Gone are the days of crossing the aisle to shake hands with a partner who despite a differing political affiliation, shares the same patriotic will of furthering the interests of a nation and its people. The new era of political marketing is a form of legal collusion tying political affiliations to quick and baseless phrases rather than well thought-out and substantial policies – all facilitated by mainstream media intermediaries.
Not just in the major western powers, but on an intercontinental scale, national political landscapes are being divided on a larger and more lasting scale than ever before. Although this international trend is largely attributed to the rise of President Donald Trump in the United States, the wide role of international media is facilitating the spread of divisive politics worldwide.
In the US, divisions are rampant between parties and even within parties. As has been clear since Donald Trump’s rise through the Republican presidential primaries in 2016 and his subsequent election to the Presidency, there is a great divide between the political left and right in America. But up to 2016, these differences were largely ideological and methodological in nature, which could still be worked through in bipartisan efforts. Since 2016 however, Trump’s brand of populism has had profound impacts on the American political stage which has had reverberations internationally.
Populism has been a means of political strategy for decades, but Trump’s rebranded populism has injected surges of emotion into politics at the expense of substantial debate and reason. In short, this new era of politics ushered in by President Trump has a large focus on fostering fanaticism among voters through emotional provocation. Although this strategy can, in theory, be used along with substantial policy platforms and reasonable debate, Donald Trump’s experience in marketing allows him to essentially market his presidency successfully with solely emotional appeal.
There is no question that President Trump is a master marketer and he has proven that his advertising capabilities can be successfully transferred to a political agenda. But even still, his first term in office has shown that this strategy, which has also been reciprocated by the Democrats, focuses too heavily on inflating emotional appeal among Americans through media channels, leaving the rigorous political stage devoid of the important debate and compromise that is required by democracy.
Since Trump’s 2016 election, various other major elections across the world have played out in similarly divisive and in some ways unprecedented fashions. Populism has taken form in many of the world’s established democracies, while the most significant of these have been conservative populist movements, the left has also mobilized in a populist fashion on a global scale. These movements are most evident in European nations like Germany, France, Sweden, and Poland.
Germany’s Alternative for Germany (AfD) won a significant 12.6% in the last election, securing third place in the Bundestag with 94 seats. Like Trump, the AfP has been fierce on immigration issues as well as maintaining a euro-skeptic ideology. Like most right-wing parties, the AfD has a focus on social conservatism and family values, opposing same-sex marriage and adoption by same-sex couples. The group opposes the expansive open immigration policies implemented by Angela Merkel since the Syrian Refugee Crisis, and has a platform of reclaiming German nationalism and pride. The AfD is also heavily pro-democracy and supportive of the United States and Israel on the international stage.
Further, right-wing populism has also found a resurgent third-place role in Sweden in the form of the conservative Sweden Democrats (SD). In 2018, SD won 17.5% of the vote and accumulated 49 seats in the Riksdag. The Sweden Democrats are staunchly anti-immigration and wish to maintain a sense of national hegemony and unified national identity. Although in the past they have had policies excluding LGBTQ minorities, their leadership has begun reforms to further include supports for these groups into their platform. In conjunction with that, SD has distanced itself from other European populist parties and rejected Nazism and fascism outright. In a nation that’s generally viewed from the outside as a social democracy, the rise of the SD has the potential to fully redirect the nation ideologically while preserving democratic values and a rather centrist worldview.
In Poland, the recent Presidential election saw the most politically divisive election and potentially the highest levels of participation since the collapse of communism in 1989. Incumbent Andrzej Duda, backed by the ruling Law and Justice party (PiS), clinched re-election with 51.03% of the vote against the Civic Platform’s Rafał Trzaskowski. The campaign focused heavily on social issues, mainly LGBTQ rights and relations. Duda at one point claimed that the LGBTQ is not a people, but rather an ideology that can be “more destructive than communism”. In attempts to rally the nation’s grassroots support based in nationalistic and Christian democratic value systems, Duda used partisan media to attack his opposition’s capacity to maintain Poland’s national integrity. In the end, Andrzej Duda prevailed in the election, allowing PiS to have full control in parliament without being contested by an opposing President. The PiS is pushing a platform of reinforcing popular welfare programs and overhauling the judiciary – much to the dismay of the centralized European powers in Brussels.
Shifting away from Europe, India’s path since 2016 has largely been influenced by Trump-like populist tactics by the ruling BJP and their leader and Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Modi’s re-election in 2019 was billed as a huge success for him and his BJP as they won an outright majority of seats in India’s lower house of parliament. Since his initial election in 2014 though, Modi and the BJP have balanced economic modernization specifically with the tech industry while also warming up to poorer voter groups by implementing rigorous sanitation and talking up agricultural reforms. In a sense, Modi has expertly managed the contrasting voting issues of the more developed and economically ambitious urban centres and the more fundamental issues faced by poorer voters. The standout opposition against BJP and Modi have come from non-Hindu minorities since the ruling party has been criticised as largely preferential and ultra-nationalistic in the religious sense of trying to make India a fundamentally Hindu nation.
In South and Central America, proximity to and influence from the United States has undoubtedly strengthened divisions in the region, in large part because those divisions are often reactionary to American involvement. Brazil has been the big story on the regional political landscape, with hardline President Jair Bolsonaro coming to power in 2018 with a Trump-like platform of rigorous economic support and foreign policy strongman. Dubbed the ‘Tropical Trump’, Bolsonaro has prioritized the nation’s economic front at the expense of the rights of indigenous peoples and environmental concerns. Also as the COVID-19 crisis has evolved, Bolsonaro and Trump have both been similarly skeptical of the nature and potential of the virus, both hardly wearing much facial protection in public and causing confusion among their citizens regarding protocols and safety measures.
Looking at the United Kingdom, the rise of populism has not necessarily been a political movement on the left or right, but rather an institutional movement inspired by anti-EU sentiment, eventually leading to Britain’s exit from the European Union. Leaders like Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson carried out the will of the people as represented in the referendum on leaving the EU. Throughout the grueling BREXIT campaign, Farage focused on chiselling Britain out of the EU through the framework of European Parliament, while Johnson ran to elevate the Conservative Party to a majority mandate in order to facilitate BREXIT dealings on the federal and bilateral stage. Though Britain’s populist leaders have mainly been focused on BREXIT, they have implemented strategies of emphatically antagonizing their enemy, the EU, through the media and other forms of public presence, just as Trump does in regards to antagonizing his Democratic opposition.
Overall, it is clear that President Donald Trump has sparked a wave of largely conservative populist political mobilization on the international scale. With leaders all over Europe, Asia, and South America adopting and implementing varying degrees of the American President’s political tactics, these once negligent parties are mastering the means of using emphatic rhetoric to mobilize truly democratic political action by citizens. So much of this kind of mass involvement among global societies has resulted in a surge of division, not on any real basis of substance and reason, but rather by simple political affiliation and emotional loyalties.
It remains to be seen what the ultimate outcome of populism can do domestically and internationally, but one can only see that large scale divisions will dilute the political atmosphere of substance and policy and rather supplant it with governments constructed on a platform of emotional provocation and very little justified reason.