infrastructure. These green recovery packages are reminiscent of the green stimulus packages launched after the 2008 financial crisis. Can lessons from the past help governments from repeating past mistakes?          

In response to the 2008 financial crisis, the 2008 European Economic Recovery Plan introduced a budget of €200 billion, investing some of the funds in energy efficiency, low-carbon or clean technologies, and green infrastructure. Investments in clean energy helped countries build up competitive industries after the 2008 Recession. For the EU, each $1 in green investment boosted GDP by up to $1.50 across the region. However, the 2008 financial crisis led to a new wave of support for far-right populist parties due to the rise in unemployment and a decline in trust in institutions.

In the case of COVID-19, populist parties are now losing support as the bloc finds it more integrated than before. Even coal-dependent Poland shifted its tone on the Green Deal. However, clashing interests can still constrain the EU’s ambitious climate goals, leading to stalemates and a disintegrated EU.    

Challenges to the Green Deal

The EU recognizes that environmental pollution, climate change, and issues of inequality are linked, so the EU is committed to making a “just and inclusive transition for all.” However, public backlash presents a challenge for the EU Green Deal. In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel faced pressure from automakers as German car brands faced plummeting sales due to COVID-19.  An overwhelming majority of Europeans and companies support climate action, but their desire to change their own behaviour is quite limited.

While climate change is a less polarized topic in Europe than in the United States, opposition can quickly grow. Far-right parties are increasingly taking a stand on climate change, spreading messages of denialism, inaction, or apathy. The European Green Deal presents far-right populists with the perfect target to divide voters.

COVID-19 is a unique opportunity for governments to create policy that reduces exposure of environmental, social, and economic risks in crises. Lessons from the 2008 economic packages can guide European policymakers in designing green stimulus packages that work for the environment and for all workers. Now is the time for the EU to convince Europeans that climate inaction will only lead to more health and economic crises before it becomes too late.

The European Union during Covid-19: overpromising, yet under-delivering

By Conrad Yiridoe

Image result for von der leyen
EU Commission President Ursyla von der Leyen

The EU is right to protect all of its citizens during the Covid-19 pandemic by negotiating for vaccinations for all 27 member states. However, they need to tread much more carefully and pragmatically to avoid further avoidable issues. Multiple mistakes continue to hamper their best efforts, and the latest situation with their various negotiations will continue to make matters even harder going forward and break the faith in the organisation of the EU, not only during Covid-19 but also in the future when other major events come up.

The mistakes the EU has committed during this pandemic have (so far) peaked with the disastrous declaration of Article 16 of the Northern Ireland protocol, followed by the abrupt retraction of the declaration causing significant criticism and confusion, across the continent. With Article 16, the EU essentially attempted to control how much vaccine could be exported from the EU region. This situation follows the EU’s continued embarrassment with the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, in which Oxford-AstraZeneca confirmed to the EU that a reduction of up to 60%  from the original number of vaccine doses would be supplied as a result of production issues at two plants in Belgium and the Netherlands. This is despite the insistence from the companies that there would be no issues with the vaccine supply chain.

This is not the first major issue that the EU has been involved in where the idea of keeping things in house, rather than to focus on sharing supplies globally. In 2019, the debate over the export ban of masks and other PPE from EU countries, which Germany and France were strongly in favour of last year. Though not the same, the similarities between this and the protectionist in-chief former American president Donald Trump and his attempts to block the export of 3M masks in the same year.

Another serious situation that the EU struggled to manage was during the migration crisis of 2015.  Despite having experiences in the past with having to manage a large number of migrants (though not quite to the scale in this crisis), there were still significant issues associated with attempting to house them.  In this case, it was Germany whom eventually took the lead by continuing to keep the doors open to a significant number of migrants to be able to enter the country, at a time when many other EU nations were instead closing their borders for a variety of different reasons, from xenophobia to simple lack of resources. The point here being that at a time when the EU should have been realistic in their efforts to provide aid and support, they ultimately were not able to cope without significant internal squabbling and disagreement amongst their members. The EU over promised on how many migrants could be safely housed in the union, then under delivered when multiple EU countries declined to take in the higher numbers that the EU wanted. This lack of cohesion amongst EU countries has also been see during the last major health global crisis, Ebola, where some of the lessons learned during the crisis have not been fully utilised during this current pandemic.

