Trumpism, Inequality and Europe

, by Elsie Haldane

All the versions of this article: [English] [italiano]

Trumpism, Inequality and Europe

After last week’s dramatic events at the US Capitol, the existence of Trumpism can never be questioned. Although Trump is leaving the White House, the political and social ideology of Trumpism may stick around. This ideology is inherently linked to social inequality: it can only succeed in an already unequal society. Many who followed Trump were frustrated at an establishment that seemed to ignore their needs. Instead of addressing these inequalities, politicians like Trump use scapegoats to stir up hatred amongst voters, pit different groups against each other and depict themselves as the saviour of ‘the people’, therefore becoming a cause, effect, and exacerbation of social inequality. This is not a new tactic, nor an American one—it has been seen before in Europe, and will be seen again.

What is Trumpism?

Trumpism mirrors the political ideology of Donald Trump himself. Concerned with nationalism and populism, it is more about the gain and retention of power than anything else, and cannot do this without scapegoating disadvantaged groups. An important characteristic of Trumpism is a conservative attitude towards migration and immigration—Trump is famous for declaring that Mexicans were “bringing crime” and are “rapists” as a justification for his promise of building a wall at the US-Mexico border.

The origins of Trumpism are a little difficult to pinpoint as so many factors contributed to its buildup; and perhaps this is the best way of defining it, as a reaction to the buildup of inequality, tension and discontentment. Hatred often emerges as a result of existing inequality in society. Indeed, in a society that aspires to hegemony, one disadvantaged group may try to push out another in order to consolidate its place in the social hierarchy. The ‘movement’ of Trumpism works in exactly the same way, and can only survive in a society that is already deeply unequal to begin with. It is easier to antagonise people than it is for leaders to attempt to address these issues. Don’t be fooled though: it is not just a question of what is easiest, but a conscious abuse of the vulnerability of disadvantaged people for political gain.

Europe and the far-right

Across the Atlantic, it is easy for us to sit back, watch these events unfold, and tell ourselves that the world we inhabit as Europeans is different. However, while European nations may not specifically uphold Trumpism, the European far-right certainly share similar characteristics. Far-right parties have repeatedly used scapegoats as part of their fear-mongering tactics. Islamophobia has unfortunately become common across European countries, and this is particularly true in France, where political parties such as the National Front (renamed National Rally) have gained momentum in the recent past. While Le Pen’s party never gained a majority, the effects of this galvanisation of people is still evident. Macron’s decision to get rid of the Collective Against Islamophobia in France (CCIF) can be seen as an attempt to appeal to strongly Islamophobic sentiment in the country.

In the UK, hatred of Muslims, as well as other social groups such as Eastern Europeans, has not only created an overt nationalist sentiment in the country, but has also contributed to its departure from the European Union. Aggressive and violent language used by anti-immigration political parties in the UK, such as UKIP, the BNP, and other organisations like the English Defence League, echoes the language used by those who stormed the Capitol last week.

In Hungary, anti-migration rhetoric has been used to gain support for the far-right Fidesz party, and the same can be said for anti-LGBTQI+ scapegoating. Viktor Orbán, Prime Minister of Hungary and leader of the Fidesz party, has consistently advocated for so-called “Christian values’’ in the country, while changing the constitution to uphold these ‘values.’ The story is similar in Poland: President Andrzej Duda used blatant homophobia and transphobia to gain votes, claiming that LGBT ‘ideology’ is worse than communism. The popularity of this rhetoric in Poland shows itself in the enthusiasm for ‘LGBT-free’ zones. His victory, along with the victory of Orbán, the success of Le Pen, and indeed, the victory of Trump, are testaments to the power politicians hold in inciting hatred, if they know who to target as the ‘enemy.’ Although they occur on different continents, one has to question the influence of Trumpism on European far-right politics, and vice versa, as well as its influence on the general rise in right-wing ideology globally.

What next?

These ideologies pose an enormous hurdle for the progression of human rights across the globe. They flourish in unequal societies, yet augment these inequalities as they incite hatred and intolerance. They do not culminate in rhetoric alone, but real, tangible acts of regression and discrimination that affect the marginalised in society. In the UK, for example, hate crime and racism have risen in recent years, especially after Brexit. Perhaps in a more equal society, these ideologies would not rear their ugly heads in the first place: therefore, to tackle dangerous far-right politics, it is imperative that we tackle social equality first.

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