I write this from New York. While Donald Trump may continue to be on the wrong side of world opinion at home, the US president is at least in the right place internationally, where attention to a far-right challenge has already moved on to another parallel world – if not yet to its fulfilment.
I arrive home to find a 1,500-word article in the Washington Post that purports to analyse the destabilising potential of Eurasia for European and US leaders alike. The subhead: “Global storm brewing as Middle East shakeup fuels rising hostility in other corners of Eurasia”. The assertion is true, but the threat they see as being kept on top of the international agenda is arguably of a sort that Europeans have overlooked.
As the west tries to come to terms with its own rollback of global power, it’s easy to forget that from the start of the 21st century, far-right forces that were themselves extreme, unpredictable and on the fringes of policymaking were building. Europe is once again stuck with an extremist government but many in the east may well share the same druthers.
Although the world trembles, the far-right could well be betting on a better day Read more
The latest figures show the number of hard-right MEPs in the European parliament is up by around a quarter since 2014 – a result that seems relatively small until you consider that 16 countries have made it onto the speaker’s list. These MEPs represent some 536,000 people and are primed to spread their extremist views throughout the continent, to an extent that is likely to grow. In many countries the far-right’s share of the vote is having a salutary effect on centre-right politics. A 2016 study by Aristotle found that rightwing populist parties around the world can now count on two in five voters. And if historical trends continue, the vote could be more than twice that for the far-right within a decade.
The echo chamber of the rightwing media means it is true that sometimes rightwing populism doesn’t move well beyond its core values – but far-right populists still achieve significant breakthroughs. Indeed, one key reason so many of them remain so popular is that a source of divisive rhetoric – “all the Muslims are going to be going away” – consistently moves up in public opinion. Even the lack of doubt, confusion and unrest are seen as a virtue.
You might think that seeing every household in the UK governed by a man and woman who openly denounce an entire religious group would convince the rest of the world that we’ve moved a long way from a diverse, plural society. The problem is, as the recent introduction of pig-burial bans in Sweden has shown, Europeans seem more willing to suffer the terror of a faction, than the terror of mass disenfranchisement. The far-right tried to sell the narrative of an Islamist invasion, but in reality the UK is seeing a record number of immigrants from just 22 countries, while far fewer from other Muslim-majority countries. However much some may say that “open door” has turned the UK into a beacon of tolerance, it’s a vision that, in practice, is mostly confined to the heartland of Ukip voters.
Le Pen on the surge? Europe’s populist surge spreading to EU states Read more
Politicians on the other side of the Atlantic are now leaving open the possibility of a US exit from the EU. It’s scary enough to take Europe by surprise – but losing America would be an unprecedented geopolitical event. Not only does the US represent around a quarter of Europe’s military spending, it also accounts for almost half of EU exports.
While European fears over a potential break-up of the EU have led a lot of commentators to ask where the West will go from here, the combination of non-stop global upheaval, terrorism and the various crises of the world have set to look to another possibility: the real possibility of world order being threatened by extreme forces from outside the consensus system.
If you truly believe in free trade, secular democracy and peaceful coexistence, then you should want America to stay at the centre of the world, even if you disagree with some of its policies. Just as Europe has stepped back when faced with a transnational challenge, it will increasingly be left out of the decision-making circle where the greatest fights take place.
• Simon Jenkins is a Guardian columnist