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Progressives beware, xenophobia is the newest trend in Western politics.
Regional elections in Germany, having taken place just a few weeks ago, sent red flags across the world and it is time to start worrying. For the first time the West is showing signs of retreating from progressivism.
To keep this short and sweet, Germans this weekend for the first time gave a relevant share of parliamentary seats to the anti-immigrant, Alternative for Germany party (AFD). These are the first elections since the Chancellor, Angela Merkel, opened the flood gates to refugees. Her party, as well as their coalition partner, was badly punished in the three regions that voted. Although they did not lose their majority, they will have to find new coalitions in two of the three, and the AFD exceeded all expectations. Campaigning on a sternly anti-refugee and anti-establishment platform they found support among many Germans who see themselves being invaded by refugees. Rarely reported on in the states, refugee camps have been set ablaze and hostilities have been increasing across the country. The real test of this will be in Bavaria to the southeast, a conservative region hardest hit by the refugee crisis due to its location as the first area refugees enter Germany through.
Even more unsettling, however, is that these parties have been slowly rising all over Europe. Even typically liberal countries are beginning to turn on progressive policies. The first warning sign was the National Front party of France, led by the outspoken Marine Le Pen. Although the party was eventually thwarted by the end of France’s regional elections, at first the possibility of a FN majority seemed very real. Now sometimes coined “the Trump of France,” Le Pen and her party are authoritarian, nativist, and even fascist. They advocate for the return of the death penalty, economic protectionism, leaving the European Union (even though it was a founding member), and most famously for stopping immigration of Muslims (which is of particular concern considering France has the largest Muslim population in Europe).
Poland also comes to mind, being the first country to actually elect one of these parties. Let’s just say it is not going well. In October 2015 the Poles brought the Law and Justice (PiS) party to power (already nicknamed the Awkward Squad by the Economist: http://econ.st/1TEB3ov, please enjoy the photo). It has not even been six months and they are already under investigation by the European Union for violations of the rule of law. The party is attempting to rewrite the constitution, to take over public media stations, and are filling the Polish courts with their own judges. This is all compounded by their conspiracies of infiltration by German spies trying to annex Poland and former communists trying to bring back down the Iron Curtain. They are trying to convince Poles to leave the EU and believe that the Polish zloty will be a reserve currency (like the dollar or the yen). To the contrary, the zloty has fallen significantly against the dollar and Polish stock prices have plummeted by 20.8% since the PiS came to power.
Meanwhile, xenophobic and anti-immigrant parties have been making significant gains in Switzerland, Greece, Austria, and already autocratic Hungary. Even the typically calm Danes will soon be confiscating assets of migrants to pay for their stay, aka stealing the little valuables they managed to trek from Syria. Schengen countries (i.e. European nations who have removed border controls between them, similar to how you can travel between states in the US) are now putting up fences and reinstating border controls. The rise of xenophobia threatens not only the unity of Europe but also the social progress the West has made over the past century.
The West prides itself as a bastion of freedom and democracy which allows it to thrive economically, culturally, and socially. The happiest countries on earth are in the West or are Western derivatives (Australia and New Zealand). That is no coincidence. The ability for people to pursue their passions without impediment of government is what makes the West great. It was what we fought for in World War II, Vietnam, Korea, and now in the Middle East. There are already enough threats to our freedom abroad, but now our own people are looking to sweep it out from under our feet.
This is not just political rumblings. Politicians who advocate for violence, marginalize a specific creed of people, or blatantly want to impede on constitutional freedoms should be fervently opposed by all citizens who enjoy them. Although globalization has strained our patience and brought fresh challenges, we cannot resort to autocracy and fascism to restore stability. Europe tried that in the early 1900s and, spoiler alert, the Nazis did not do a very good job at it. Is it fair to call these people *cough cough Trump* fascists? Maybe. But the fact that we are even making the comparison should terrify everyone.
The good news here is that just as easily as these xenophobes can be elected democratically, they can be thwarted democratically – as we’ve seen in France. Our founding fathers (and those of our Europeans brother and sisters) created these systems so that the people can do just this. However, if we allow our voices to be diluted by the confused and angry masses, we all stand to lose. Case and point, only 50% Americans on average vote. Even Iran, a religious autocracy with few democratic opportunities, beats us in voter turnout. That is a shame. The dangers of losing the social liberties we have fought and died for are being threatened around the world and it is our civic duty to stop that. Even if you are not a member of a group whose rights are being threatened – if one person’s rights can be stripped from them, there is nothing stopping it from happening to you as well. Do not sit idly by when showing up to your town hall for several minutes could prevent that catastrophe.
If you haven’t already, please register to vote or apply for an absentee ballot if you live out of state. Visit https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote for more information on how to do this in minutes. No matter what your political beliefs are, we must all stand against injustice and fight for the freedoms our nations stand for.