In the past few months, we have seen open and unbridled racism rear its ugly head in a way not seen since the 1960’s. Police brutality, disproportionately against people of color, has became a topic of national conversation. Brexit was motivated more by fears of Muslim immigration than true economic concerns. Donald Trump’s entire campaign is merely bigotry masked by economic pseudo-populism targeted towards older white Americans who fear that they've lost "their" country. The entire European migrant “crisis” could easily be solved by resettling refugees (kinda the way it happened after World War II but I digress), except for there is rampant Islamophobia and xenophobia throughout Europe. Thank you, John Oliver, for exposing in this special.
While some on the right-wing believe that liberals are destroying America, I must argue a different point: populists who exploit bigotry and prejudice while also peddling bunk economic theories and nonsensical environmental policies will cause the downfall of Western civilization. Not radical terrorists, or the Millennial generation, or Keynesian economics or whatever other conservative boogeyman you can think of. Far-right nationalist parties are rising in Europe, in a way eerily reminiscent of the 1930s. And Trump is the first American candidate to be called a fascist in mainstream news ever, so there’s that too.
It’s very interesting but also very scary to explain how I think this works. I’ll start by defining “crank magnetism”. It's described by RationalWiki (not the best source, but good enough to define a term) as “the condition where people become attracted to multiple crank ideas at the same time”. It is best summarized with the following joke. The joke isn’t particularly funny, but it’s quite apt for the point I’m going for.
“A sovereign citizen, a creationist, an anti-vaxxer, and a conspiracy theorist walk into a bar. He orders a drink.”
The far-right and far-left have conveniently sorted people into these camps of thought. Adherence to conspiracy theories, anti-science ideology, climate change denialism, the whole shabang of nonsense and idiocy. Here’s where I place Glenn Beck, Alex Jones (even the New York Times and the Southern Poverty Law Center call him one) and Sarah Palin. To help evaluate theories in the future, here’s the crackpot index, a surefire way of evaluating how reasonable an idea is. Curiously, Alex Jones and Sarah Palin are unrepentant Trump supporters (I wouldn't be surprised if Trump made Palin his Secretary of State) while Glenn Beck has compared him to Hitler and was suspended by SiriusXM for agreeing to this statement from a guest on his radio show:
"If Congress won't remove him from office, what patriot will step up and do that if he oversteps his mandate as president, his constitutional-granted authority, I should say, as president. If he oversteps that, how do we get him out of office? If he oversteps that, how do we get him out of office? And I don’t think there is a legal means available. I think it will be a terrible, terrible position the American people will be in to get Trump out of office, because you won’t be able to do it through Congress."
This means that people foolish enough to believe that allowing Muslim immigration is a major threat are also foolish enough to believe in supply-side economics (doesn't work) or that climate change isn’t real (news flash, it is) or that Obama will detain them and put them in FEMA camps. Yeah, people actually believe this shit.
And it’s not just a conspiracy theory when elected officials, like Michele Bachmann, give credence to these fringe ideas.
Or when the chairman of the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee throws snowballs in the Capitol to disprove climate change.
Or when the 2016 Republican candidate tweets that climate change is a hoax by the Chinese to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. These statements have real-world impact. Here's a link if you think this isn't real.
The parties that I believe fall victim to (or milk, depending on perspective) crank magnetism are:
- America’s Republican Party. The GOP has 54 seats out of 100 in the Senate, 247 seats out of 435 in the House of Representatives, 31 out of 50 governorships, and control the overwhelming majority of State legislature seats. From Kansas Republican Steve King's open promotion of white supremacy to the ardent homophobia of their platform (in 2016, no less!) and the makeup of the speakers and delegates at this year's RNC, it's hard to argue that the GOP is actually living in the 21st century instead of the 1950s. I'm not the first to argue that the GOP has become, in effect, a white nationalist party.
- Britain’s United Kingdom Independence Party, the chief architects of Brexit and the original Eurosceptics. UKIP got almost 13% of the vote in the 2015 general election, as compared to 3% in 2010. Former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron called the party's membership "fruticakes, loonies, and closet racists, mostly" in 2006.
- France’s National Front, led by Marine Le Pen. In 2012, this party received almost 14% of the vote, compared to 4.3% in 2009. Also, they secured 21 seats in the European Parliament. Le Pen's father and the party's leader from 1972 to 2011, Jean-Marie Le Pen, is a denier of both the Holocaust and climate change.
- The Freedom Party of Austria. Their leader, Norbert Hofer came in second in a recent general election and the results have been invalidated, prompting a new election. Between 2006 and 2013, this party nearly doubled their vote percentage from 11% to 20.5% and went from 21 seats to 40. A 1993 signature collection initiative by this group, called the Austria-First Initiative, asserted that "Austria is not a county of immigration".
