When will we learn about populism’s errors?

Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons | Sweden Democrats, guided by party leader Jimmie Akesson, became the largest member of Sweden’s right-wing block and the second-largest party during the country’s recent election.

Russell Macias | Staff Writer

Sept. 29, 2022

There is a disturbing trend occurring around the world. Populism, the term that describes a feeling of the people against the system of politics in place, is on the rise in a significant way.

On Sept. 15, Swedish prime minister Magdalena Andersson, the country’s first-female prime minister and leader of the left-wing party known as the Social Democrats, saw the rise of a coalition of right-wing parties under the banner of the Sweden Democrats.

The Sweden Democrats were a party formed in the late 1980s as a part of the Neo-Nazi movement. The party was initially seen as undesirable, but since 2005, they have been polishing their image under the leadership of Jimmie Akesson, and they now hold the second-largest majority of seats in the Swedish government, trailing only Andersson’s party.

The platform that really swung the election for the right-wing parties in Sweden was heavy on anti-immigration and having an acute focus on strengthening prison sentences for gang violence. However, despite their rise, it is expected that a moderate leader named Ulf Kristersson will be leading the new government as prime minister. Despite his party being third in seat shares, he holds the most support from the other parties in the majority.

If that wasn’t enough, the story that caught headlines last week was the election of Giorgia Meloni, an extreme populist in Italy who is a part of the Brothers of Italy political party, a party that traces its roots to Benito Mussolini and World War II.

Meloni and her party, which won an absolute majority in the Italian government, have focused on extreme anti-immigrant rhetoric. Additionally, Meloni herself is documented as being extremely anti-LGBTQ+.

Her victory, coupled with the growing gains in each French election for Marine Le Pen’s far-right group show a disturbing trend in Europe. It feels like every country is barreling toward where Hungary has been the last decade — an anti-establishment and illiberal democracy, where power is consolidated by right-wing parties and a democracy essentially fails to exist.

This is a deeply concerning issue for anyone in the world, but especially in times where disinformation is spreading at a rapid rate. Throughout history, whenever a wave of populism has risen, authoritarian governments often take hold in the countries where that populism is most successful.

Take for instance, the rise of a fascist Italy in the 1920s. Behind a strong wave of populism and anti-government sentiment due to a lack of gains from World War I, coupled with a massive economic recession, Italians flocked to Mussolini. Behind a guise of nationalism, he said that he could fix everything.

Despite knowing he harbored some extremist beliefs, some chose to dismiss them and said the good would outweigh the bad. However, Mussolini overthrew the entire government, and established himself as an absolute dictator.

Perhaps most disturbing of all, it has been said that American democracy is unconquerable, but it could be argued that it’s never been more vulnerable. With undeniable social unrest, a shrinking middle class and people going to political extremes, it’s almost certain to blow up in some way.

It already has, to some extent, with the election of Donald Trump in 2016. In that time, the most-common refrain about Trump at the office water cooler was “I don’t like the things he’s said or done, but he isn’t as bad as Hillary Clinton, a career politician who’s got dirty hands.”

This dangerous anti-establishment led to a true cult of personality taking root around Trump, where he could say and do no wrong. Wherever he’d lead the country, his core base in this country would follow.

Trump is dangerous, but I believe Ron DeSantis is scarier. He has the young face and well-polished image that is often most desirable for populism to truly take a strong hold over a country.

With growing support and an anticipated run at the presidency in 2024, it can be expected that DeSantis, given the office of presidency with a Republican majority in Congress, would significantly erode social rights, such as LGBTQ+ rights. Also, they may dismiss any and all climate issues, making the world a worse place.

I implore anyone, and everyone reading this, to study history and realize that when populism is on the rise, there is going to be authoritarianism and removal of democracies behind it. Many people will suffer, and there is going to be an unrecognizable world if this surge of populism continues to grow.