In an election driven mostly by economic factors, Italians have elected a far-right fascist anti-migration coalition. This follows the Swedish election in which a right-wing coalition was elected that will include Neo-Nazis. Sweden’s debate hinged more on “crime and social issues popularly associated with immigrants, such as gang violence, sexual assault and welfare benefits dependency.” Hungary and Poland now have some company in Europe for their brand of extreme conservatism.
I rarely find myself in agreement with Damon Linker, but I have to acknowledge that he’s identified the most worrying trend. In Europe, as well as America, the center-left has been increasingly boxed in as the party for highly educated, secular voters, while the poorly educated now identify strongly with the far right and the middle classes tilt enough to the right to decide elections. As Linker concludes, “Until the center-left figures out a way to win back the working- and middle-class, as well as the nominally religious, it will continue to lose precious political ground to the populist and nationalist right.”
Even in a country like America that originally needed as many immigrants as possible and had no means to regulate their inflow, we have seen a recurring cycle of backlash and restriction followed by more permissive policies. Politically, immigration requires periodic periods of slow digestion. The backlash isn’t necessarily tied to actual flows of immigrants, as nativism trends up in bad economic times and bad economic times can occur when immigrant flows are low. On the other hand, when the global economy is having difficulties, it can lead to a sharp rise in people seeking to enter the United States.
We’re currently in a situation where immigrant flows are high and the global economy is struggling, so immigration is at a peak in political saliency. Unfortunately, this benefits very far right parties that are also extreme in other areas, including on civil rights, women’s rights, gay rights, and voter’s rights.
If you want a sense of the power of the moment, look no further than the latest results from the Washington Post-ABC News poll. They find the seemingly incomprehensible result that the majority (52 percent) of the American people think Donald Trump should be prosecuted and “if the 2024 race is again between Biden and Trump, 48 percent of registered voters say they would support Trump while 46 percent would support Biden.”
Think about how out of touch you need to be to have the people prefer someone who they think should be in prison.
Of course, I’ve long insisted that the left must represent people in every community, from our immigrant-rich cities and coasts to our mostly white small-town and rural interior. I’ve grown hoarse explaining that fascism thrives when the ethnic majority group has no left-wing populist alternative. My focus has not been on immigration or trimming on social issues, but on revitalizing small-town and rural economies through tough anti-trust enforcement.
What I know for sure, is you can’t just do more of the same. Fascism is on the rise and if you can’t defeat it politically, you have the most costlier job of defeating it with arms.