- The Dutch Party of Freedom, (also known as PVV). Led by Geert Wilders. Luckily, this party had a lower percentage of the vote in recent elections, dipping from 24 votes in 2010 to 15 votes in 2012. Wilders underwent trial in 2010 and 2011 for inciting hatred and discrimination, along with insulting religious and ethnic groups. He was found not guilty.
- The Golden Dawn Party of Greece, led by Holocaust denier Nikolaos Michaloliakos who is currently undergoing trial for forming a criminal organization after the murder of an anti-fascist rapper. They are currently the 3rd largest party in Greece, having received 7% of the vote and 18 out of 300 seats in parliament. Openly described as a fascist, Neo-Nazi party in mainstream press.
- The Sweden Democrats, led by Jimmie Åkesson. This party went from 2.9% of the vote and 0 seats in 2006 to 13% of the vote and 49 seats in 2014. They oppose funding for multicultural initiatives and had deep ties to far-right populists in the 1990s.
- Jobbik, the Movement for a Better Hungary. They are the 3rd largest party in Hungary and hold 23 out of 199 seats in their parliament. Jobbik members protested against the World Jewish Congress in Budapest to fight against a "Jewish attempt to buy up Hungary".
- Lithuania's Order and Justice Party. In 2012, they came in 4th with 7.31% of the vote to secure 11 seats in parliament. Former Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas founded the party after being expelled from the presidency for giving citizenship to a major donor who was in the Russian Mafia. Paskas was the first European president to be impeached.
All of these groups are opposed to immigration, want to cut welfare spending and otherwise shrink the welfare because they fear of abuse by “undeserving groups”, favor “tough on crime” policing, are opposed to international climate agreements, and otherwise peddle crank theories. Their memberships is homogenous and vocal members are often racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and anti-Semitic. All wrapped in one package.
Interestingly, Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen, her niece and French Member of Parliament Marion Maréchal-Le_Pen, Geert Wilders, Golden Dawn member Ilias Panagiotaros, Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orbanz, amongst other international figures, have endorsed Trump. A complete list of Trump endorsements from international figures in this link.
Why is this such a problem, you might ask? Aside from that this gives a political voice to the most bigoted among us, this has the danger of making Europe go from a united continent to a bunch of individual countries with no regards for each other. And that went so well this time. And this time. And this time. The point being strong nationalism in Europe goes poorly every time.
There’s also another theory I’m relying upon for this argument. As immigration increases, traditionally left-wing countries such as Austria, Sweden, and even Denmark look more towards the right wing. This isn’t the fault of the immigrants, but of citizens who fear for their safety and economic well-being without reason. Immigrants are good for the economy, says the conservative Hoover Institution. Immigrants commit crimes at lower levels than native born citizens.
This will work in a tragic cycle.
- Immigrants, fleeing the Middle East and North Africa due to poor political situations that arose as the Cold War ended, go to Europe and America where they see jobs, opportunity, and safety.
- White Westerners, fearing the influx of immigrants who look different than them, will try to restrict immigration, if not close their borders entirely. The parties who promise to close the borders are also opposed to fighting climate change. Expelling undocumented immigrants and preventing immigration will be disastrous for the economies of these nations.
- As the economy worsens, these parties will further spread their message of lower taxes to encourage “free enterprise”, which will hurt working-class workers as they need government investment in education, welfare, and other areas to better their lives. Also, as the economy worsens, the traditionally left-wing parties that have been in power throughout Europe, the US, and Canada since the end of World War II will lose power as people become more hostile to the welfare state.
- As Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders have said, climate change will indirectly lead to terrorism as Middle Eastern and Northern African farmers have reduced crop yields.
- These disaffected farmers are much more susceptible to radicalism. Increased terrorism will lead to further anti-immigrant rhetoric.
- This rhetoric (and the violence that this rhetoric causes) will further radicalize people within the population, leading to increased terrorism. It will also further incense radical groups such as ISIS and further their recruiting message by promoting a false “Muslims vs. Westerners” narrative. Need proof? Trump is already being used in ISIS recruitment videos.
- This terrorism will make Western powers even more likely to close the borders.
As these far-right, nationalist parties take hold, the situation will only worsen for working class workers. The policies of these parties are fine by the owners of capital, since they’ll reduce taxes. This will balloon income inequality over time. They will also reduce the amount of environmental regulation, which will have lots of negative consequences on the environment. A world with closed borders will, over time, make climate change occur faster and more dangerously, increase income and wealth inequality (which are both very dangerous), increase terrorism by both far-right nationalists and by radicalized Muslims, and possibly lead to large-scale war.
Ironically, the main things that the far-right claims to protect against, they will cause or even worsen. Closing the borders will worsen terrorism, not alleviate it. Banning immigration will not save the economy; it will crash it. They likely don’t care about inequality nor the environment, so those are moot points. And I'm not making up the war point, those are the words of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron. Far-right parties are the biggest danger in existence because of how they cause negative situations to get worse.
Oh, and I don’t think Western civilization is a beast. It’s just a reference to this awesome movie quote. Thanks for reading!