Trupm is Gone But Trumpian Populism Lives on
DONALD Trump may have
lost the election but Trumpism is not defeated. The right-wing populism that
the outgoing American president championed is still a powerful movement, as
demonstrated by the surge in the votes cast in his favour. He received more
than 70 million of the counted votes, significantly higher than what he got in
contest only goes to show that Trumpian populism has taken much deeper roots in
four years of maverick rule. The heavy turnout of voters illustrated the
existing polarisation in American society that is likely to intensify despite
electoral setbacks for the right wing. The 2020 presidential election has
reinforced the view that American populism is there to stay and may even take a
more aggressive turn.
That should come as a
wake-up call for those who have predicted the ‘end-of-life cycle’ for
nationalist populism in the United States and beyond. Notwithstanding its
failure to deliver, the phenomenon is far from over. It is true not only for
the United States but also other countries swept by rising ultranationalist
Surely, the rise of
the current phase of national populism predates Trump, but his holding sway in
the world’s greatest power had given impetus to such movements that have swept
across a number of European and other countries. The Brexit vote in Britain is
a glaring example of the ascendancy of nationalism. It has become synonymous
with the nationalist isolationism and anti-globalisation wave that brought
Trump to power.
There are a number of
other countries that are now ruled by right-wing nationalist populist regimes
with authoritarian tendencies. National populism often combines right-wing
politics and populist rhetoric. Hungary, Brazil, the Philippines, India and
Turkey may be the most prominent examples of nations ruled by populist leaders.
But there are many other countries that are witnessing the rise of this
phenomenon in different shades and forms.
The surge in
right-wing nationalism in France, Germany, Italy and some Eastern European
countries points to this. The economic downturn, rising unemployment and a fear
of growing immigrant populations are major factors reinforcing right-wing
nationalist sentiments in these countries. The ultranationalist groups in
Europe are generally associated with ideologies similar to Trump’s, such as
anti-environmentalism, anti-globalisation, nativism and protectionism. They are
all known for their strong opposition to immigration from Muslim countries.
In recent years,
European countries have witnessed growing support for nationalist populist
movements, such as the National Rally (formerly the National Front) in France,
the League in Italy, the Party for Freedom and the Forum for Democracy in the
Netherlands, the Freedom Party of Austria, and the UK Independence Party.
There are some strong
indications that extreme right-wing nationalist groups could be swept into
power in some of these countries. Some recent incidents of violence involving
Islamist extremists come in handy for the right-wing groups to whip up
nationalist sentiments in France close to the elections. Most of these groups
have drawn encouragement from the rise of Trumpism in America. For national
populist leaders around the globe, Trump became a source of inspiration, and
many of them imitated his style too.
The rise of
neo-Nazism in some Western countries is a symptom of their racist politics and
populism. Most worrisome is the prospect of Trumpian populism prevailing in
other countries. Over the past years, there has been a notable rise of more
virulent nationalism. Anti-immigration sentiments have strengthened right-wing
often use anti-elitist and anti-establishment rhetoric, and claim to be
speaking for the ‘common people’, but their politics mostly strengthen elitism.
National populist regimes, though coming into power through democratic
processes, invariably become authoritarian and suppress democratic rights.
Democracy has suffered in almost all the countries ruled by nationalist
populist leaders, as is the case of India and Turkey.
majoritarianism and populism are the most definite manifestations of the
fascistic ideology that now seems to be on the rise in various parts of the
world. The ascendancy of authoritarian strongmen is causing the rollback of
liberal democratic values. The most dangerous fascist trait is the new virulent
nationalism that seeks to assert racist, political and cultural hegemony, thus
threatening not only democratic processes within states but also regional
India under Prime
Minister Narendra Modi has been losing its secular character and establishing
oppressive majoritarian rule. The Indian action to annex the occupied territory
of Kashmir and attempt to destroy Kashmiri identity is also a part of muscular
nationalism under a Hindu majoritarian regime. It is not just a matter of
territorial occupation but also a move to turn a religious community into a
minority. Driven by RSS ideology, Modi is trying to turn India into a Hindu
rashtra and marginalise other religious communities.
Trump had developed
excellent personal relations with muscular nationalist leaders like Modi.
Trump’s friendly ties with the India leader were well-known. The American
president expressed his solidarity with Modi at a massive rally in Houston last
year at a time when the Indian leader was being castigated for a law
discriminating against Muslims. Earlier this year, Trump praised the Hindu
nationalist leader, saying, “He wants people to have religious freedom and very
It is not surprising
that Indian and other right-wing nationalist leaders had bet on Trump’s
victory. With Trump’s exit, the right-wing autocrats and nationalistic
movements across the globe have lost their ideological patron. But it is not an
end to global Trumpism that has gained ground in many European and Asia
showing in the election keeps alive his radical nationalist ideology that has
not only divided America but has also impacted the world. His narrow defeat may
embolden the global arch conservative and nationalist populist movements. The
new American leadership faces a massive challenge not only to bridge the divide
in America intensified by Trumpism but also to change the country’s foreign
policy course. It is certainly not going to be easy to unite an extremely
polarised nation and a disrupted global order.