In 2016, we are facing reevaluations of the status quo. This realignment of the conventional wisdom began in 2007, with the mother of all credit crunches – the Global Financial Crisis. The global order governing our political, economic and societal structures are being called in to question as disenfranchisement and dissatisfaction reign supreme, pushing people to look elsewhere for answers. This trend is all-encompassing, permeating across cultural, religious and national bounds.
Here on the giant island, of usual centrist dominion, we have not been unaffected. Often viewed as an Australian aberration, Pauline Hanson is merely a symptom of the broader affliction. Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen and Robert Duterte continue to dominate our news cycles as they drive their authoritarian agendas. The far-right’s list of successes in recent years is impressive:
- Norbert Hofer, the presidential candidate of the Freedom Party in Austria, narrowly lost to the Greens candidate in the race, by less than 1%. Since then, that decision has been successfully challenged, and a re-vote will be held in October. He leads in the polls.
- Donald Trump, proving the pundits wrong, continues to challenge a seemingly vulnerable Hillary Rodham Clinton in the United States. Astonishingly, Clinton only holds an average 2.7% lead over Trump in the polls. The most recent CNN/ORC poll actually showed Trump ahead by 1%.
- Current French presidential polling shows Marine Le Pen, the leader of The Front National party, polling well ahead of incumbent Francois Hollande. According to the polling, Le Pen would be in a tight race with the former President Nicolas Sarkozy or Alain Juppe, both likely-runners for the Republican Party nomination – both are being pulled to the right themselves. First-round elections will be held in mid-2017.
- In May, Robert Duterte secured the presidency of the Philippines, sweeping away the candidates before him by capturing more than 40% of the vote. Since then, Duterte has implemented his hard-line policies on crime to devastating effect. Most recently, Duterte made headlines for referring to Barack Obama as “the son of a whore”.
- Under the leadership of Nigel Farage, head of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), and the Conservative Party’s Boris Johnson, Britain voted to leave the European Union, with 51.9% of the vote. This was despite the best efforts of its then Conservative Prime-Minister David Cameron and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (arguably).
This is by no means an exhaustive list. Concurrently, Latin American leadership of normally left-leaning states comes under strain from right-wing populists, with the Workers Party’s Brazilian President impeached recently. Norway, so often held up as one of the most progressive nations on earth, has begun constructing a 4 metre high wall along its Arctic border with Russia.
It’s not inconceivable that by mid-2017, the United States, France, Austria and many other nations could have far-right heads of state. This turn of events was precipitated by an immigrant crisis and economic stagnation, as we struggle to recover from the Global Financial Crisis.
Robert Reich, Professor of Public Policy at the University of California, Berkeley, argues that income inequality is the major driver of dissatisfaction and the rise of right-wing populism in the United States. Reich, a Sanders backer turned Clinton supporter, derides what he terms excessive monopolization and the stagnation of wage growth in the United States since 1970.
As Sanders did during his campaign, Reich consistently refers back to the apparent fact presented in the above graph: hourly wages for the average American worker have risen by a mere 7.77% in real terms (2014 dollars) since 1964. According to the Organisation of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), in 2012 the US also had the highest rate of incidence of ‘low pay’ – those earning less than 2/3 of the median wage – out of any OECD member, with 25% of the workforce. The vast number of working poor in the developing world are so numerous that a new term has been coined in their ‘honour’ – the precariat, referring to their precarious economic circumstances. This is all while the well-documented gap between CEO and average worker compensation widens, with a Glassdoor report from 2015 finding the average ratio was 204 to 1 in the United States (Walmart’s CEO earns 1,133 times its average worker’s compensation).
Coupled with this severe inequality, is the deep sense of dissatisfaction with the political powers at be in the United States. Pew Research found that in January 2016, 70% of respondents declared they were dissatisfied with “the way things are going in the country today”. Similarly, in September of 2015 they found that 69% of people were dissatisfied with the performance of Congress. Observed simultaneously, these facts may have helped pundits better predict that two outsiders in Sanders and Trump would perform so strongly against more established and well-known candidates.
