“Today the United States, tomorrow France,” former National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen tweeted late Tuesday night, referencing the prophetic quote attributed to Adolph Hitler. This was as Donald Trump’s victory swept through the world’s headlines, exciting many a far-right activist within and outside of the United States.
Unfortunately, Le Pen is no lone Twitter-fascist, but a popular figure whose daughter and fellow far-right leader Marine Le Pen is expected to win the first round of French national elections in April. In the last elections, Le Pen swept large areas of the country in the first round before being defeated by large margins in the second.
But this is the year of Brexit and Donald Trump, and France (and Europe) need not wait until 2017 to anticipate their future. As many have pointed out, the French primaries, only two weeks away, may well determine the outcome in the spring. If Alain Juppe succeeds in clinching the Republican Party’s nomination, he stands to beat Marine Le Pen. Any other scenario opens the gate of possibility for the fascist-right she represents.
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France, the target of a number of attacks by Islamic State copycats and a battleground in the humanitarian crisis facing refugees in Europe, is not alone in the predicament of having far-right parties poised to make big gains in fast-approaching elections. Austria, the first EU state to close its borders to refugees, votes December 4 in a highly contested race that saw election results from May — which placed the leftist Alexander Van der Bellen barely in front — invalidated due to fraud. Norbert Hofer, who represents the far-right Freedom Party, lost by a very small margin of just over 30,000 votes and is expected to win next month.
In the Netherlands, holding its next election in March, the far-right Geert Wilders is placed for a possible victory as well, representing the anti-Muslim, anti-EU Party for Freedom. In an echo of Trump’s situation, criminal charges Wilders is facing for hate speech may actually increase his likelihood to win.
“We are witnessing the same uprising on both sides of the Atlantic,” Wilders wrote Wednesday morning in the conspiracy-site-turned-news-blog Breitbart. “The Patriotic Spring is sweeping the Western world.”
Even while Austrians vote for a party allied with Eurosceptics — those political parties within Europe that oppose the European Union either in its current form or in its entirety — they still poll pro-EU. But recent public conflict between Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and Austrian chancellor Christian Kern over the EU-Turkey deal that sealed the Turkish coastline from refugees attempting to reach Greece shows another side of the EU’s political crisis. This is only the latest sign that this tenuous and haphazard agreement may fall apart very soon. A disintegration of the deal with Turkey would likely push European politics further to the margins, with the left and pro-refugee groups having to face an increasingly angry reactionary force from the far right. Similar developments last year brought out the best and worst of Europe and significantly affected the rhetoric pushing the far right.
Following Brexit and Trump, and especially in the event of the collapse of the EU-Turkey deal, a Wilders or Hofer victory would further the momentum pointing in the direction of Le Pen, who has spoken very directly about staging a Frexit referendum and aligning France along nationalist, anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant lines.
The European Union would not survive a Frexit, which would sever the economic union of France and Germany, the two pillars of the Eurozone project. Germany, the other half of the union’s foundation, would be forced to navigate a post-Euro Europe before it was hoping to. France would find itself as part of a new coalition of far-right European parties united by their stances against NATO and the EU, an emerging relationship with the “Putinsphere,” and a general hostility toward democratic institutions, leftists, refugees and migrants.
The US economy would take a massive dive, having so much of its financial sector tied up in the debt schemes of the Eurozone. Debts owed to Germany by the periphery countries would finally be defaulted on, liquidity would dry up, and most importantly, significant political shifts would drive people further to the poles of discourse. As Europe’s economy tanks, Fascist parties across the continent currently polling between 3 and 10 percent of electoral results across Europe would likely surge, as would, hopefully, a mobilization of the left.
Many of us have been sounding the alarm for some time about the interconnected nature of this right-wing wave stemming from shifts in the global economy, rising racism and xenophobia, the crisis facing the EU, eroding legitimacy of mainstream media and “insider” government, and resurgent nationalism in the face of a “globalist” agenda. For many (from both sides of the political divide), conspiracy has taken the place of researched analysis, and assumption and rumor weigh heavier than fact. These are signs of the times, and they are pushing far-right politics in places few expected they could thrive.
With this understanding, the next four years will not happen in a vacuum but in a highly volatile and rapidly changing global economic and political order. Trump’s association with the Russian oligarchy and Russian state, increasingly tied to Europe’s far-right, will start to matter. While Russian banks have helped finance Le Pen’s National Front, the current Dutch government is trying hard in the space before March to reverse the results of an April referendum rejecting the EU’s agreement to bring Ukraine further into the European sphere.
