The victory of Donald Trump in the US presidential election cheered right-wing populists and extremists across Europe. One has been quoted as saying that “their world is coming to an end and ours is just beginning”. This is an amazing statement coming out of a political movement steeped in nationalistic nostalgia for the past and which, if young people had been the only group allowed to vote in the US, would have had to witness Trump’s stinging defeat across the board.
Progressive forces must vigorously reject and combat the idea that right-wing populism and extremism hold the keys to the future. Progressives only exist because of the promise of a better future for all. If, in the minds of a growing number of people, we lose the necessary credibility in making this promise and ensuring we can live up to it, then populism and extremism will indeed be able to ensure that our world is coming to an end.
As we argue in our essay ‘The Social Democracy To Come’, the renewal of our ideas, of what we stand for and what our credible promises must be, will be at the heart of this historic battle. It will engage social democratic parties across Europe, but it also affects other political forces close to our values and convictions, in Europe and globally. The seemingly relentless rise of right-wing populism and extremism calls for a global progressive force which must come together on a commonly shared and alternative vision about the future, one that is capable of defeating them.
The only effective way to confront rising right-wing populism and extremism is to combat its very causes.
Many of the answers to our electoral troubles of today lie in the way globalisation has been left to develop largely unrestrained and outside proper political governance. This has left large parts of society to bear the costs of globalisation, instead of enjoying its benefits, resulting in increased frustration, fear and resentment among many. It has by now become the dominant feature of political life across developed countries in Europe and in the US.
Against this backdrop, we concur with Jürgen Habermas, who posits the supranational regulation of globalisation and its subjection to superior social and ecological goals for humankind as the single most important challenge progressives will be facing throughout coming years, and even decades. The revival of the striving for a genuine political union in Europe must be at the heart of this struggle.
We will, otherwise, become the powerless witnesses of a global tragedy although important breakthroughs seemed so close just a minute ago. Shortly after global consensus could be reached on the United Nations sustainable development goals and the recent Paris climate change accord, these great promises of a better world could be undermined and made unachievable by the triumph of the enemies of global progress.
This is why we have to generate a new vision about the type of globalisation we, as progressives, stand for and fight for, and clearly define where political divides and choices lie. In the spirit of Habermas’ call for a democratic polarisation, we need to drive home the fact that our ideals are more sustainable and essentially better than those defended by the liberal and conservative apologists of a globalisation that has turned against ordinary people. Many policy areas are concerned, from international trade to the regulation of the financial sector, from macroeconomic policy to social protection and labour standards, from the promotion of peace to the defence of human rights and the right to a decent life for all human beings on a preserved and protected planet. This will also be about regaining the political initiative and redefining the terms of the public and political debate.
Our yardstick should always and rigorously be whether our policies bring a better life to ordinary and hard working people, to the most vulnerable, to minorities and, most importantly, to the younger generations, a majority of whom still believe in a different world than the one promoted by nationalistic and nostalgic rhetoric. They are ready to fight for such a better world, as post-election protests in the US have movingly shown.
Trump’s wake-up call must trigger the dawn of a new era of progressive political influence across the globe, not the end of our world. Let us seize this moment and live up to it. We still can.