It is clear that the EU is battling to maintain the fine line of protecting their citizens and ensuring optimal vaccination supplies for all member states, whilst also trying to maintain the appearance of a lack of protectionism in order to ensure a fair supply to all countries worldwide. There have been a number of missteps along this path already (the biggest so far unquestionably being the recent declaration and retraction of Article 16). The EU have dealt with major situations in the past and they will continue to do so in the future, although the path forward will not be without significant hiccups and obstacles. Though steps have been made to apologise and move on from this issue, the ability of the EU to manage this unprecedented global crisis will depend on their ability to maintain composure and work efficiently in a way that is accountable both to their member states as well as to the whole world.

If you can’t beat them, join them – coronavirus edition

Much has been written about the American failure to handle the COVID-19 pandemic, with a death toll over 465 000 and rising. Much has also been written about Trump’s own role in that failure, refusing to publicly acknowledge the threat and rally support for preventative measures.

The problem wasn’t Trump as a person.

The problem was Trump as a populist. The problem was Trump, the problem was Bolsonaro: populists the world over opted for ‘trial by fire’, hoping to brave the storm with minimal protective measures and minimal economic damage.

There are two key factors that make a populist vulnerable to a pandemic: pride and malice.

The first comes from the simple reality that preventative measures, as we’ve heard ad nauseam over the past year, can generally only ‘flatten the curve’. That isn’t to say that eliminating community spread through mask-wearing and social distancing is impossible – with New Zealand an often-cited point there – but that, given the measures politically palatable in a democratic ‘loose society’, it is unlikely.

And that means that the leader must spend months encouraging the population to stay strong just a little longer, and must spend tremendous political capital – the leader must beg with no guarantee of success. That is unacceptable for a populist leader having built his entire reputation around personifying the strength and ‘alpha’-ness of ‘his people’.

Instead, by bluffing that his current efforts are sufficient, the populist leader can simply remove himself from the game: rather than failing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, he simply isn’t trying. It may be childish and petty, but in the narrative spun by those leaders, it works.

More than that, it allows those leaders to mock political opponents who do implement restrictions, yet fail to completely stop the spread. Those political opponents are lampooned for offering bad from both worlds – continued contagion paired with life-altering restrictions – while the populist leader fights for ‘freedom’. The leader might even actively undermine the restrictions, for example by hosting crowded political rallies, in order to flaunt his resilience. (The impact on infection rates has not yet been fully determined, but it seems a fair assumption to make that these rallies served as ‘superspreader events’, making Trump’s opponents seem even more ineffective in their attempts to ‘slow the spread’.)

The populist looks strong, his opponents look weak; pride is preserved.

The other element is malice. And that malice becomes obvious when we look at who is most affected by the pandemic: urbanites, given the greater population density and thus greater potential for contagion, who typically voted against the populists; and ‘Others’, typically a racialized group, who are systematically disadvantaged when it comes to securing aid or treatment, and who are excluded from the populist’s ‘Nation’.

In Bolsonaro’s Brazil, one such group of ‘Others’ are the indigenous peoples in Amazonian territory. Bolsonaro, as part of an “institutional strategy”, sabotaged attempts by these peoples to prevent the spread of the disease within these communities, which consistently opposed his plans for rainforest development.

In other cases, such as in the United States, the three categories intersect. Black and Latino Americans have found themselves assailed from all sides, living largely in Democratic-led cities and excluded from ‘white collar quarantines’ due to the manual jobs held by many, and have suffered death rates nearly three times higher than those of non-Hispanic Whites.

On the flip side, the rural populations that forms the backbone of these right-wing populists’ electoral constituencies are much better insulated, if only due to lower population density and their ‘in-groupness’ offering them better access to care and treatment. That protection doesn’t last forever, but it shields ‘the base’ from the mediatized consequences of the pandemic.

The ‘Nation’ led by the populist is protected; the ‘Others’, described as preventing society from returning to its glory days, are suffering. Malice gloats.

