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How do you combat the far right?

What’s extraordinary is not that ultra populism in popping up in several countries, but that we have not found the instruments to counteract it

Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he takes the stage during his New Hampshire presidential primary election night watch party, in Nashua, New Hampshire, U.S., January 23, 2024.
Republican presidential candidate and former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he takes the stage during his New Hampshire presidential primary election night watch party, in Nashua, New Hampshire, U.S., January 23, 2024.MIKE SEGAR (REUTERS)
Fernando Vallespín

All polls predict Trump’s more than likely victory in the next U.S. presidential election, as well as a considerable increase in the vote for far-right parties in the European elections. It seems that we have thus entered, a populist moment similar to that of 2016, when the real estate tycoon took the U.S. presidency and Brexit completely disrupted the European Union. The most extraordinary thing, however, is not only that similar phenomena are spreading — with Le Pen at the door in France, for example — but that we have not found the necessary instruments to stop them.

What’s more, many far-right proposals are increasingly gaining influence in Europe’s conservative parties and also in some social democrat groups, as witnessed by the Danish socialist party’s shift on immigration. And even in far left parties, as seen in the split of the very promising German party Die Linke (The Left), led by Sahra Wagenknecht. An ideological option falls into decline, and one seeks to breathe some life into it by resorting to the dialectical arsenal of its supposed great opponent. If, as Gramsci stated, the key to political success is the search for hegemony in discourse, there is no doubt that the far right’s strategy is working, at least in everything related to the alleged “migratory invasion,” and the demonization of established politics.

If this is the case, it is because something is lacking in the attempts to effectively defend what was, until now, the ideology that supported the liberal elements of democracy. The strategic success of populism has been in presenting all its rivals as an undifferentiated group, in which they are the only alternative, in which they are the real representatives of national interests.

The simplicity of populist slogans facilitated the establishment of a tribal, emotionalized and almost exclusively identity-based politics. Against this movement, the adversaries of populism presented themselves either as mere managers of a complex systemic framework, or — especially in the case of the so-called woke left — as defenders of a fractional and divisive identitarianism. Let’s not fool ourselves, with the comeback of realpolitik, there is no rival to national identity. Even more so when those up against it are entangled in particularisms of various kinds and compete with each other to gain a foothold in the electoral market. Or, worse still, when the previous fiery rhetoric against populists is softened because their opponents need their support to get into government. When this happens, it only reinforces the idea that these critics are not guided by their much-vaulted principles, but rather by power. Another turn of the screw in the distrust of democratic politics.

So what is to be done? There is no clear solution when the autonomy of the political is being reduced everywhere, when we return to Hobbesian fears for security and the old consensus on our normative foundations begins to waver. And this is the decisive factor. It is not in vain that what makes us reject these movements is their illiberal dimension. But is there anyone out there who really defends the necessary survival of the liberal elements of democracy? My impression is that they are perceived more and more as a hindrance than as the real prerequisite of any democratic government.

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