Editor’s Note: David A. Andelman, visiting scholar at the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and director of its Red Lines Project, is a contributor to CNN, where his columns won the Deadline Club Award for Best Opinion Writing. Author of “A Shattered Peace: Versailles 1919 and the Price We Pay Today,” Andelman was formerly a foreign correspondent for The New York Times and CBS News in Asia and Europe. Follow him on Twitter @DavidAndelman. The views expressed in this commentary are his own.
Somehow, it all seems to be coming together at once.
Over the weekend, a Trumpian-style, right-wing politician surged into a runoff election for presidency of Brazil, only narrowly missing the 50% vote in the first round that would have meant instant victory.
In Germany, the neo-fascist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party is poised to claim its first seats in Sunday’s regional elections for the Bavarian parliament, which would mean representation for the party in 15 of the 16 regional German parliaments.
In Italy, where unemployment is as high as 29% in some southern provinces, Matteo Salvini’s Five Star Movement is in a ruling coalition with the right-wing League.
And Salvini has now joined forces with France’s right-wing leader, Marine Le Pen, vowing to “storm the Brussels bunker” in next year’s European parliamentary elections.
But if they get there, they will find some congenial company awaiting them.
Right-wing parties are already in power across vast stretches of eastern and central Europe.
In Austria, the far-right Freedom Party (FPO) has joined forces to form a coalition government with conservative Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.
In neighboring Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orban, the grandfather of the European right, won a third term in office on a platform proclaiming that European was being invaded by Middle East immigrants who must be stopped at any cost.
In Poland, efforts by right-wing, anti-immigrant Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki to effectively shred his nation’s judicial system rose to the level of a condemnation by the European Parliament, which referred the matter to Europe’s highest court in Luxembourg.
Elsewhere, from Denmark to Slovenia to the Czech Republic, anti-immigrant feelings have swept the right to rapidly growing influence, if not outright rule.
None of these leaders, of course, would feel very out of place in Donald Trump’s America. Indeed, many feel deep emotional attachment to the American leader, whom they see as very as a guiding moral force.
So, when one of Saudi Arabia’s leading opposition journalists, Jamal Khashoggi, disappeared after entering the Saudi consulate in Instanbul, and was feared dead, it did not escape notice that Mohammed bin Salman, the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, has become a close confidant of Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner.
The great irony here is that Turkey’s own right-wing leader, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan – not a man with a great track record on the human rights of journalists himself – felt compelled to come to Khashoggi’s rescue and demand the Saudis prove he was not murdered.
And then there’s Donald Trump himself, who just last week assured a conservative dominance of the American system of justice for a generation or more.
The fact is that in all of these newly cloned right-wing nations – though pointedly not in Saudi Arabia, where the ruling monarchy calls the shots – leaders have been installed quite democratically at the ballot box.
How did we arrive at this conundrum? Was not enough blood spilled in Europe and beyond fighting Nazi oppression during World War II to last several lifetimes? Is there no memory left?
Not since the peak of the Axis powers during the Second World War, it seems to me as an historian and journalist, has the global right seen such a resurgence of power and influence.
To what can we attribute this? A complex of factors all converging in a perfect storm.
The middle class, still growing worldwide, has been the primary engine of economic growth in a host of nations, especially the nations of eastern and central Europe, only recently – in historical terms – emerging from communism.
Yet, today in many countries, these often freshly enfranchised people find themselves still deprived of the real wealth that the post-communist system seems to have promised. They have only one real remedy – the ballot box. And there are candidates waiting eagerly there to fulfill their dreams.
The middle classes can and do vote. And they have cast their votes for at least two fundamental values that many suddenly see as converging – change and security.
It’s just that both such constants have many costs that few seem to have anticipated – at least not yet.
Change can mean tariff battles that can hamper economic and job growth, while security can mean vastly increased attacks on migrants and protestors across the continent.
Often this has also meant direct attacks on a free press from Poland to Saudi Arabia, as vicious and virulent as anything seen since the Nazi era.
In Sweden, two researchers have suggested that the alarming rise of a far-right political class may be attributed to the fact that “the established parties have been deaf to the preferences of their own citizens.”
Indeed, such a trend may be quite clear across Europe, as established figures like Germany’s center-right Chancellor Angela Merkel still tries desperately to cling to power without giving up entirely on efforts to help the hordes of migrants that keep knocking at Europe’s doors.
Last year, in France, the deafness of parties from the left-wing Socialists to a host of moderate agglomerations sent a 40-year-old political neophyte, Emmanuel Macron, to the Elysées Palace as the nation’s president.
And now, while he has managed to achieve any number of reforms, riding on the wave of support for his own self-created political party, La République en Marche, he is also being faced with the need to reshuffle his entire cabinet this week after losing two key members – Interior Minister Gerard Collomb, who quit suddenly late one evening last week and the popular ecology minister, Nicolas Hulot, who quit on a live national radio broadcast in August.
The big question is how much of a political turn will Macron be prepared to take barely 18 months into his five-year term of office.
Much of Europe, particularly the centrist elite, horrified by the Trump phenomenon, as well as the resurgent right-wing, will be watching closely the results of the American midterm elections in four weeks for some clue as to how the winds may blow over the final two years of Trump’s first term.
With his extraordinary sway across any number of nations, however, the President would do well to reflect carefully on the kind of world he is playing a central role in creating.