A few thoughts on xenophobia in Europe and the US

Are Trump voters racists?

Those of you who have been reading my posts for some time know that I don’t believe racism is the defining element behind a rise in populism across the developed economies. I certainly believe populist politicians stoke our latent prejudices. But I don’t believe those prejudices are the principal underlying source of anxiety.

Instead, I look more at the burden shift of healthcare and retirement, wage stagnation, economic insecurity, and globalization as defining the anxiety. Here’s a thread from last November on Twitter that outlines where I come from on this. (Click through to see the whole thread.)

So, are Trump voters racist? Well, some of them are. 100%.

But as I said later in that thread from November:

Why is this populism occurring everywhere?

The reason I point this out is because a reader took exception to my daily post that included a piece on rising xenophobia last Friday. From the tone of his message to me, it seems as if he thought I was one of those people screaming racism, calling Trump voters deplorable. I’m not.

And one big reason I’m not is because of the global nature of rising populism and rising xenophobia. If local grievances are to blame for why one electorate, say the US, votes the way it does, then why are we seeing this shift across multiple countries: Finland, Sweden, the UK, the Netherlands, Italy? The list goes on and on.

I believe that, if you see the same pattern driving changes in voting habits across electorates, there must be a commonality across those electorates. And a sudden rise in specific race-based grievances isn’t it.

What does connect us all is a financial crisis of seismic proportions for which almost no bank officials or policy makers took the blame. The policymaking attitude is something akin to “It was just an unpredictable accident. Now that we have righted the ship, let’s go back to the good ol’ days.”

Voters are having none of this. We may not have had a Great Depression. But the economic and psychic scars are still pretty severe. Look at Greece, for example. Here’s a country that was basically sacrificed on the altar of ‘saving the financial system’. That’s how Matthew Klein put it recently. And I agree with that characterization. The bailouts were to save creditor banks not Greeks. And, surprise, surprise, the IMF abetted the European Union’s subversion of Greek democracy to get us there.

So, given that SYRIZA is in power, and has basically been co-opted, do you vote for Golden Dawn? Seriously. What’s the alternative? As a Greek voter, you’re basically screwed. So, do you roll the dice on the ultranationalist, right-wing party? That’s what Greek voters are asking themselves.

And it’s the same question people asked in the US when they voted for Trump, and in the UK when they voted for Brexit.

Parallels to the Great Depression

Go back and read this piece cross-posted from Vox back in 2012 that analysed the rise of right-wing populism in the Great Depression.

Here are a few salient points from its conclusion:

Our analysis suggests that the danger of political polarisation and extremism is greater in some national circumstances than others. It is greatest in countries:

  • With relatively recent histories of democracy,
  • With existing right-wing extremist parties, and
  • With electoral systems that create low hurdles to parliamentary representation of new parties.

Above all, it is greatest where depressed economic conditions are allowed to persist.

On its face, you might think this points to Eastern Europe. But I don’t think it does.

I am going to leave it there though because I have to write the daily newsletter. This is definitely a topic to explore in greater detail later. You know where I stand. Let me hear your view.



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