Thursday

11th Aug 2022

EUobserved

European democrats, time to wake up

  • Donald Trump and Angela Merkel, two leaders who are polar opposites (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

The storming of Capitol Hill by a Trumpian mob was shocking - but shouldn't come as a total surprise.

A significant number of the people who voted Donald Trump into office didn't support him despite his authoritarianism - but because of his authoritarianism.

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They were very well aware of his treatment of women, his "grab them by the pussy", his "you're fired" bullying and his tax-evading. They knew very well Trump doesn't see a difference between facts and lies. But they didn't care and almost gave him a second term.

Europeans tend to look down on this kind of American saga. We, educated Europeans, would never elect a man like Trump...would we?

Europeans have a sort of misguided superiority thinking. This is only possible because we easily forget about our own history, even the most recent one.

We forget about Mussolini's march on Rome in 1922, the failed putsch of Hitler in 1923, the burning of the Reichstag in 1933 (for which the communists were blamed), the Greek junta in 1967, the coup attempt in Spain in 1981, the war in the former Yugoslavia, the Brexit campaign which was full of lies.

And then we're not even talking about the fascist takeover of Europe in the 1930s and the second world war.

After the march on DC's Capitol Hill, we have to ask ourselves if it would be possible to see in the near future a march on Brussels?

The answer is yes. Europe is dealing with the same dark forces.

The democratic decline in Hungary and Poland are obvious examples of this, but not the only ones. Let's not forget, for example, that Marine Le Pen received one-third of the votes in the French presidential elections of 2017. The political landscape has become extremely volatile with new parties winning the elections and disappearing a few years later.

It is considered cheap to make comparisons to the period between the two world wars, called the interbellum. And yes, history may not repeat itself, but it often rhymes (from whoever this quote is).

After the horrors of the first world war Europe (and the rest of the world) had to live through a deadly pandemic, the Spanish flu, and through a financial crisis after the Wall Street crash. The Russian revolution brought many refugees to Europe too.

Since 9/11 Europe has had to live through terrorist attacks, a financial and economic crisis, a so-called refugee crisis and currently a pandemic. Even though the situation is not the same, the cocktail of crises is very similar.

It is this cocktail of traumatic experiences that make people receptive of an ideology that propagate the return to a mythical past, when everything was better, an ideology of 'Us versus Them', the people against the so-called elite.

This ideology might have different shapes or colours, the basic story remains the same. "Make America Great Again" is only one example of an ideology that is on the rise in the entire world: Putin in Russia, Modi in India, Sisi in Egypt, Erdogan in Turkey, Bolsonaro in Brazil, Orban in Hungary, and so forth.

Every single one of these leaders is capable of making people do what the Trump mob did in Washington. And we better prepare for it.

What to do?

The question is what democrats should do about this?

It isn't easy to battle populism, conspiracy theories, fake news and historical myths. That is why many democrats decide to fight the far-right by copying them. They choose a kind of far-right light, becoming a bit anti-refugee or a bit Islamophobic.

We have seen this strategy unfolding in France, when then president Nicolas Sarkozy copied some of the language of Le Pen. Emmanuel Macron chose a similar path after the beheading of a teacher in the suburbs of Paris.

However, the lesson Macron and all those who prefer to copy the far-right points should have learned from Sarkozy is that it only makes the far-right stronger. Let's call them the 'shifters'.

There is the opposite strategy, one that doesn't change opinion but goes full-frontal against the far-right. It's the strategy of the 'holders'. The number one example is probably Angela Merkel.

During the so-called refugee crisis, she didn't shift to the discourse of the far-right. She kept on her line and said "wir schaffen das" ["we can manage this"]. Many said she had made a huge mistake and that this would be the end of her chancellorship and even of her party, the CDU. The opposite happened.

Does that mean that there are no problems with the far-right in Germany? Certainly not, but they don't set the political agenda as much as the far-right is doing in many other European countries.

Therefore, it is time for European democrats to wake up.

In fact, I should say we democrats should wake up. Politicians, journalists and civil society.

We should stop shifting discourse and hold our democratic lines firmly. We should not tolerate the anti-democratic behaviour of the current Hungarian and Polish government anymore and give a clear signal to other governments and parties that betraying our democratic values is unacceptable.

If not, before we know, they will organise a march on Brussels.

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