NewsWorldANALYSIS | Extreme populists re-emerge in the US...

ANALYSIS | Extreme populists re-emerge in the US and Europe as Putin storms the world order


French election: Here’s how the first round turned out 0:36 (CNN) — A new wave of extreme populism, fueled by economic stress, hostility toward immigrants and culture warfare, is challenging key democracies from within at the same time that Russia intensifies the most brutal assault on the Western liberal order in decades. In France, the United States, Hungary and elsewhere, the center appears to be abandoning politics as moderates lose ground to radicals on the right and left, amid widespread public discontent after a two-year pandemic in which governments significantly curtailed freedoms. Just 17 months ago, a campaign in the United States, won by a veteran establishment politician, President Joe Biden, who had campaigned as a moderate against an aspiring authoritarian, Donald Trump, seemed to herald the end of the road for the former commander. head of the populist crusade. However, Republicans still in thrall to Trump (many of whom have signed on to his corrosive lies about voter fraud to curry favor with his supporters), appear on track to capture the House, and perhaps the Senate, in the midterm elections in the fall. Republicans are capitalizing on deep frustrations across the country over rising prices and soaring gasoline costs that Biden has been unable to control. Many also have burning messages about race, gender and LGBTQ issues and immigration, implying that traditional American culture is at risk of being destroyed. That issue dominated Supreme Court confirmation hearings for Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Related video: The rise of populism in Europe, Trump’s fault? 1:07 In France, President Emmanuel Macron, the epitome of technocratic elitism, now faces an uphill two-week fight to roll back the push of far-right anti-immigrant, anti-Islamic, pro-Putin candidate Marine Le Pen. The pro-Trump wing of European politics scored a victory that would have pleased Russian President Vladimir Putin after Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban – a scourge of press freedom, European Union leaders and values democrats — retained his post in a landslide election victory earlier this month. Orban, a darling of the Make America Great Again movement and conservative television pundits, benefited from his own gerrymandering and friendly propagandists in the press to defy predictions that his appeal was fading. fading. Trump’s continued grip on Republican politics, Orban’s victory, and Macron’s tight re-election race underscore how the established structures of democracy in Western nations remain vulnerable, not only to hostile external forces like Trump’s electoral meddling Putin, but also because of the perception that traditional politicians are incapable of solving people’s problems. A race to political extremes The worst predictions about Macron’s performance in the first round of elections in France did not materialize, as he won by around 5 percentage points. But his lackluster campaign gave Le Pen a chance to qualify the president, who has always struggled to show that he understands voters’ economic hardships, as indifferent to high inflation and energy prices. While targeting the second round of his electoral race, Macron presented himself as a bulwark against populism and extremism inside and outside France. “I want France to be part of a strong European Union, which continues to create alliances with the great democracies of the world to protect us,” said the French president after the result of the first round. “I do not want a France that leaves the European Union and only has international populists and xenophobes as allies. That’s not us.” After the effective disappearance of the center-right opposition in French politics, around 50% of the votes went to radical parties on the right and left. Europe has various sanctions at its disposal for Russia 0:49 In some ways, this parallels the eclipse of moderate Republicans in Washington by the authoritarian Trump’s “America First” policy. In the US, Biden won in 2020 by courting moderate suburbia, but progressives managed to pull his presidency to the left once he was in office in a way that may have alienated more centrist voters. Back in France, Le Pen has worked to disguise his past support for Putin and his promises to take France out of the European Union. But if he were to pull off a surprise victory, the anti-Putin coalition in Europe would be put under great pressure, and the Russian leader would have a new chance to create new divisions among the allies. Macron has been especially prominent in the Ukraine crisis, keeping the lines of communication open with the Kremlin but also emerging as Biden’s most important ally in Europe. “Putin’s invasion of Ukraine strengthened the West like never before since the Cold War. The world is now divided between countries that uphold the rule of law and democracy and those that fight to end them,” said Nicholas Dungan, a member of the Atlantic Council and a fellow who teaches at Sciences Po, a prestigious French research university. Still, Macron’s first-round victory and renewed rhetoric offered the prospect that he could be a dam against extremism, at least in France. “Today we have a little relief that we will be able to count on French leadership in the future,” Dungan said after Sunday’s results in an election that had been watched with some anxiety among Biden administration officials. Still, no one who cares about the threat extremism poses to democracy, a central theme of the Biden presidency, takes a Macron victory in the second round for granted. “The extreme right has never been so close to winning,” said the defeated French Republican candidate Valerie Pecresse. In 2016, the populist revolt that saw Britain vote to leave the European Union was a canary moment in the coal mine that heralded Trump’s crusade that crushed Democrat Hillary Clinton’s White House hopes. Six years later, there seems to be bad omens for the Democrats across the English Channel. Le Pen was able to galvanize his campaign, holding multiple rallies in rural areas, highlighting the punishing inflation that raised the cost of living and was exacerbated by the economic impact of the war in Ukraine. Biden, who has repeatedly told Americans that inflation was a “transient” problem that grew out of the pandemic, has gone out of his way to show the country that he understands its effects. But he could pay a heavy price in the November midterms if already disaffected voters are still fuming over their grocery bills. Populism, power based on big lies Trump, Le Pen and Orban do not come close to the depravity and violence of Putin, who is perpetrating atrocities in Ukraine on a scale not seen since at least the Bosnian war and probably since World War II. . But the tactics of many of the anti-establishment politicians spring from a similar well of political toxicity. They are based on turning anger over economic conditions into resentment toward foreigners, Muslims, and outsiders, including other minority communities. Some focus on eroding the reputation of democratic systems and a free press to build power. Anything that increases the electorate’s cynicism about their rulers and the system that keeps them in place creates a new pool of anger that can be exploited. Voter suppression eroded democracy in Russia and Hungary, and it is doing the same in the United States. It is not certain that Trump’s extremism provides a path to power among a diverse general electorate. But he remains the dominant figure in his party and the favorite for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Trump’s entire political project, one that prompted an unprecedented storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, is now being It is based on a big lie: that the US elections were rigged in 2020. The more outrageous the lie, the more it can become a weapon for a politician’s nefarious media. Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine (that the country is under Nazi control, when in fact it has a democratically elected Jewish president) springs from the same well of dangerous political fantasy. The attack was motivated by Putin’s belief that the country had no right to exist as a sovereign, independent state and that its people were essentially Russian. But it also grew out of more than 30 years of the Russian leader’s festering resentment toward the West and its political systems following the fall of the Soviet Union after the Cold War. Russia’s president launched his own direct effort to disrupt American democracy with his intervention in the 2016 US election, which US intelligence agencies assessed as designed to help Trump win. Those same agencies warned Monday that US pressure on Russia over the Ukraine invasion could prompt Putin to further meddle with American democracy in the future. But it was Ukraine’s open desire to solidify its democracy by joining the West (it wanted membership in the European Union and NATO) that finally pushed Putin over the edge and precipitated his onslaught.


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