Trump's victory won't help far-right EU parties
By Florian Lang
Nigel Farage must have had a great time these past few months. First, he spearheaded the successful Brexit campaign in the UK in June. Then the MEP’s fellow political arsonist, Donald Trump, set the US system on fire by winning November’s election.
Farage was the first British politician to speak to the US president-elect and joked about Trump groping Theresa May, the British prime minister, in an allusion to Trump’s comments, which emerged during the campaign, that he liked to grab women by their private parts.
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Trump even said Farage should be the UK’s new ambassador in Washington, but Farage was not the only one uplifted by the US events.
While liberal Europe still mourns the outcome of the US election, right-wing populists on this side of the Atlantic are rejoicing at what they see as their side’s biggest victory to date.
The AfD party in Germany highlighted its parallels with Trump throughout his campaign. Joerg Meuthen, one of the party’s chairmen, said Trump’s election was proof that “it is possible to be successful against the mainstream media and political establishment”.
In France, the National Front party’s leader, Marine Le Pen gushed over Trump on Twitter and said on TV that he had "made possible what had previously been presented as impossible”.
Some of the parallels are real.
The alt-right movement in the US, on whose back Trump came into office, is the American equivalent of European right-wing populism. It fosters racist and nationalist feeling and tries to appeal to an alienated and humiliated working class.
The drum beat of right-wing parties in Europe is right to cause anxiety due to the upcoming elections in France and Germany next year.
There are also reasons to doubt that Trump’s victory will help Meuthen or Le Pen's causes, however.
The far right in both in France and Germany contains a significant anti-American segment.
Rooted in the former US leader’s, George W. Bush’s, disastrous “war on terror” and cultivated by Russian propaganda, the image of a capitalist, globalist, and imperialist US is a firm fixture in far-right constituencies.
Over the course of the next months, Trump will have to make deals with powerful political and corporate stakeholders who will try to steer him in their direction.
Neoliberal and hawkish elites in the Republican Party will lobby him on behalf of the US military, the US arms industry, the energy industry, and Wall Street.
US manufacturers and exporters more broadly will try to undo Trump’s protectionist promises.
These forces could quickly transform the Trump administration into something resembling Bush 2.0.
The president-elect said in his campaign that he would “bomb the shit out of Isis”, the jihadist group in Iraq and Syria, but a Trump war on terror would disqualify him as a figurehead for many European populists, especially in Germany.
It would also mobilise the European left, in the same spirit as the anti-Iraq war protests under Bush in 2003.
The Le Pen notion - that if Trump is possible, then everything is possible - is also problematic.
His success was not the sensational upset that some media said it was by reference to pre-election opinion polls.
Trump did not create a grass-roots political movement from scratch, but rather hijacked an established party, the Republican Party, in American’s two-party system.
Perhaps 40 percent of Americans tend to vote Republican as a matter of principle.
Add to that his opponent’s, Hillary Clinton’s, wild unpopularity and it did not take so many angry poor white men in swing states to bring Trump to office.
In France and Germany, it is the other way around.
The AfD and the National Front would have to win between 20 percent and 30 percent of new voters in national elections next year to follow Trump to victory.
They have already saturated the potential far-right vote in their respective societies, so they would have to conquer new ground in the political centre.
It is not impossible, but it is a different and a more difficult challenge than Trump faced.
The AfD, the National Front, and others like them would need more than racism or Trump-type misogyny and vulgarism to make headway.
If Europe does get through next year without any Brexit or Trump-type shocks, that alone should be small comfort to centrist and pro-European forces, however.
Right-wing populism in Europe has its own momentum and underlying causes that will not quickly go away.
Liberal democracies in the West have to learn lessons from the events of 2016 and have to regain the trust of those parts of European society who feel economically and culturally excluded from the mainstream.
Even if the AfD and the National Front do not triumph next year, the seeds of Europe’s potential destruction will continue to grow if there is no real change.
Florian Lang is a German post-graduate student at the University of Vienna, specialising in European far-right movements