The platform of candidates like Trump have similar threads of nationalism, anti-Islamic sentiment and a rejection of free-trade. Trump has targeted Muslim immigration, the building of a Mexican border wall, free-trade agreements and second amendment rights as the key pillars of his program. Trump continues to reiterate the need to “put America first”. Similarly, Marine Le Pen emphasizes the need to support “French exceptionalism” and pushes restrictions on immigration not dissimilar to Trump’s. Furthermore, Le Pen wishes to follow in Britain’s footsteps and exit the Euro. Nigel Farage’s UKIP (which he has now resigned as leader of), claims that the British Labour party “…betrayed working people…” by creating an “open door immigration policy”. UKIP’s primary promise to its voters is to curb this “mass immigration”.
These three leaders have successfully tapped in to anti-establishment sentiment, as large swathes of the electorate blame the respective centre-left or centre-right political parties for their woes. Alternatively, and simultaneously, they have attempted to pander to fear generated through terrorism, promising safer societies through immigration restrictions, with particular focus on Muslim immigration (to differing degrees). The politics of fear has played a significant role in all of their successes.
However, it would be constructive to analyse how our current systems are failing to create inclusive economies and societies. Without these failures, these leaders would lack the fertile ground from which to garner support. In another blog post perhaps.
The charts above demonstrate the trend effectively. Europe has been the epicentre of the immigration crisis, with Germany alone accepting a million immigrants in a single year. In response to this, and the huge economic upheaval since 2007 and the proceeding Greek, Spanish and Portuguese debt crises, nationalist parties have been reinvigorated. A strong anti-EU sense has flooded the region, even outside Britain which has always had an arms-length association with the Union, with prominent individuals like Yanis Varoufakis, Noam Chomsky and Steve Keen outwardly critical of its undemocratic bureaucracy. Recently, proponents of EU reform have started the DiEM25 group, aimed at restoring democracy to the European Union.
Clearly, these subjects cannot be unfurled in a 1000 word blog post. Complex issues of income inequality, social upheaval due to immigration, Islamophobia and economic disenfranchisement in our current systems are fields of study in their own right. However, it is obvious that common threads of nationalism, fear created by terrorism, economic stagnation and dissatisfaction with government responses to crises are driving their successes. Sanctuaries of the left are losing their strangleholds in Latin America, Scandinavia and even the bastion of progressive society, France. Critical elections are around the corner, with the most important being the US election. An endorsement of Clinton is the strongest endorsement of the establishment in recent memory. This may colour and impact later contests in strong and unexpected ways. Watch this space.
- UKIP. (2016). 2016 Manifestos. [online] Available at: http://www.ukip.org/2016_manifestos [Accessed 10 Sep. 2016].
- the Guardian. (2016). Austrian election may come unstuck over glue problem on postal votes. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/09/austrian-presidential-election-glue-problem-postal-votes
- euronews. (2016). Austria’s Freedom Party ‘not far-right’, says Norbert Hofer. [online] Available at: http://www.euronews.com/2016/05/24/austria-s-freedom-party-not-far-right-says-norbert-hofer
- Glassdoor Economic Research. (2015). CEO to Worker Pay Ratios: Average CEO Earns 204 Times Median Worker Pay – Glassdoor Economic Research. [online] Available at: https://www.glassdoor.com/research/ceo-pay-ratio/
- Economist.com. (2016). Daily chart: The rise of the far right in Europe | The Economist. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/blogs/graphicdetail/2016/05/daily-chart-18
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- El-Erian, M. (2016). What’s behind the rise of the right in Latin America. [online] MarketWatch. Available at: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/whats-behind-the-rise-of-the-right-in-latin-america-2016-06-07
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- the Guardian. (2016). François Hollande would be swept aside in presidential election, poll shows. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/sep/07/francois-hollande-would-be-swept-aside-in-presidential-election-poll-shows
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- Nossiter, A. (2016). Marine Le Pen’s Anti-Islam Message Gains Influence in France. [online] Nytimes.com. Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/18/world/europe/marine-le-pens-anti-islam-message-gains-influence-in-france.html
- Realclearpolitics.com. (2016). RealClearPolitics – Election 2016 – General Election: Trump vs. Clinton. [online] Available at: http://www.realclearpolitics.com/epolls/2016/president/us/general_election_trump_vs_clinton-5491.html
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