Right-wing parties are also selling all over Europe

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On September 1, US President Joe Biden warned Americans in Philadelphia about authoritarian-minded Republicans. Curiously, both liberals and conservatives have criticized Biden as “divisive.” Actually, his speech came too late: Biden should have opened his presidency with a clear description of the global threats to democracy.

Indeed, the radicalization of an increasingly Trumpified GOP should alert us to a still patchy and under-researched phenomenon: Many formerly respectable right-wing parties outside the United States are also breaking up.

In Italy’s elections later this month, Giorgia Meloni, a former minister in a centre-right government, is likely to become the country’s first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini. Your coalition partner Silvio Berlusconi is an old and loyal friend of Vladimir Putin; Another of their electoral allies, Matteo Salvini, also admires the Russian demagogue and rails against immigrants and the European Union.

Meloni himself is against gay marriage and abortion rights for women. Like most far-right extremists, she is obsessed with eradicating “alertness”. As she put it in a speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida in February, “I see culture fanatics tearing down statues in our institutions, manipulating books and comics, changing street names, and denouncing a shared history that they would like to rewrite.”

Meloni’s rise is significant not only because Italy has been at the forefront of far-right movements in Europe since the early 20th century. Even more critically, Manfred Weber, leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) – a family of mainstream centre-right parties across the continent – has publicly backed Berlusconi’s coalition with Merloni.

Unlike in many non-Western countries, right-wing parties in Europe and North America have long histories of respect for democratic norms. Take the EPP. It has the largest presence in the European Parliament; EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen is a member. Recent leaders like former German Chancellor Angela Merkel have worked hard to isolate far-right elements. The EPP kept a meticulous distance from the German xenophobic Alternative for Germany (AfD).

In doing so, the party continued a long tradition. For decades after the catastrophes of Nazism and fascism, even conservative European politicians were quick to marginalize the extreme right, realizing that its hateful ideology was fundamentally incompatible with the core values ​​of democratic societies.

Until 2018, for example, Sweden’s conservative Moderate Party scorned any collaboration with the Sweden Democrats, a party with roots in Nazi ideology. This cordon sanitaire has now been broken and the Sweden Democrats are now poised to become the second largest party and a key leader in parliament.

Against this background of mainstreaming pariahs, Weber’s embrace of a far-right alliance seems particularly sinister. It weakens the European Union’s own criticism of illiberal regimes in Hungary and Poland, and allows further legitimacy for neo-fascist movements like Vox in Spain, which have already entered Spain’s political mainstream through their partnership with the centre-right Popular Party.

Spanish philosopher Josep Ramoneda described the El Pais endorsement as a sign that “we are in a period of decline in European democracy”. Nevertheless, it was hardly reported in the American and British media.

Indeed, criticism of Biden’s Philadelphia speech confirms that many mainstream politicians and journalists are either indifferent or willing to normalize the rapid degeneration of once-respectable right-wing parties. The UK’s most prominent politicians and journalists backed former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s disastrous Tory government despite mounting evidence – from his attempt to illegally prorogue the British Parliament to tearing up an international treaty on Northern Ireland – of his disregard for democratic norms and rule of law.

A quick glance at Britain’s broadsheets and tabloids would reveal the same enthusiastic welcome to Johnson’s successor, Liz Truss – a far-right figure who has already launched unprecedented attacks on “vigilance” in the British civil service and police force.

As growth slows, inflation rises, heat waves and floods become routine, energy shortages loom, and more and more citizens feel helpless in the face of such changes, right-wing parties in Western Europe and the US are likely to become even harsher and more extreme. They have few new solutions to today’s devastating economic and environmental crises. However, they can use social unrest to their advantage, reheating identities of race, religion and ethnicity and spreading myths of national greatness.

Leave no doubt: the ongoing economic and environmental changes will make the rights more dogmatic, sterile and authoritarian, instead of more flexible, innovative and democratic. To deny this, or to blame Biden for telling the plain truth, is to be complicit in a ruinous political trend.

More from other authors at Bloomberg Opinion:

• Biden can’t see why US democracy is in trouble: Clive Crook

• Republican paranoia could cost the party: Jonathan Bernstein

• Not Everything You Dislike Is “Anti-Democratic”: Tyler Cowen

This column does not necessarily represent the opinion of the editors or of Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Pankaj Mishra is a columnist for the Bloomberg Opinion. Most recently, he is the author of Run and Hide.

For more stories like this, visit bloomberg.com/opinion

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