The Rise Of Right-Wing Populism – A Common Trend Across Borders

With US President Donald Trump approaching election year and Prime Minister Modi starts off the second term with a bang or Boris Johnson becoming new Prime Minister of Britain – the pathologies of right-wing resurgence marks a stark similarity across borders. Not only these countries, but the right-wing populist and nationalist governments are also in power in Brazil, Turkey, Israel, Hungary, Poland. In some other countries like Canada, Australia – the established right-wing parties are following the populist trend.

These transition of the resurgence of right-wing populist politics signals major shifts in electoral behavior. An interesting fact is that the voters are responding to similar promises and displaying similar sentiments. Though the scenarios may vary – the basic pattern remains the same.

Just like the extreme “Republicanism” and madness around the “wall” that took Trump to power – the unprecedented win of Modi for the second term was also a triumph. Such a dramatic change of voter behavior across the world indicates a common perception of the quality of political leadership. It’s a result of accumulated resentment and frustration with existing economic circumstances and perception of policies as non-relevant.

The reason for resentment is varied in different regions of the world. Let’s check out the story of the United States first. With dollars dominating the world market, the US economy outsourced trivial services and productions to low-cost centers around the world. Their focus was more on the knowledge economy. But in a couple of decades – the scenario changed. The skillset required to service shifted from Business Processing call centers to Knowledge Processing centers. To meet needs, the low-cost centers (including the SE Asia) equipped themselves with hordes of degrees and skillsets resulting in high paying jobs in US. So the companies of Bay area and elsewhere started getting credible candidates willing to work at reasonable pay. And with this mounted the perception of “immigrants” stealing “lesser pay” jobs. The immigrants were mostly South American or southeast Asian. A resentment against race was visible. Added to that 9/11 happened and the natives found their enemy in a brown-skinned and bearded person. And then happened the housing bubble burst resulting in a huge recession. Barack Obama (a black) came to power with huge support and remained in White House for two full terms. The cumulative resentment spread over a long two decades was visibly prominent amongst a significant section of the US population when Trump came to power. The primal need of resentment was addressed by a few simple keywords – nationalism, illegal immigrants (read race) and reassurance of – “It’s their fault – I am on your side.”

If noted closely, a very different yet similar scenario followed in India. With the advent of outsourced jobs and the tag of “world’s fastest-growing economy” – the country struggled through huge unemployment and a visible institutionalization of corruption. Added to that was resentment among people who wanted quality education and employment but was not eligible under “reservation”. With Narendra Modi – a charismatic leader and a powerful orator promising “better days” – he came to power with a sweeping victory. His first term was heavy on “nationalism” and “militarism” and also implementing a “muscular” version of Hinduism. The enemy of “illegal immigrants” of Trump was altered with “minorities of other faith” here. To note closely, he too met the primal need of resentments of a significant population by a few keywords – nationalism, macho Hinduism and reassurance of “It’s their fault (read Indian National Congress)– I am on your side.”

The rise of right-wing populism in Europe was more about positioning nationalism and immigration as a threat to the country. Boris Johnson helming Britain to his “promised” Brexit is only a confirmation to that.

The curious case of right-wing politics is that they successfully channelize the tide of resentment and frustration of a significant majority that culturally and socially divides the society and carves out a niche that is big enough to get into power. If in the US the channel is race, in Europe it’s immigration and in India it’s religion. The crux is similar. It provides a strong emotional hook to channelize the real angst of people towards a visible opponent (other race or religion). But in reality, the “real angst” mostly remains unattended. And it’s almost similar across the world. Just like the electoral sentiments and rise of right-wing populism – the real issues are also common across the world. Across the boundaries.

This article first appeared in Storizen Magazine September 2019 Issue

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