It is a truth universally acknowledged that we find ourselves in a world where populism is rampant. Its first sizeable manifestation was Brexit – but in fact, populist movements had already been strengthening around Europe, if not the wider world: the National Front in France, Law and Justice in Poland, Geert Wilders’ Freedom Party in the Netherlands, Golden Dawn in Greece, Norbert Hofer (an extreme right winger likely to become Austrian President). And on and on…
If Marine Le Pen wins the French Presidential election next year, and manages to take the French out of the EU, the latter will surely implode (its German-French engine having exploded).
And what, then, will the Germans think – already deserted by Little England, and Trumped in the US? It is a world turned upside down where Germany is the guardian of our freedoms. I don’t mean that in the least patronisingly. I just mean that, since WWII – a war in which Nazi Germany redefined man’s inhumanity to man – it is ironic that it seems to be the last man standing when it comes to the protection of our most basic freedoms. There’s a reason for this, of course, which is precisely its past. Germans have been there and done that. They don’t wish even to contemplate division in Europe, having twice divided it themselves.
We’ll have to see. The French Presidential election comes before the German one, and if Le Pen does make it, this will add momentum to Germany’s own populist party, Alternativ fur Deutschland. Which begs the question, how widespread is populism in Germany itself? I work for and with Germans, and from what I can tell, the mainstream there remains strongly for the EU, probably (if they had to say) more for the peace it brings than economic benefit. This, of course, is where it differs from (just over half) the UK’s voting electorate, who never wanted more than an economic union. So, I think we can rely on the Germans remaining our guardians, without underestimating the feral forces that could also be unleashed there if the rest of Europe goes native.
What of the populist zeitgeist itself? This is what worries me the most. Because it’s not populism. Let’s be straight: it’s fascism, pure and simple. Trump – the Man in the High Castle – is against every group unlike him. The other. A large chunk of Brexiters are xenophobic, fearful of immigrants who take the jobs they won’t. They scapegoat immigrants. It all comes full circle (and the mask slips) when Nigel Farage stands in front of a Nazi-like, snaking queue of foreigners, all (apparently) itching to enter the UK.
How is this prejudice unbottled in the public? By the scapegoating, but also by promising the masses what they want, irrespective of its deliverability. It’s what they’re calling post-factual politics. Trump is its master exponent, of course, but the side of the Brexit bus would be another good example. All over Europe, and in the US, populists are blaming everything on globalisation, and promising in its place… the earth. It’s fraud on a staggering scale.
Never mind the Simpsons – here’s what’ll actually happen. If these people take control, there’ll be worldwide economic stagnation (or worse) as the major powers go protectionist; and a disregard for human rights (even more scandalous than at present) as Trump and Putin carve up Syria and the like – until, inevitably, they fall out with each other and bring us closer to worldwide conflagration (neither being the sort to lose face).
Are we helpless to do anything, in the meantime? I don’t think we can halt the current populist wave. But in our voting, and protesting, and writing – look at what Lego announced today! – we can slow it, and contribute to its ultimate defeat. Defeat will come when the people realise they’ve not only been duped, but their baser instincts appealed to in the process. They’re just as poor as they’ve always been – and nastier. This will right itself. As Ghandi said, evil empires – and make no mistake, we may be heading for a few – always come crashing down in the end.