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Right-wing so-called populism

Right-wing parties have found success using populist and nativist rhetoric. This happened here in 2016, of course, but also in the ‘Yes’ campaign for Brexit, in the Orban presidency in Hungary, or Duda in Poland. I don’t know if Bolsonaro in Brazil counts since his campaign was focused on anti-corruption, but he himself fits this bill. Le Pen in France was close, and Italy has now put together a right-wing coalition government that opposes refugees / immigration on nationalist grounds. Golden Dawn rising in Greece, Modi’s recent policies in India, perhaps Geert Wilders soon in The Netherlands, etc., etc., etc.

Something that occurred to me while watching this slightly aggravating but overall bold new video from The Guardian: these politicians are masquerading as “the people” but they are just as rich and disconnected from Joe the Plumber as the elites they wish to dethrone. Steve Bannon had been a Goldman Sachs banker before entering politics. Trump has billions of dollars and is demonstrably not a “self-made billionaire.” Orban studied at Oxford on a scholarship from… you can’t make this up… the Soros Foundation. He also has a net-worth of $750 million USD. etc., etc., etc.

So how do they represent “the people”? How does their political messaging seem in any way “in touch with” the common folk? The answer is that left and right wing politics have separate lenses, through which they also see populism. Using a Marxist lens, the ideological left views people primarily as their economic status, whereas the ideological right, using a van Herder-ian (?) lens, views people primarily as their national identity. To the left, Trump is a gazillionaire, but to the right, Trump is an American. These contrasting perspectives are not helped by the Democratic party’s capitulation to identity politics and abandonment of hard-left economics since the late ’90’s. As a result of that, we have two parties both centered on identity, whether racial or gender or otherwise, and one supports the majority holders of that identity while the other supports assorted minorities. Identity politics can be a worthy battle to fight, but by engaging it on those terms the Left has already ceded what should have been their starting ground.


I could give an argument for why the economic lens is far more relevant to the distribution of power than the racial or national lens. But instead I think I should just point out the incredulity of what Steve Bannon is trying to do, which Paul Lewis picks up in the video. Bannon as a political organizer is doing what true populism should not require: coordinating in secret HQs and scheming with politicians how to take over their countries. Why is Bannon coordinating anything at all? Doesn’t that immediately imply that there is not a true grassroots movement in Europe towards the right? And more contradictory is his plan to make a central movement (complete with the meta-self-conscious title “The Movement”) to support a nationalist push in each country. But national pushes are not supposed to be centralized among all of Europe! There cannot be a central structure to a series of national movements. That structure would be immediately foreign, because is an embodiment of international cooperation.

This contradiction gives away what everyone already knows: that far-right nationalism is merely a smoke screen for certain politicians to gain power, and more importantly, for their financiers to gain favorable legislation. As always, social issues are used to rally voters to the polls, but the most deeply embedded interests in any election are the financial and banking interests. Sure, we voted Republican to end abortion, but we therefore also gave an enormous tax cut to the rich. Sure, the next election will largely be a referendum on immigration, but the next Democratic president is going to try to tax capital gains as income and introduce more Green legislation (which big business hates, for obvious reasons). The turn to right-wing so-called populism should cause us to ask the bigger question, not just of who visibly will suffer should they be elected, but also of who invisibly will gain.

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