Prematurely right about the global right

I pitched this article about the emergence of a global rightwing movement to the NY Times back in 2015, but the argument wasn’t obvious, and I let it slide. Now I wish I’d tried a little harder to place it.

The proposed nuclear agreement with Iran has seen the Republican party line up with Israeli prime minister Netanhayu to denounce the deal negotiated by the Obama Administration. In itself, this is unsurprising. Bipartisanship in foreign policy, epitomized by the phrase ‘politics stops at the water’s edge’ has been on the wane for years, and is now virtually dead. The GOP celebrated Netanyahu’s recent election victory as a win over the Obama Administration, while the Administration made it clear they would have welcomed the opposite outcome just as warmly.

The alignment between the Republican Party in the US and Netanhayu’s Likud in Israel is an instance of something more significant: a globalization of partisan politics in which political alliances transcend national boundaries. Throughout the English-speaking world, and increasingly beyond it, politics is realigning along the fault line of the US partisan divide.
Until recently, in most Western countries, attitudes to the United States reflected political positions inherited from the Cold War. Conservative parties were strongly supportive of the US government and the US alliance, regardless of whether Republicans or Democrats held office. Those on the radical left were equally strongly opposed to the United States and all its actions, and were indifferent to the nuances of US domestic politics. Centre-left parties contained a wide range of views, and sought to thread a middle path: pro-American but seeking a greater degree of independence.

This position had changed radically by 2007, when conservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard stated that Al Qaeda would welcome an election victory for the Democrats, and for Barack Obama in particular, a remark exploited by the Bush White House. Howard’s conservative successor Tony Abbott followed suit, describing the Obama Administration as ‘the most left-of-center government in at least half a century’ in an interview with the Wall Street Journal.

A similar alignment has emerged between the GOP Conservative Harper government in Canada. The most notable example is the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline, which has become a signature issue both for Harper and for Congressional Republicans.

In the UK, Prime Minister Cameron has maintained the traditional position of a ‘special relationship’ with the US, regardless of partisan alignments. However, the Eurosceptic right, represented by the rapidly growing UK Independence Party and by dissident Tories like former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nigel Lawson, has formed an alliance with the conservative wing of the GOP. Farage’s attacks on Obama earned him an invitation to the 2015 CPAC conference; the invitation of a foreign politician to such a domestic event is notable in itself.

These attacks on Obama by conservative political leaders are mild compared to those to be found in the conservative media in almost all English-speaking countries. A typical example is a 2010 article by the political editor of the UK Daily Telegraph, Alex Singleton, announcing the end of the ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the US. Singleton announced that since the American people ‘chose to elect an idiot who seems hell bent on insulting their allies’, he would henceforth boycott the United States. His remarks were widely circulated in US conservative circles.

On the left, the same pattern is found in reverse, most notably on the Internet and particularly on social media such as Twitter and YouTube. Reflecting their relatively young and educated audience, these media have a pronounced liberal lean.

In the 20th century era of mass media, the world paid attention to political developments in the United States, but the reverse was not true, except where the issues could be framed in terms of pro-US and anti-US forces. By contrast, the flow of political information in social media goes both ways, and is framed in terms of partisan alignments, with a left-liberal view predominating. For example, video clips of Australian politicians have regularly gone viral in the United States, in recent years. Centre-left politicians, such as former Labor Prime Minister Julia Gillard are nearly always presented favorably, while conservatives like Tony Abbott are targets of derision.

Like other forms of globalization, the rise of global political partisanship is driven in part by technological developments such as the Internet and by the growth of international travel. Equally important, however, is the fact that debates about key political issues such as climate change and equal marriage largely transcend national boundaries. Even on issues of war and peace, traditionally the core business of international politics, the picture is similar. Alliances are now so fluid and temporary that the big divide is not between one side and another, as in the Cold War, but between believers and doubters regarding the use of military power.