Pride, and malice. Pride and prejudice, one might say, if this were a lighter topic. It isn’t a pretty picture. As much criticism as our leaders may deserve for their handling of the pandemic, at the very least we should be grateful they aren’t worse.

Women of the far right and the historic appeal of fascism

Michaela Bax-Leaney

Two women gathered at a rally in support of former President Donald Trump. “2017.03.04 Pro-Trump Rallies Washington, DC USA 00401” by tedeytan is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Many of the infamous images of insurrection from January 6th feature men – Podium Guy Adam Johnston, Viking Guy Jake Angeli, and the man with his feet propped up on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s desk Richard Barnett all come to mind as the obvious examples. Yet there were also plenty of women there that day.

There was Gina Bisignano, who, to quote HuffPost reporter Ryan Reilly, “stormed the Capitol in a Louis Vuitton sweater.” There was Dawn Bancroft and Diana Santos-Smith, who as NBC News reported, were arrested in connection with a video in which they claimed to have been in search of Pelosi in order “to shoot her in the friggin’ brain.” Ashli Babbitt, the first reported casualty of the day, was a virulent QAnon conspiracy theorist, the New York Times reported

Following the 2020 U.S. election, a New York Times exit poll found that 55 per cent of white women voters cast their ballots for Trump, compared to 44 per cent for Biden. While there is plenty of discourse back and forth over what exactly to make of that number, and semantic debates about its accuracy, there is a simpler truth that the number tells us: the alt-right appeals to white women, and not just a few of them. 

In looking to the historic participation of women in fascist regimes, we see that there is precedent for the appeal of fascism and the far right to white women in particular, despite these being causes that, some would argue, are detrimental to their interests.

As historians Sofía Rodríguez López and Antonio Cazorla Sánchez note, in seeking to understand the motives of women, too often that understanding relegates women to “merely supportive roles,” when the reality is that women were active and enthusiastic contributors to their causes. And those causes, as López and Sánchez explain, included active and enthusiastic support of fascist regimes such as in Francoist Spain.

Led by Pilar Primo de Rivera (center left), a group of Spanish women Falangist leaders, representing the Nationalists, were welcomed in Berlin by members of the Nazi Women’s Workers’ Division.

And yet while there are documented instances of this participation, López and Sánchez argue that these remain understudied. This is in large part due to the fact that the study of ordinary conservative women tends to exist in opposition to the values of gender-focussed historians. While the actions of women in leadership may be reviled, they can still be understood as some form of feminism.

Analogous to today might be someone like Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett. While not a fascist, Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the highest court in the U.S. sparked many discussions about the dichotomy she embodies. She is only the fifth woman to serve on the court, out of the 114 justices in U.S. history, and yet for many women she represents a powerful threat to the rights of women, particularly around reproductive rights. But a degree of understanding is extended to her because, despite all of that, she is still a woman seizing power in a male-dominated arena; there’s an air of feminism to it.

Yet as the historian of Nazi Germany, Claudia Koonz, showed us in her book, Mothers of the Fatherland, ordinary women were both drawn to and complicit in fascism.

Feminist scholar Catharine R. Simpson writes that although “many societies deprive women of power over themselves, women still have power to exercise. Women, though Other to men, have their Others too.” She calls to mind the ownership of Black slaves, both men and women, by white women in the U.S., as well as Koonz’ point that women in Nazi Germany did participate in genocide, both actively and passively.

Italian historian Daniella Rossini describes how, in Italy from 1911 to 1912, there was a marked shift within the Italian feminist movement to more closely align themselves with Italian nationalism, throwing their support behind the colonization of Libya. Rossini argues that the war, and the promise of a new Italy, strengthened those bonds, and soon Italian women found themselves part of a regime which in turn sought to stifle them.

In shifting focus to the present day, many have theorized what appeal 21st century iterations of the far right hold for women, and notably white women. Annie Kelly argued that QAnon held a natural appeal for mothers, given the rhetoric within QAnon advocating “Freedom for the Children.” In the Guardian, Angelique Chrisafis, Kate Connolly, and Angela Giuffrida found that these allegiances are attributable to financial hardship, which disproportionately affects women, and populist messaging warning feminists that immigration will result in a women’s rights backslide.

