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Reactionary Populism Retains its Transnational Edge

Marine at Le Pen Trump Tower via Sam Levine

Ishaan Tharoor has a good read on the every-growing connections – ideological and political – between the U.S. and European illiberal right.

But this deepening engagement extends well beyond Hungary. One of the striking transatlantic developments of the past half-decade — marked by the rise and fall and potential re-emergence of President Donald Trump — has been the overt collaboration between right-wing politicians and activists in the United States and counterparts in Europe, particularly those on the far right.

Some of these efforts border on the comical, such as former Trump adviser Stephen K. Bannon’s quixotic mission to build a united far-right front in Europe along Trumpist lines. But a greater symbiosis is underway, with more and more prominent figures seeing themselves as part of a joint struggle.

“Trumpism has had a very important influence, not just in America, but also in Europe and Spain,” Manuela Carmena, a retired judge and former leftist mayor of Madrid, told the New York Times. In France, Spain and various other countries in Europe, politicians of various stripes have located themselves within American-style culture war battles over identity politics and how to think about one’s own national history.

As Tharoor notes, there’s nothing like this on the left. He paraphrases “a Western European social democrat” to suggest that the primary barrier is ideological: “the Democratic establishment in the United States would find greater kinship with her center-right rivals than with her own center-left party.”

I suspect that’s only part of the story. The U.S. two-party system produces relatively heterogeneous coalitions; transnational political movements tend to form around ideological vanguards. Even the elite “third way” alliance among center-left leaders of the 1990s was built on what, at the time, amounted to a reformist movement.

While the GOP is almost certainly more ideologically diverse than it appears from the outside, it’s also been captured by a reactionary populist vanguard. Negative partisanship, an effective propaganda network, and an unflagging commitment to the economic interests of the wealthy help to minimize defections.

This makes for a fundamental asymmetry when it comes to transnational mobilization, one which is likely to undercut efforts to rally a pro-democracy international.

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