Thoughts on the U.S. Election and the Far Right

Photo by Terri Givens
Despite union support in Philadelpia, Hillary Clinton lost the state of Pennsylvania

The election of Donald Trump in the November 2016 election came as a surprise to many, and I couldn’t help but think of how the issues were similar to those I had been tracking for many years in Europe. In particular, there were echoes of pronouncements from the 1990s by France’s Jean Marie Le Pen saying “French first” or the Austrian Freedom Party vilifying ethnic minority migrants as taking jobs from hard-working natives. However it was clear that by 2016 these sentiments had made their way into mainstream party discourse.

In October of 2010, German Chancellor Angela Merkel announced in a speech that multiculturalism had failed in Germany. In February of 2011, her remarks were echoed by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in separate remarks declaring the failure or “death” of multiculturalism.  These remarks were clearly coordinated, and in many ways were a harbinger of recent events. These speeches came when mainstream right politicians were concerned about the rise of populist far right parties, and the development of a backlash against anti-discrimination measures that had been promulgated in the wake of the success of the Austrian Freedom Party in 1999. I describe those developments in my book Legislating Equality.

I began following the rise of populist anti-immigrant parties in Europe in the early 1990s. What I have come to realize in the wake of Brexit and the election of Donald Trump, is that my research was tracking a phenomenon that is culminating in an undermining of democratic institutions not only in Europe, but in the U.S.  Van Jones famously called it a “white lash” although there is evidence that other forces were at play. It’s a phenomenon that I referred to as the “losers of globalization” supporting anti-immigrant parties in my first book on the radical right. Although alarm bells have been ringing, it’s not clear that there has been a decline in support for democracy (article), but support for far right parties does seem to be increasing, as noted in this chart from the New York Times:

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I have also argued that it is important that mainstream politicians play closer attention to those who are voting for and supporting far right parties. Much has been written in the U.S. media about the need for the Democratic Party to connect with Trump voters who feel left out, and it has been clear in France, for example, that many former left-wing voters have shifted to supporting the far right. The loss of manufacturing jobs, the impact of technology, and the shift to a more service oriented economy have had an impact, and it’s also clear that race and immigration are playing an important role in attitudes. Many white voters feel that they are losing out to immigrants, or that they are being discriminated against in favor of other ethnic groups. They see the economy as a zero-sum game, and as women and minorities begin to play a more visible role, they see themselves losing out. Rising inequality, a declining middle class, and stagnant wages are objective signs of a decline that leads them to worry that their children may end up worse off than they were. They also rebel against what they see as a “political correctness” that requires them to police the way the speak about women and minorities, religion or LGBTQ issues.

Mainstream politicians like Merkel have responded to the far right by often taking on the issues or rhetoric in areas such as immigration. Although Angela Merkel has been a supporter of Syrian refugees in Germany, she recently announced support for a headscarf ban in Germany. It has been clear that positions that the far right were taking in the 1990s have moved into the mainstream, as politicians attempt to gain back support from voters who were attracted by the anti-immigration, nationalist and frankly racist positions of far right parties.

Recent reports that Trump’s National Security Advisor has met with representatives of the Austrian Freedom Party are worrying. I argue in my book that one of the factors that has kept far right parties from being more successful in Europe is the fact that people would vote against them strategically because the mainstream parties would make it clear that they could not be part of government. This is often referred to as a cordon sanitaire or a barrier to the far right making their way into government. The Austrian Freedom Party (FPO) did become part of the Austrian government in 2000, but the party has been through many changes since then, which complicates an analysis of where they are now. Being part of government seemed to moderate at least the leaders of the party at the time, but it has shifted back to a more strident tone in recent years.

The fact that the FPO candidate, Norbert Hofer, was defeated by independent candidate Alexander Van der Bellen in the Austrian Presidential Election in December is a sign that support continues for the EU, but Brexit and support for far right presidential candidate Marine Le Pen in France indicate that there is much work to do. Mainstream candidates on both sides of the Atlantic must find a way to support the growing ethnic minority populations in their countries, while acknowledging the concerns of voters who see those groups as threats. Although we have clearly taken a step backwards on these issues in the U.S., it is not a given that European countries like France and Germany will inevitably move in the same direction. It will take smart leadership and grass-roots support for progressive policies that will help all, like healthcare and economic development that supports the lower and middle classes. Unfortunately, in the U.S., the incoming administration appears poised to increase disparities that have led to high rates of inequality. How this will impact voting behavior remains to be seen.