But what is certain is that it is not a new phenomenon, and when seeking to ascertain motive and understanding, we should be reminded of the wide range of experiences and circumstances which have historically brought women into the fold of the far right.


New President, Same Foreign Policy

While Joe Biden’s victory in the 2020 election has given Americans hope for a new domestic policy course, pundits are not optimistic that this change will occur in foreign policy.

It seems a pattern has developed over the last few decades, in which an incumbent president, left leaning or right, intervenes in another country’s domestic politics, leading to war, instability, and a loss of American credibility.  Consequently, a challenger will emerge, promising a new foreign policy approach that will return the United States to its former integrity and greatness.  Whether it was Bush advocating for an end to nation-building, Obama’s intent of ending the wars in the Middle East, or Trump’s promise to reduce foreign deployments, the most recent American presidents have promised sweeping changes to America’s foreign policy, and all of them have failed to fulfill them.

The most modern example of this contradiction between stated intent and action is the current Civil War in Yemen.  The conflict began in 2014, with Saudi intervention beginning in 2015.  Obama was faced with the choice of letting Saudi Arabia proceed alone, or indirectly participating to maintain some level of control over the crisis.  Even though Obama had promised a reduced role for the US in the Middle East, and even though the country was still entangled in Afghanistan and Iraq, Obama choose to participate anyway.  Trump campaigned on a promise of putting America first, one component of which was reducing America’s expenses and military missions abroad.  However, upon assuming office, not only did he renegade on this promise, he also vetoed a bipartisan resolution that would have forced an end to US involvement in the Yemeni conflict.  Many believe this decision was spurned by Trump’s close relationship with Mohammed Bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia.

Along comes Joe Biden, a lifetime politician who made his name on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  A harsh critic of authoritarian rule, Biden has been consistently critical of far-right regimes throughout his political career.  He personally met and criticized Slobodan Milosevic during the 1990’s and was in support of ousting Saddam Hussein from power in the early 2000’s.  As the democratic presidential candidate, he promised to restore international faith in the United States as one of the bastions of democracy, freedom, and equality.  While Trump’s foreign policy decisions were so damaging that it seems impossible for Biden to make matters worse, there are reasons to be skeptical.

American politicians have always espoused the notion that America is the principal defender of democratic values. In Biden’s own words, America’s most sacred democratic values are “defending freedom, championing opportunity, upholding universal rights, respecting the rule of law, and treating every person with dignity”. However, the US has historically been selective in who these principles are applied to.  Whether it be Latin American countries throughout the Cold War or countries in the Middle East throughout the War on Terror, American administrations have repeatedly bent international and domestic law to further their own interests while denying the people of these countries the very values that Biden claims are sacred.

It is difficult for the US to position themselves as the defender of freedom and the champion of universal rights while simultaneously applying a seemingly authoritarian and oppressive foreign policy on non-complicit states.  While calling America’s foreign policy history a fascist one might be a stretch, there are millions of people throughout the world who are justified in their anger and frustration with the last few decades of American foreign policy decisions.  Due to Biden’s history of cooperation and candor with America’s allies, Biden has a chance to succeed in repairing alliances damaged during Trump’s tenure as well as re-engaging the US in international agreements and forums.

However, while the Biden administration has announced steps in the right direction such as reversing the designation of the Houthis as a terrorist organization and appointing a special envoy to Yemen, these are superficial changes that allow the Biden administration to state they are reversing Trump’s foreign policies while keeping the door open to future American imperialist projects. Biden has outlined ambitious plans to steer America away from its history of foreign policy abuses, but until they materialize, many people, myself included, will maintain our skepticism.  Therefore, while the dominance of far-right politics has been temporarily curtailed in domestic American politics, this will not translate to American foreign policy. 

Authoritarianism is a product of its environment.

Jake Rooke

Since Trump’s been democratically booted, anxiety levels have plummeted, well, at least for now.

