The continued radicalization of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign has quickly become a movement centered on the fear and anxiety of foreign or non-white American bodies, and the hate-filled propaganda and lies that sustain it. He is coalescing his own American far-right political party with roots in white supremacy and neo-Nazi movements. He is copying the modus operandi of the resurgent far-right movements that are sweeping across Europe. He is becoming America’s own Le Pen—Marine or Jean-Marie, take your pick.
Following the horrible terrorist attacks that befell Paris roughly two weeks ago, Marine Le Pen said, “France and the French are no longer safe,” and added that “no matter what the European Union says about this, it is essential that France regains control of its border, for good. Without borders, there is no protection or security possible.”
This response is very much reminiscent of Trump’s rhetoric. It touches upon one’s physical safety being in jeopardy, but also an entire culture’s way of life being under attack with nowhere to hide. Following the Paris attacks, Trump also perpetuated anti-Muslim and anti-African American propaganda by claiming that he witnessed Muslims celebrating the collapse of the World Trade Center during the 9/11 attacks and by tweeting an erroneous graphic that claimed that black Americas caused over 80 percent of white deaths by homicide.
Le Pen advocates for a unilateral approach to border security similar to the one advanced by Trump, despite the fact that safe and secure borders naturally require cooperation on both sides—unless one nation is a closed-off, isolated authoritarian regime.
Trump also plays, as far-right leaders do, the delicate balancing game between directly and indirectly inciting violence to allegedly maintain stability and supposedly keep Americans safe from an invisible yet omnipresent threat lurking within and around American society that is intent on destroying everything Americans hold sacred.
Far-right leaders seize upon violent events to rally their supporters and enhance their political influence. If their supporters engage in violence they will distance themselves from or dismiss any connection as slanderous, but if an entity they believe is unsavory inflicts harm then they will use it for their political gain. This is what Trump did with the Black Lives Matter activist protests down in Alabama. Trump said the actions of the BLM activist were “absolutely disgusting,” and that “maybe he should have been roughed up.” He stops short of telling his supporters to do it, but he does present this unarmed protester as an imminent threat that needed to be addressed with brute force.
This balancing act of always stoking fear and anxiety while only passively condoning but not discouraging violence is how dangerous far-right movements begin. Trump provides an acceptable, palatable public face for the dangerous bigots and racists amongst us, and in doing so he encourages them to express their hatred.
Yet despite the known dangers of far-right movements, they practically always receive a bump in popularity when a conflict incorporating a foreign or dissimilar entity presents itself. Immigration concerns and the refugee crisis in Europe have resulted in a recent rise of far-right parties across the continent. Trump’s approval rating has increased since the Paris attacks to 32 percent.
Le Pen’s National Front Party had a 29 percent approval rating prior to the Paris attacks, and its popularity has only increased since then. Some observers believe she may even have a viable chance at the French presidency in 2017 and may be able to go one step further than her father, Jean-Marie, the founder of the party, who finished second to Jacques Chirac in the 2002 presidential election.
In the progressive liberal bastion of Sweden, the Swedish Democrats, a far-right and anti-immigration party with roots to the neo-Nazi movement, has grown in influence in recent years as the nation becomes less ethnically homogenous. To the surprise of many, the Swedish Democrats won 12.9 percent of the vote in Sweden’s 2014 parliamentary elections; four years prior, they had only won 5.7 percent. Their popularity has steadily been on the rise, and according to a recent YouGov poll, they are garnering the support of 25.2 percent of voters, which could make them the most popular political party in the country.
In last year’s United Kingdom parliamentary elections, the euro-skeptic, right-wing United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) pushed for the UK to leave the European Union to avoid the economic crisis in Greece and the growing refugee crisis. The UKIP only won one seat in parliament, but Prime Minister David Cameron was forced to promise Britons a referendum vote about leaving the EU to draw away UKIP supporters.
In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders’s PVV, or Freedom Party, which is staunchly anti-Islam, has received a bump in popularity as a result of the refugee crisis, and a recent poll shows that if parliamentary elections were held today the PVV would earn enough seats to make him the new prime minister.
Trump’s rise as a far-right, third-party candidate might seem improbable due to our two-party political system, but the growing influence of the Tea Party and the ramifications of a gerrymandered House of Representatives make a viable third-party far more plausible than Americans would like to think.
At both ends of the political spectrum anti-establishment candidates are making waves, and American voters appear more accepting of parliamentary governments where many parties are able to participate. Voters yearn for more political voices to have the chance to be heard, but to our collective horror the voice the with greatest chance of being heard is also the most destructive.
Gerrymandering has led to Republicans having seats that are incredibly difficult for them to lose, and as a result elected officials no longer need to seek out moderate, centrist voters to win an election against a Democrat. Instead their greatest competition is with other conservative candidates, and therefore the far-right vote has greater influence electorally. This increases the likelihood of a viable far-right party having a sustained presence in our government. The Tea Party movement has already started this transition, and Trump’s campaign could be the final piece of the puzzle.
An influential, national party of hate-filled, fear-mongerers with white supremacist and neo-Nazi origins could be the end result of Trump’s abominable campaign.