France, Muslims and Terrorism

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As noted in this mini-documentary from CBS news “It sucks to be a Muslim in France”…

http://www.cbsnews.com/videos/les-banlieues-seeds-of-terror

[I consulted with the producer of the mini-documentary as an expert on the topic]

One of my first trips to Paris as a graduate student in 1995 coincided with a series of terrorist bomb attacks, likely by Algerian Islamic extremists (CNN, 1995), that led to the removal of all garbage cans in the city. Many years later, as a professor working on a book project, I happened to stay in a hotel which was about a block away from where one of the busses had blown up during the 7/7 bombing attacks. Many have written about whether or not terror attacks like the 7/7 bombings or 9/11 have led to a securitization of immigration policy. What is different now is that Europe is currently experiencing the largest flow of refugees since the end of World War II, and most of those refugees are coming from Syria and other parts of the Middle East, meaning many of these migrants are Muslims.

Many European countries have faced terror attacks over the years and have taken a variety of measures to improve security. However, even though new measures may be taken to deal with security, such as stricter screening of immigrants and refugees, most European countries, including countries like Germany, France and Sweden, have remained open to refugees fleeing violence, whether they were Muslims fleeing conflicts in the Balkans or Iraqi minorities fleeing sectarian violence.

Europe has faced a challenge integrating Muslims from various countries and backgrounds. However, it is important to keep in mind that the recent attacks in Paris appear to have been perpetrated by so-called “home grown terrorists,” i.e., radicalized Muslims who were born and raised in Europe. This makes the connection between terrorism and refugees rather tenuous.

Perhaps a larger issue, in terms of integration, is the situation for immigrants, ethnic minorities and Muslim citizens, given that many of them live on the margins of society. Many are the targets of racism, but also have to deal with living in places like the suburbs (banlieus) of Paris where they have little educational and job opportunities. France has been trying to address this issue for many years, with a variety of policies, including antidiscrimination policy, as described in my book, Legislating Equality. Although the French government initially embraced antidiscrimination policy through its equality body, politics eventually reduced the impact of its activities related to racism.

Journalist and documentarian Rokhaya Diallo has examined these issues through the lens of Americans visiting France in her recent work, Steps to Liberty. Going back to the 1995 movie, La Haine (Hate) it seems that little has changed. However, I have seen a new awareness developing among various groups including Muslims and those who now consider themselves black and French. I have written about the impact of racial equality legislation on blacks in France in the book Invisible Minorities. These groups have the potential to develop as voting blocks and to impact politics in France, as well as other European countries. These political developments can be important to the integration of minority groups and may ultimately create a new outlet for the frustrations that can lead to radicalization.

 

 

 

 

 

2013 gets off to a fast start – some thoughts on our democracy.

I can’t believe January is almost over — it has been a crazy, hectic month.  We are getting ready for the kick-off of our partnership between my fitness program Take Back the Trail and Southwest Key; our new women’s group, Austin Women for Political Action had its first meeting; one of my main areas of research, immigration, has become a very hot topic (see my other blog immigrationtexas.org); and on the academic front I have a bunch of writing projects to get done in the next few weeks.  Whew — it seems like every major project I have been working on for the last two years has come to a head this month!  It’s all good, just a reminder that I’m always juggling too many things at the same time.

In any case, I was able to attend the presidential inauguration in Washington this month as well, which was a reminder of the vibrancy of our democracy.  It was really nice being in the crowd, and the weather was much warmer than 4 years ago, when we were able to watch the parade from the comfort of a local law firm’s building. I spent the week in DC, attending various events and I gave a talk at GWU on my latest book project on antidiscrimination policy in Europe.  Being in DC for the inauguration was like being in a bubble — so much was going on, but it was only in DC — the rest of the U.S. and the world was going along normally. The gun control issue was at the top of the agenda while we were in DC, and as someone who believes in common-sense gun control laws (i.e., the public doesn’t really need access to military hardware) I was a bit surprised that it didn’t make it into the President’s inaugural speech, but he touched on many issues which are important to me such as gay rights,  immigration, climate change, and supporting the middle class.  One of my favorite lines was “The most evident of truths – that all of us are created equal – is still the star that guides us.

As the debates on gun control, immigration and other issues unfold over the next year, it will be important to respect the opinions of all sides, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t speak out on issues that are important to us. As a political scientist, I understand the complexities of policy making, but as a mother, I have to speak up for myself, my children and those I hold dear. Our democracy functions when, “WE THE PEOPLE” are engaged, involved and pay attention to what our representatives are doing. As President Obama so eloquently said, “We, the people, still believe that our obligations as Americans are not just to ourselves, but to all posterity.”  The stakes are high — this is an important time for our country and we all need to be informed, as much as possible.  I began this post with how busy I am, and I will generally focus my time on the issues that are in my area of expertise, like immigration, but that doesn’t have to be to the exclusion of all other issues.  It doesn’t take that much time to write a letter to your congressperson (glad to know there are more women in congress!).  Not everyone has time to be involved, of course, but every little bit helps…IMG_0926IMG_0929IMG_0922