What the rise of pop­ulism in Europe means for the U.S.

The Denver Post - - OPINION - By Greg Dobbs Greg Dobbs of Ever­green is an au­thor, pub­lic speaker, and for­mer for­eign correspondent for ABC News.

We should be alert, maybe even afraid. Even from thou­sands of miles away. Be­cause Europe’s self-pro­claimed pop­ulist par­ties are on the rise.

The Na­tional Demo­cratic Party of Ger­many, Law and Jus­tice in Poland, Aus­tria’s Free­dom Party, the Dutch Party for Free­dom, the Na­tional Front in France, and oth­ers.

“Na­tional,” “Jus­tice” and “Free­dom,” in these con­texts, are syn­onyms for “racist.”

And if you think the par­ties’ ris­ing pop­u­lar­ity has noth­ing to do with us, you’re wrong.

I don’t just mean wrong to miss the par­al­lels to our pol­i­tics with their in­cen­di­ary ap­peals to peo­ple’s big­otry and racism — some covert, some overt, all odious.

I mean wrong if you don’t per­ceive their po­ten­tial im­pact on al­liances that Euro­pean na­tions now have with us. Al­liances that pro­tect our pros­per­ity, that en­sure our se­cu­rity, that in­flu­ence our in­de­pen­dence.

What you should see is that Europe’s right-wing par­ties have sev­eral com­mon goals. One is to di­min­ish or even dis­man­tle the Euro­pean Union, which taken as a whole is our largest trad­ing part­ner in the world. Another is to down­grade, maybe even dis­en­gage, from their na­tions’ tra­di­tion­ally warm ties to the United States and cozy up in­stead to Rus­sia.

What you should com­pre­hend is that when it comes to their prin­ci­ples and Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Putin’s, prej­u­dice is a shared value. Which helps ex­plain why Putin has been fund­ing these par­ties with the al­most con­spic­u­ous aim of pro­pel­ling them to­ward power (see any par­al­lels here?) and tilt­ing their na­tions’ al­liances in his di­rec­tion, not ours. He’d like noth­ing bet­ter than to see Europe’s pro-Amer­i­can unity, or at least what’s left of it, un­ravel.

If these par­ties weren’t grow­ing, it wouldn’t mat­ter. In all the years I lived in Europe, most scored only sin­gle-digit sup­port in na­tional elec­tions. France’s Na­tional Front some­times claimed around 20 per­cent of the vote, but it never climbed higher.

That was then, this is now. Politi­cians ped­dling na­tion­al­ism are play­ing on peo­ple’s fears (re­mind you of any­one we know?). The pic­ture is chang­ing. Fast.

Ear­lier this month in the tra­di­tion­ally tol­er­ant Nether­lands, the ex­trem­ist Party for Free­dom be­came the sec­ond-big­gest party in par­lia­ment. Next month in France, the pre­sump­tive fron­trun­ner in the first round of pres­i­den­tial elec­tions is the Na­tional Front’s leader Ma­rine Le Pen, daugh­ter of the party’s openly racist founder (who dis­misses the Nazi gas cham­bers as “a de­tail of his­tory”). Her re­cent mes­sage to il­le­gal im­mi­grants: “Play time is over.” Af­ter elec­tions in Ger­many later this year, many pre­dict that a newly right-lean­ing par­lia­ment will cast out Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel, the most Amer­i­can-ori­ented leader in Europe.

Here at home, sim­i­lar sen­ti­ments are sink­ing in. One of­fen­sive ex­am­ple: Iowa con­gress­man Steve King, who once called im­mi­gra­tion a “slow-mo­tion Holo­caust,” re­cently tweeted (in a mes­sage ap­plaud­ing the Dutch Free­dom Party), “We can’t re­store our civ­i­liza­tion with some­body else’s ba­bies.”

You know it’s a re­volt­ing re­mark when it pro­duces plau­dits from for­mer KKK Im­pe­rial Wizard David Duke and from the neo-Nazi web­site The Daily Stormer.

And judg­ing from torched churches and top­pled tomb­stones and peo­ple shot be­cause they sim­ply look Is­lamic, it seems that King is not the only one in this coun­try who plainly feels newly em­pow­ered.

I will not draw a par­al­lel to Nazi Ger­many. That would be­lit­tle the mur­ders of mil­lions. But I will say, peo­ple in pre-war Europe saw signs of peril in the polemics of Ger­many’s leader, but they dis­missed them. They heard malev­o­lence but didn’t know it was strat­egy. They saw re­volt but didn’t know it was reck­on­ing. They ob­served out­rage but didn’t re­al­ize it was evil. Not un­til it was too late to mat­ter.

Thanks to our beloved lib­er­ties and our con­sti­tu­tional pro­tec­tions and the sim­ple good­ness in our DNA, I don’t think we are go­ing that way. Not to­ward tyranny, not to­ward to­tal­i­tar­i­an­ism. But then, nei­ther did they.

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