For the moment, this globalised partisanship is confined to a politically active minority. Voters in general still think in local or national terms, and are unsympathetic or actively hostile to the idea that foreigners might influence their political choices. But just as with the emergence of polarisation on party lines over recent decades it is quite possible to imagine that this will change.

Voting is largely about choosing candidates who represent “people like me”. Increasingly, this is coming to mean people with similar views and lifestyles, wherever they may live, rather than fellow-citizens on the opposite side of the political and cultural divide. This may be seen from opinion polling showing a sharply rising proportion of political partisans who would be upset if a child married someone of the opposite persuasion. By contrast, only a small proportion of Americans would be upset if a family member married a foreigner.

It remains to be seen how the new era of globalized politics will develop. The partisan divide emerging over Netanyahu clearest instance so far, but it is unlikely to be the last.

11 thoughts on “Prematurely right about the global right

  1. In his book “The Anatomy of Fascism”, author Robert O Paxton, in a discussion about a possible resurgence of fascism said, …”By 2002 it was possible to hear language within the right wing of the Likud Party and some of the small religious parties that comes close to a functional equivalent to fascism. The chosen people begins to sound like a Master Race that claims a unique “mission in the world,” demands its “vital space,” demonizes an enemy that obstructs the realization of the people’s destiny, and accepts the necessity of force to obtain these ends.
    Ref: Robert O. Paxton, 2004 The Anatomy of Fascism Penguin Books London.

  2. The populism around now aint right nor left as it cuts across both. It’s a rejection of over four decades of a shared in common right and left elite agenda. Graduates vs non-graduates, cosmopolitans vs nationalists, globalisation vs protection of home…

    Bringing it forward to 2019…

    Fareed: Netanyahu’s re-election part of a much larger phenomenon. Apr 14, 2019

    “..I recently asked a Bolsonaro supporter: whether the Brazilian President’s economic policies, which are free market oriented and reformist, or his cultural nationalism was the key to his appeal?
    The supporter’s answer: “Nationalism is the party’s core. The economics is simply about efficiency and growth” … “Sanders… Trump… What if Trump understands the mood of our times better than Bernie Sanders?” – Fareed Zakaria, CNN

  3. Bringing it home to Australia, here and now…

    https :// [4.4MB, 88pp]

    Research report, 11 April 2019

    Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell, Immigration, population growth and voters: who cares, and why?

    The TAPRI national survey of 2029 Australian voters was run in October/November 2018.
    It found that half or more of Australian voters reject the progressive agenda of continual population growth and ever-growing diversity. This is the agenda embraced by Australia’s cultural and political elites and by most graduates.

    The survey shows that 50% of voters want immigration to be reduced, 72% say Australia does not need more people, 63% want Australia’s manufacturing industry protected by tariffs, 60% favour turning back all boats carrying asylum seekers, 56% think Australia is in danger of losing its culture and identity, and 47% support a partial ban on Muslim immigration.

    A much greater share of non-graduates reject the progressive agenda than do graduates.
    This pattern is also found among Brexit voters in the UK and Trump voters in the US.

    Some theorists argue that this is because non-graduates are more likely to have been ‘left behind’ in an economic sense.
    A few others, such as Eric Kaufmann in White Shift, argue that this is not the main cause. Rather, most dissenters feel threatened by huge recent increases in migrants from non-western cultural backgrounds.
    They also resent the way in which the graduate class denigrates their concerns.

    The TAPRI results affirm the cultural thesis.

    The Australian Population Research Institute, Research Report, April 2019

    Immigration, population growth and voters: who cares, and why?
    The October/November 2018 TAPRI survey
    Katharine Betts and Bob Birrell

    Executive summary

    …In sum, the TAPRI survey found that concern about cultural change, including border
    control, has a stronger association with the desire to reduce immigration than do
    economic variables. (Support for economic protection and lower immigration sits between
    these two different sets of variables.)

