Populists lose their beacon

He was their beacon, their inspiration, and above all, the most powerful speaker they could ever dream of. The most powerful man on the planet spoke the same language, he was on the same crusade: against immigrants, against the same old politics, against the elites, against the press, against science.

The defeat of Donald Trump reverberates beyond the borders of EE.UU. Has felt in Brazil, Hungary, Poland, Kingdom
United, France, Italy… The presidential elections were not just a referendum on Trumpism, they were also a test for the leaders and populist movements of the new global right. They measured their ability to stay on the crest of the wave as the world faces the mother of all waves, a virus that is not killed by tweeting or inventing scapegoats.

The victory of Joe Biden has a strong symbolic charge, highlights Pawel Zerka, Polish analyst of the think
European Council on Foreign Relations: “It shows that conspiracy theories, xenophobia, the speech of the nation first, the trampling of established norms, maybe they help to win the elections once, but the shot can backfire because they also mobilize new voters against. Also that a real crisis, such as the pandemic, sooner or later tests the leadership of the supposed saviors ”.

Just look at how hard it is for some to digest defeat. Jair Bolsonaro is reluctant to congratulate Biden, whom he still calls a “candidate,” as his sons wave in Twitter the specter of electoral fraud. No leader has been so closely tied to Trump as the far-right president of Brazil, almost to the point of mimicry. He was elected in 2018 imitating his campaign strategy and once in power he has continued to replicate Trump’s ways and speech. Even to take the same medicines (not tested) to protect against Covid-19.

“Bolsonaro linked his image too much to that of Trump. His ideological platform will suffer a harsh impact, because it represents the defeat of the model of doing politics that he has copied. And it has a psychological impact on Brazil: Bolsonaro can also be defeated, ”says the political scientist of Harvard Hussein Kalout, who was secretary of strategic affairs with the president Michel Temer.

It is the end of the “alliance for religious freedom” that promoted Mike Pompeo. “The idea of ​​creating a new conservative global front, which positioned Trump as the savior of the West and of Christianity, is over,” says Kalout. Is Brazil going to do it only with Poland and Hungary?

Perhaps Bolsonaro will try to reinvent his foreign policy, after abandoning the traditional multilateralism of his country to align himself without loopholes with Washington. Kalout sees little margin: “Bolsonaro has frozen relations with Europe, there is no dialogue with Latin America, there is tension with China. Africa does not interest him, it is not on his map. Trump has become the main project of Brazil’s foreign policy. Not America, Trump. With Biden he has already collided ”.

The environment threatens to be the first fight with Biden, who foresees economic retaliation if Brazil does not stop the fires in the Amazonia.

Bolsonaro is left orphaned, but the consequences are still uncertain, two years before the elections. “Whether he wins or loses will depend on other variables: the economy, whether his investigated children are finally acquitted and the articulation of the rest of the political forces in Brazil,” adds Kalout.

What seems plausible is that, if he fails, Bolsonaro will once again imitate Trump and cling to fraud. An argument that his children and several allies have already imported to explain the fiasco of the far-right candidates in the recent municipal elections.


The most powerful leader on the planet spoke the same language, was on the same crusade

In Europe, too, defeat chokes its acolytes. There is the Slovenian leader, Janez Janša, which sees a “clear” victory for Trump and suspects that vaccine advances did not come out until after the election. The Hungary of Viktor Orbán and the Poland of Law and Justice, his greatest allies on the continent, have ended up congratulating Biden, but his public television has given credibility to the fraud.

“It was useful for them to have White House someone with such ideological affinity, who is not concerned with the rule of law and has the same discourse that they do with the media. It won’t be that comfortable with Biden, ”says Zerka.

The Hungarian and Polish opposition eagerly await the Democrat, who calls their governments “totalitarian regimes” on the rise. “They expect me to speak out for democracy and the rule of law, but it seems like an illusion. More than Biden, the survival of governments will depend on their citizens, “he says. Rosa Balfour, director of think tank
Carnegie Europe.

Zerka is also skeptical: “Today, Orbán seems invincible, with a popularity that does not drop, and a parliamentary majority that will allow him a tailor-made reform of the electoral law. Poland is something else. Law and Justice loses popularity, but it has nothing to do with Trump but with the pandemic, with the protests of women or the government’s veto of the European recovery fund.

Will they be forced Budapest Y Warsaw to loosen its pulse with the EU? “While Trump sowed discord within the group, Biden believes that anything that divides Europe is not in the interest of the US,” says the analyst. It is evident that the Polish Government will cost more to sell to its population that it has an ally in Washington as an alternative to the EU ”.

Another victim, and also a stone in the shoe of the EU, is the British Boris Johnson. “Trump has actively supported the Brexi and promised London a quick bilateral trade deal, ”says Balfour, who sees in the tories “The classic example of a center-right party assuming the populist agenda.” “Johnson has invested heavily in Trump, and the Biden Administration will agree. They see Johnson as a photocopy of Trump. But in foreign policy in the end pragmatism prevails, and on many issues the UK is indeed closer to a Biden US, such as in the fight against climate change or the nuclear deal with Iran”, dice Balfour.

Also left more alone are the European populist parties that still dream of reaching power (or have lost it, as in Italy). Most are distancing themselves from the evil losing of Trump. The french Marine Le Pen, which celebrated its triumph in 2016, has not joined the fraud theory. Of course, only 14% of the French wanted Trump to win. Shut up Matteo Salvini, the leader of the LeagueThat the last thing he said, days ago, is that he was waiting for the “final results”, after spending the campaign displaying a mask for Trump. And the leader of Alternative for Germany.


Zerka: “A real crisis, like the Covid, tests the leadership of the rescuers”

The impact of Trump’s fall on these parties will be less, says Zerka: “The heterogeneity of their political engines and their local adaptation makes them quite immune.” In reality, the fact that Trump managed to be elected president of the United States was more important to the populists than the fact that he has lost now, adds the analyst: “Thanks to his victory, they felt more eligible. And Trump has stretched the limit of what a ruler can do so much and say that the populist way of doing politics has become much more palatable in the four years he has been in the White House. Even if you have lost, your legacy will remain. There is no way back”.

The results in the US leave little room for the complacency of opponents of populism. There has been no repudiation of Trump, for whom almost 74 million citizens have voted, and the ballot boxes draw a country entrenched in its division.

What’s more, the ground is still very fertile for populism, all over the world. Perhaps until now the pandemic has deprived voters of the desire to experiment (the rulers, in general, have gained popularity) but the prospect of a severe economic crisis offers opportunities to those who feed on the grievance.

The Carnegie Europe director also warns that it is entirely premature to announce the end of right-wing populism as a global movement. Populism was not born with Trump and it will not die with him.

“His election in 2016 vindicated the deep currents we have seen in Europe for a long time. The arrival of Trump empowered European populists, gave them a leading figure around which to rally. But the rise of populism is not explained by the emergence of leaders, it goes deeper than that – Balfour argues -. It is globalization, inequality, the fear of losing cultural identity, the feeling of many citizens that they no longer count, that they are governed by a technocratic elite and that by voting for leaders who say they represent them they can regain the power that has been taken away. As long as these feelings are there, there will always be a leader who capitalizes on it. “

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