Here’s a story that won’t merit a lot of discussion in the American press because our political circus and culture war is so loud and raucous that we can’t hear much else:
Sweden headed for a hung parliament after an election on Sunday that saw the popularity of the nationalist Sweden Democrats surge, as one of Europe’s most liberal nations turns right amid fears over immigration.
Sweden is a social-democratic nation with excellent services, benefits and a very high standard of living. Most Swedish citizens have traditionally held very liberal views on just about everything. But the far right made big gains in this year’s election because of immigration and, frankly, race. That’s what right-wing “nationalism” in 2018 comes down to. Welcome to our world.
Sweden isn’t the first European country to go this way in recent years. Hungary, Austria, Italy and (in its own manner) Britain have taken rightward turns, and those political movements are picking up steam all over the world. I won’t to try to analyze the reasons for this. There are hundreds of people trying to sort out where all this is coming from. Let’s just say there are tectonic forces at play, from migration caused by war, economic dislocation and climate change to income inequality, corruption and God knows what else. But regardless of the reasons, there is no doubt that something is afoot and it’s gaining ground.
Here in the United States, our version of this phenomenon is Trumpism, an especially cartoonish form of the right-wing nationalism we see elsewhere. Donald Trump is a ridiculous celebrity with a simple-minded set of talking points he’s been spouting for decades, along with some recently acquired hate-radio tropes deployed to get his followers excited. Nonetheless, Trumpism is best understood as a variant of the global “alt-right” movement devoted to martial chauvinism, authoritarianism, anti-liberalism, nativism and racism. Perhaps the primary exponent of the current U.S. iteration is former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, who is also the former chairman of Breitbart News and now a propaganda filmmaker.
Bannon’s last foray into electoral politics didn’t end well when he went down to Alabama to stump for Judge Roy Moore in his ill-fated Senate race. You may recall that his pitch was almost entirely a series of attacks on the Republican leadership:
Bannon has been traveling all over Europe the past few months, making contacts and forming alliances with the various right-wing movements across the Atlantic, observing how they become dominant in their respective conservative coalitions and forming a new organization he calls “the Movement.” Now he has rushed back to the U.S. to join the midterm fray, hoping to foment the paranoia and grievance that defines both Trump and his followers and to reframe the November election as a war for survival.
This weekend saw the release date of Bannon’s new film, “[email protected]” It portrays the Democrats and the media as allied against Donald Trump and, by association, his followers. This strategy goes hand in hand with Bannon’s recent proclamation that the Republicans need to run on impeachment.
There’s good reason to believe Bannon is doing at least some of this in order to get back in Trump’s good graces, but according to Jonathan Swan at Axios, it isn’t working. Or at least it hasn’t up until now. However, the second front in Trump’s war may prove to be more fruitful. In an interview with Reuters over the weekend, Bannon described the New York Times’ recent anonymous op-ed by a senior administration official as an attempted “coup” and compared Trump to Abraham Lincoln, which he knows the president loves:
“What you saw the other day was as serious as it can get. This is a direct attack on the institutions,” Bannon said during a flying visit to Italy. “This is a coup, okay … This is a crisis. The country has only ever had such a crisis in the summer of 1862 when General McClellan and the senior generals, all Democrats in the Union Army, deemed that Abraham Lincoln was not fit and not competent to be commander in chief,” Bannon said. “There is a cabal of Republican establishment figures who believe Donald Trump is not fit to be president of the United States. This is a crisis.”
He also claimed that he’s not a “conspiracy guy,” which will come as a surprise to anyone who’s read his writings or watched his films.
Bannon is a white nationalist propagandist who has openly proclaimed that he wants to create chaos and blow up the existing world order and start over. If he had never been involved with the Trump campaign and hired into the White House he would probably be dismissed as a pseudo-intellectual Alex Jones. But the imprimatur of his association with the president gives him credibility in foreign capitals and could very well be influential in the Trump White House once again if this spirited defense against virtually everyone — the Democrats, the media and the GOP establishment — convinces Trump that he’s a loyal soldier after all.
The fight between Trump and the Democrats is a natural political battle, and Trump has repeatedly insisted that he views the media as his enemy. But the ongoing leaking from Trump insiders and the anonymous op-ed could represent a tremendous opportunity for Bannon to flog his crusade against the Republican establishment, which he has considered to be Job One since his Breitbart days.
But he may have been spending too much time in Europe lately. Bannon has apparently failed to notice that if at one point there was a civil war within the Republican Party, the establishment has unconditionally surrendered. No Republican with any institutional power have done a thing to stop Trump. Some insiders have leaked self-serving stories to the press in order to reassure waffling suburban Republicans that they needn’t worry about Trump blowing up the world. That looks a lot like an effort to help the party keep control and further empower his administration.
Sure, Trump is a crude demagogue. But Republicans have been priming the resentments of their white racist base for decades. How much of a surprise can this really be? The program he’s enacting is their program, which they can’t bring themselves to oppose no matter how crazy he sounds. They’re just worried about losing those voters who find Trump to be too boorish. He doesn’t understand that you’re supposed to dog-whistle this stuff so you don’t humiliate the nice suburban Republicans in front of the neighbors.
Bannon has said that the far-right European parties are about a year ahead of the United States. He’s got that wrong. The European right may be getting its mojo back after a long hiatus, but the American right has been pushing a racist, nationalist politics for decades. It’s just talking about it more openly now.