Though Trump spoke against Russia’s annexing of Crimea, his strongest European supporters stand opposite of him on the issue, and his former strategist Paul Manafort has set his feet firmly in the pro-Russian Ukrainian political scene. Manafort is now under an FBI inquiry for his ties to Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs with links to both the political and organized-crime worlds.
On the topic of Putin, Trump’s respect for strongmen leaders and his embracing of conspiratorial ideas about who runs the world will likely trickle down to the grassroots. We can expect an alliance with the Le Pens and Hofers of Europe, one that places xenophobic nationalist rhetoric at the center of its policies, as well as a tighter embrace of the Putinsphere across Eastern and now Western Europe.
The connection between Russia’s defense of the Assad regime, Turkey’s tension with the EU, and the return to nationalist borders in Europe are significant. Writing in The Guardian, Natalie Nougayrède suggests that “if Europe sees a new exodus of refugees, Russia will stand to benefit. The refugee crisis has sowed deep divisions on the continent and it has helped populist rightwing parties flourish — many of which are Moscow’s political allies against the EU as a project.”
Trump’s approach to the Middle East is a bit of a mystery, though he has made no secret of his desire to ban the entry of refugees from the region into the US. The situation in Syria, an impasse between the old Western powers and their allies and a newer alliance of self-declared “anti-imperialist” states oriented around right-wing ideologies and authoritarianism (Russia, Syria and Iran), has been a big development as far as American policies in the region go. Trump’s affinity with some of these powers, and especially with their male leaders, suggests strange possibilities. We can probably expect an increased alliance with Putin and Assad against both the Islamic State and the Syrian opposition — if it survives the current bombardment in Aleppo — but such an alliance may stop short at Iran, a Russian and Syrian ally Trump has long positioned himself against.
Trump may also try to step back the deal Hillary Clinton negotiated with Iran, which he called “the worst deal ever negotiated.” He has flip-flopped several times on that issue, both claiming he would “dismantle” the deal, and also claiming that he would not destroy but “police that contract so tough they don’t stand a chance.”
Either way, we can anticipate relations with Iran to return to Bush-era rhetoric.
We can also expect strange approaches to strongmen like Rodrigo Duterte, “the Trump of the East,” who recently appointed Trump’s business partner in the Philippines, Century Properties Group chairman Jose Antonio, as a special envoy to Washington for trade, investment and economic affairs.
In Trump’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) we see not an analysis of the evils of corporate globalization or a demand for a more egalitarian trading system in the Pacific Rim, but a hostility toward mutual benefits among trading partners. The problem with the TPP, as well as with NAFTA, Trump argues, is that they don’t benefit the US enough. Ironically, most of the world sees agreements like these as only serving the interests of US corporations and their global trade allies.
Since Trump’s campaign has consisted of almost 100 percent rhetoric, one has very few actual policy positions to look at to analyze possible pathways of his presidency. In examining his statement on his first one hundred days in office, one can see most of the rhetoric displayed in the form of simple-sounding programs. The statement calls for withdrawing from the TPP, initiating a dispute about NAFTA, banning refugees from all “terror-prone” regions (read Arabs and Muslims), canceling all US money to UN “climate change programs” and rounding up two million undocumented people who, according to Trump, are all criminals.
We can assume, sadly, that many of Trump’s domestic policies will be initiated, regardless of dissent in the House and Senate from minority Democrats. Republicans in both houses may seek to block a number of Trump’s international policies, specifically those that would damage the profitable business interests of their lobbyists (such as a NAFTA withdrawal or a trade war with China) or create harsh divides with allies (the wall along the Mexican border and perhaps also initiatives that side with Russia against the EU and NATO).
While the fear of a large-scale ground-war spilling out in the Middle East or possibly even in Europe is not groundless, a large-scale conflict with Russia or China seems unlikely. Critics on both sides of the political divide claimed their opposition candidate would start a war immediately, but those claims have, for the most part, been cultivated not by fact and research but by less-than-credible blogs and partisan commentaries. Civil conflicts among European nations and new military shifts in Southeast Asia will more likely be the outcome of this new balance, especially if the European far-right parties consolidate power early next year.
We must remember how quickly economic collapse and recession can breed totalitarian movements, especially in countries where privileged segments of the population are used to higher standards of living and special advantages in relation to the rest of the world. Europe and the US, with their long histories of both real and mythological prosperity, may be ticking time bombs. As we enter these next years, those forces aligned with social and economic justice principles must take very seriously the potential for another economic crisis.