Claiming victory would be naïve, we have only experienced the 21st century’s version of Hitler’s 1923 Putsch when he failed to seize power. Unfortunately, this did not prevent his 1933 accession to the German Chancellorship. Like a passage from a DC or Marvel Comic, evil has to only win once. If we wish to foil other attempted Putschs, we have to take the fight to the rabble-rousers and not give them ammo. We have to soul-search, shore up our democracies’ and be proactive in addressing the economic and cultural root causes. This starts with every one of us. By labelling someone a racist, an authoritarian, or a Nazi only adds noise to a screaming match and only scratches the surface of the complexity.

THE BEER HALL PUTSCH, NOVEMBER 1923 (MH 11397) Nazi stormtroopers arriving at the Marienplatz in Munich amongst crowds of onlookers, 9 November 1923. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205066622

As history shows us authoritarian movements are persistent beasts that gain power through attrition, inflicting death by a thousand cuts. They break us down, echo fringe urban myths and conspiracies to create an illusion of truth. This is similar to chief Nazi propagandist Goebbels’ ‘Big Lie’, that “if you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.” This resonates well, as we are now in a post-truth era, that philosopher Nietzsche predicted, seen in the interwar period (1919-1939), and what is currently manifesting. Nonetheless, there has always been a variation of post-truth in fringe groups before authoritarianism’s historical rise and in post-WWII societies. What has changed, is it’s now becoming the mainstream again, from the shadows to the bully pulpit. The Covid-19 pandemic has only brought gasoline to the fire.

Authoritarianism, like a disease, is treated when our societies’ are resilient, whereas, when the disease becomes mainstream it’s a symptom of societal degradation. That is the big picture. Authoritarianism, populism, cultural, and economic backlash are symptoms of a system that is not working for everyone. Since the 1980s and the rapid expansion of economic globalization income inequality has skyrocketed, deindustrialization has hit blue-collar folks hard, all the while cosmopolitan elites have made off with large swathes of money. This is the spark.

Mark Twain said, “History doesn’t repeat itself, but it often rhythms”. WWI had devastating effects, especially in Europe and in particular, Germany. This was then followed by the greatest economic collapse ever recorded, creating a tsunami of populist and authoritarian forces across the world. The powder was set, and the eruption resulted in the greatest war ever recorded. Not many historians will deny that an overwhelming factor in the surge of authoritarianism in the 1930s is tied to the economic crisis, but also the perception that the future prospective was shrinking.

After WWII the Western world built an ambitious democratic and liberal system that created a resilient societal structure and a generous welfare system. This was there to maintain a level of economic mobility and stability. Ultimately, this structure pushed the would-be authoritarians to the sidelines and back into their basements. However, this system was continually under-attack through little cuts. These cuts have increasingly morphed into a Frankenstein movement through issues with economic globalization, cultural change, and a broken political system. We are now looking down the barrel of mainstream authoritarian forces again.

With recent demilitarization after the Cold War, the failures of the Iraq War, the financial crisis, and the long-term trend of deindustrialization, outsourcing, and surging costs of living, the fringe festers in this fertile environment. This is occurring more than ever with the introduction of social media and the misinformation campaigns by state and non-state actors. And although MAGA wearing skirmishers have been forced to retreat, there will be more, especially if we do not address the symptoms of this disease.

A Dangerous Game of Hide and Seek: Hate Groups Are Using Social Media as Their New Favourite Hiding Spot

By: Andreea Gustin

We often hear that history has a tendency to repeat itself. As memory fades, events from the past can become events of the present. If recent events are any indicators, American society is inching dangerously close to mirroring events of a century ago – only this time, with a modern twist. Technology and digital media have revived the rhetoric of authoritarianism, fascism and populism. But how is it being used to extremists’ advantage? 

Last week, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released their annual report which showcased that the number of active hate groups in the United States has fallen by 11 percent in the past year. In 2020, the recorded number of active hate groups was 838, compared to 940 in 2019. Although it may appear that the number of active hate groups in the U.S is decreasing, SPLC attributes the drop to the fact that technology and digital media have made these groups harder to track and diffuse. In addition to this, the current COVID-19 pandemic has played a role in limiting in-person activities which has only further driven hate groups onto digital platforms. 

