The Transylvania Times -

Danger Of Right Wing Populism


October 19, 2017

I just returned from a trip to Berlin and Dresden. My days in Germany led to reflections on what is happening in the West. We are seeing two uprisings of right wing populism.

In Europe the immediate trigger has been the recent immigration caused by the war in Syria. But if you look further, in Hungary, in Poland, in France, in Austria and in Germany, populist parties have anti-Semitic roots. In Hungary anti-semitism is overt and widespread among the autocratic regime of Viktor Orban. In Austria, the new right wing Freedom Party, which may be part of the government, was formed by neo-Nazis. In France, Marine Le Pen’s National Front party, which came in second in the recent presidential election, was formed by a holocaust denier. In Germany, the Alternative Party, one of whose leaders called the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin a “memorial of shame,” received over 90 seats in the new Bundestag. The disdain for outsiders, aimed at mid-East immigrants falls easily on the traditional outsider: the Jew.

In America the right wing populism, which can be found at Trump rallies before and after his election, in Steve Bannon and the alt right, and which has influence among a significant proportion of Trump supporters and appears to be part of our president’s orientation, also takes aim at immigrants and the First Amendment. However, rather than anti-semitism, American right wing populism’s other focus is on outsiders who threaten the traditional white majority, particularly blacks and Hispanics.

The two are part of the same cloth. Why did President Trump make autocratic Poland his first stop in Europe, a nation that has curtailed freedom of speech and attacked the press? We are facing a major threat to democracy on both sides of the Atlantic. Whether the populist right prevails as it did more than 80 years ago in Germany and Italy and Japan is, unfortunately, an open question.

Howard Rock


(Rock is emeritus professor of history, Florida International University and the president of the Brevard Jewish community.)


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