Even if Trump loses, the ‘Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional’ wins

The Myanmar Times - - News - ANNE AP­PLE­BAUM news­room@mm­times.com

THEY share ideas and ide­ol­ogy, friends and fun­ders. They cross bor­ders to ap­pear at one another’s ral­lies. They have deep con­tacts in Rus­sia – they of­ten use Rus­sian dis­in­for­ma­tion – as well as friends in other au­thor­i­tar­ian states. They de­spise the West and seek to un­der­mine Western in­sti­tu­tions. They think of them­selves as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary avant-garde just like, once upon a time, the Com­mu­nist In­ter­na­tional, or Com­intern, the Soviet-backed or­gan­i­sa­tion that linked com­mu­nist par­ties around Europe and the world.

Now, of course, they are not Soviet-backed, and they are not com­mu­nist. But this loose group of par­ties and politi­cians – Aus­tria’s Free­dom Party, the Dutch Party for Free­dom, the UK In­de­pen­dence Party, Hun­gary’s Fidesz, Poland’s Law and Jus­tice, Don­ald Trump – have made them­selves into a global move­ment of “anti-glob­al­ists”. Meet the “Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional”: Who­ever wins the US elec­tion on Novem­ber 8, its in­flu­ence is here to stay.

Although it is of­ten de­scribed – by me and oth­ers search­ing for a short­hand – as “far-right”, the Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional has lit­tle to do with the “right” that has thrived in Western coun­tries since World War II. Con­ti­nen­tal Euro­pean Chris­tian Democ­racy arose out of a post­war de­sire to bring moral­ity back to pol­i­tics; Gaullism came out of a long French tra­di­tion of statism and sec­u­lar­ism; An­glo-Saxon con­ser­va­tives had a his­toric pref­er­ence for free mar­kets. Most of them shared a Burkean small-”c” con­ser­vatism: a dis­like of rad­i­cal change, scep­ti­cism of “progress”, a be­lief in the im­por­tance of con­serv­ing in­sti­tu­tions and val­ues. Most of them emerged out of par­tic­u­lar lo­cal and his­tor­i­cal tra­di­tions. All of them shared a de­vo­tion to rep­re­sen­ta­tive democ­racy, re­li­gious tol­er­ance, Western in­te­gra­tion and the Western al­liance.

By con­trast, the par­ties that be­long to the Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional, and the me­dia that sup­port it, are not Burkean. They don’t want to con­serve or pre­serve what ex­ists. In­stead, they want to rad­i­cally over­throw the in­sti­tu­tions of the present to bring back things that ex­isted in the past – or that they be­lieve ex­isted in the past – by force. Their lan­guage takes dif­fer­ent forms in dif­fer­ent coun­tries, but their rev­o­lu­tion­ary projects of­ten in­clude the ex­pul­sion of im­mi­grants, or at least the re­turn to all-white – or all-Dutch, or all-Ger­man – so­ci­eties; the res­ur­rec­tion of pro­tec­tion­ism; the re­ver­sal of women’s or mi­nori­ties’ rights; the end of in­ter­na­tional in­sti­tu­tions and co­op­er­a­tion of all kinds. They ad­vo­cate vi­o­lence: In 2014, Trump said, “You’ll have to have ri­ots to go back to where we used to be, when America was great.”

Some­times they claim to be Chris­tian, but just as of­ten they are ni­hilists and cyn­ics. Their ide­ol­ogy, some­times for­malised and some­times not, op­poses ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity, racial in­te­gra­tion, re­li­gious tol­er­ance and hu­man rights.

The Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional holds these goals to be more im­por­tant than pros­per­ity, more im­por­tant than eco­nomic growth, more im­por­tant than democ­racy it­self. Like the par­ties that once formed the Com­intern, they are ea­ger to de­stroy ex­ist­ing in­sti­tu­tions – from in­de­pen­dent courts and me­dia to in­ter­na­tional al­liances and treaties – to ob­tain them. Last week, Bri­tain’s Daily Mail, a news­pa­per that prop­a­gates the ideas of the Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional, ac­tu­ally de­nounced three high-court judges as “Enemies of the Peo­ple” be­cause they de­creed that Bri­tain’s exit from the Euro­pean Union would re­quire par­lia­men­tary con­sul­ta­tion. Trump is only one of many politi­cians – Poland’s Jaroslaw Kaczyn­ski, Hun­gary’s Vik­tor Or­ban – who have launched at­tacks on the prin­ci­ples of their own con­sti­tu­tions.

Like their Com­intern pre­de­ces­sors, the Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional also un­der­stands that there is much to be gained by mu­tual sup­port. Ger­man Chris­tian Democrats would never have dreamed of cam­paign­ing on be­half of Bri­tish Tories. And although they had much in com­mon, Tories didn’t in­ter­vene di­rectly on be­half of US Repub­li­cans. By con­trast, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK In­de­pen­dence Party, has openly cam­paigned for Trump, even ap­pear­ing in a “spin room” to plug the Re­pub­li­can nom­i­nee af­ter one of his de­bates with Hillary Clin­ton. Geert Wilders, the xeno­pho­bic Dutch politi­cian, showed up at the Re­pub­li­can Na­tional Con­ven­tion, where in­stead of ob­serv­ing, as a Dutch Chris­tian Demo­crat would have done, he ag­i­tated on be­half of Trump, too.

All of the pop­ulist par­ties and news­pa­pers use the nar­ra­tives put out by Sput­nik, the Rus­sian news ser­vice that serves as an end­less source of con­spir­acy the­o­ries and fake news. Last week, a fake ac­count of a refugee in Aus­tria ac­quit­ted of rap­ing a child – orig­i­nally broad­cast on Rus­sian state TV – was re­peated by Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and then across Europe, in­clud­ing (again) in the Daily Mail.

All the signs are that the move­ment is still grow­ing. If Trump loses, the story isn’t over: His cam­paign will no doubt metas­ta­sise into a tele­vi­sion chan­nel and a news net­work, and will con­tinue to spread. But his fail­ure will en­cour­age the an­ti­dotes – the cit­i­zens’ par­ties, based on ideas rather than charisma, the in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists, the democ­racy move­ments – that have be­gun to emerge.

And if Trump wins? The Pop­ulist In­ter­na­tional will be in­vig­o­rated, not just in the United States but around the world. Trump will be its leader, his daugh­ter Ivanka will be its heir ap­par­ent, and lib­eral democ­racy, and the West as we know it, may cease to ex­ist. Think about that be­fore you vote. – The Wash­ing­ton Post

Anne Ap­ple­baum writes a bi­weekly for­eign af­fairs column for

She is also the di­rec­tor of the Global Tran­si­tions Pro­gram at the Le­ga­tum In­sti­tute in Lon­don.

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