The evolution of smartphones, social media, podcasts and livestreams has made being an extremist a mobile, multimedia experience. Technology has made it easier than ever for extremists to recruit new followers and push their fringe beliefs into the mainstream. This was on full display on January 6, when hundreds of white nationalists’ groups, that had primarily used the internet to organize, stormed the Capitol. Many members of these groups had met online before the event, and their attack on the Capitol showed their alarming capacity for offline violence.

Following this event, social media platforms like Facebook., Twitter and YouTube have all been making a public effort to crack down on extremist content. Despite these efforts, hate groups are now migrating to new platforms like Telegram and Signal, which provide little or no content moderation. Neo-Nazi’s and far-right groups have historically found ways to leverage technological trends in order to find ways to spread hate and organize online. For example, white supremacist groups in the 1990s turned to what was then considered advanced platforms like Stormfront and the Daily Stormer, to spread white nationalist ideas. This ultimately led to the emergence of imageboards, memes and “trolling” – all elements we still see online today. 

The problem here is not only about trying to understand how these hate groups are using technology and digital media. It’s also a matter of trying to understand what this means for our future as it relates to our past. As we’ve increasingly seen over the past four years, the alt-right’s racist messaging, white nationalist underpinnings and anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic sentiments are no longer only showing up in the streets as they once did. Social media has created channels for Neo-Nazis and extremist hate groups to organize and manipulate information to their advantage. 

Recent demonstrations of extreme nationalism and the threats posed to American democracy are drawing comparisons to a dark past. Although certain historical themes of nationalism and authoritarianism are coming up in today’s conversations, many do not understand the alarming power of technology in the current circumstances. History may very well repeat itself, but are we prepared to deal with elements of the past in today’s faceless digital world? 

It’s easy to make comparisons to the past, but it’s difficult to understand that that is no longer the same world we’re living in. Technological advancements and social media have created new challenges and obstacles to tracking hate groups and holding those involved accountable. The methods once used to combat dangerous nationalist efforts are no longer applicable to domestic online extremism. 

It is only natural for us as humans to attempt to understand modern issues by applying the lens of the past. However, there needs to be a greater understanding of how fascist and nationalist ideologies have developed over time and what role technology plays in these developments. Ultimately, it’s important for us to understanding how our modern issues can differ from those of the past and how this can lead to new consequences not outlined by history. 

References

The Associated Press. (2021, February 1). Report: Hate groups in decline, migrate to online networks. NBC News. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.nbcnews.com/feature/nbc-out/report-hate-groups-decline-migrate-online-networks-n1256356

Bensinger, G. (2021, January 13). Now social media grows a conscience? The New York Times. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/13/opinion/capitol-attack-twitter-facebook.html

Hatewatch Staff. (2019, September 18). Daily Stormer website goes dark amid chaos. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/stormfront

Janik, R., & Hankes, K. (2021, February 1). The year in hate and extremism 2020. Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.splcenter.org/news/2021/02/01/year-hate-2020

Jimenez, C. (2021, January 20). Far-right extremists on social media aren’t going away — they’re hunkering down. Colorado Public Radio. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.cpr.org/2021/01/20/far-right-extremists-on-social-media-arent-going-away-theyre-hunkering-down/

McEvoy, J. (2021, January 7). Capitol attack was planned openly online for weeks—police still weren’t ready. Forbes. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/jemimamcevoy/2021/01/07/capitol-attack-was-planned-openly-online-for-weeks-police-still-werent-ready/?sh=622babfb76e2

Molla, R. (2021, January 15). What is Signal, and why is everybody downloading it right now? VOX Media. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/recode/22226618/what-is-signal-whatsapp-telegram-download-encrypted-messaging

Molla, R. (2021, January 20). Why right-wing extremists’ favorite new platform is so dangerous. VOX Media. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/recode/22238755/telegram-messaging-social-media-extremists

Stormfront extremist group info. (n.d.). Southern Poverty Law Center. Retrieved February 10, 2021, from https://www.splcenter.org/fighting-hate/extremist-files/group/stormfront