    Most graduates endorse high, or higher, immigration as well as other elements of the
    cosmopolitan agenda. Yet despite their dominance of Australia’s cultural institutions,
    most non-graduates are unconvinced.

    The TAPRI data support the new hypothesis developed by Kaufmann and others that
    many voters, especially non-graduates, are quiet non-conformists to the cosmopolitans’
    high immigration agenda. The data also show that these non-conformists are motivated
    more by dissatisfaction with cultural change than they are by economic hardship.

    But to date non-graduate dissension from this agenda has not resulted in political
    populism. Opposition to further high immigration is strong in Australia but this does not
    mean that it is the most salient problem for most voters. Unlike citizens of the UK and the
    US, they have not experienced serious economic contraction and, unlike the Europeans,
    they have not had to deal with a significant influx of asylum seekers and other
    undocumented immigrants.

    Furthermore there are no major media outlets supporting their views. Australia does not
    have a local version of America’s Fox News nor of Britain’s Daily Mail and Daily

    These differences mean that, provided conditions remain fairly stable, political and media
    elites, with their cosmopolitan supporters among the graduate class, can continue to feel
    relaxed. Their political experiment with high immigration, ever growing diversity, and
    globalisation will continue to be free of serious political challenge.

    Political implications

    This assumption pervades the run up to the 2019 federal election. The dominant view
    within the media is that the Coalition faces serious threats of losing centre-left voters in
    blue ribbon Coalition seats. This is because such voters appear to be attracted by
    relatively strong Labor/Green policies supporting the progressive agenda.

    This is a realistic possibility. The TAPRI survey shows that a minority of Coalition voters
    do hold such views. For example 26% of Coalition voters want immigration to be further
    increased and 21% want it to ‘remain about the same as it is’ (Table A12), 8% of
    Coalition voters do not support turning back the boats (Table A20), 20% of Coalition
    voters disagree with the statement that Australia is in danger of losing its culture and
    identity (Table A26), 14% oppose the idea of a partial ban on Muslim immigration (Table
    A39), 16% think we should abolish all tariffs (Table A45), and 31% say Australia needs
    more people (Table A13).

    However there has been a notable absence of commentary on the majority of Australian
    voters who do not share these progressive views.
    If there were to be an effort to mobilize this majority around their cultural priorities, as
    has been the case in recent elections in Europe and the US, it is likely that it would shape
    the votes of many.

    The potential for voter response is much larger than is likely to be the case in blue-ribbon
    seats and would impinge on many more seats. Since Labor has stamped itself as the
    centre/left champion it is Labor that would be most at risk. For example 44% of Labor
    voters want immigration to be reduced (Table A12), 49% support boat turn-backs (Table
    A20), 47% agree that Australia is in danger of losing its culture and identity (Table A26),
    38% support a partial ban on Muslim immigration (Table 39), 61% support economic
    protection (Table A45), and 69% say Australia does not need more people (Table A13).

    A similar response is likely should the political contest in Australia be framed between
    parties in favour of high migration and parties opposed to this stance. As we have seen the
    TAPRI survey shows that 69% of Labor voters are in favour of lower population growth
    and 44% want lower migration.

    Not only that. The survey also shows that most of those favouring lower migration also
    oppose the elite progressive agenda. We argue that this is because most of these antiimmigration
    voters think that high immigration is a threat to their sense of identity and
    their nation’s sovereignty.

    It is true that any attempt to mobilize this voting block would prompt a ‘guardian’
    response asserting that such advocacy was shameful and illegitimate. The experience in
    Europe and the US suggests that this tactic may have only a limited effect (as with the
    Brexit campaign). This is especially likely if those involved in the mobilization include
    credible, mainstream political figures (like the Tory party grandees, Boris Johnson and
    Michael Gove, who led the leave campaign).

  4. Jim Rose check how many policy differences there are between the Greens and Pauline and check the very big differences between these two parties on their use of rational argument and factual reliable and valid evidence to support their policies.

  5. It seems presumptuous that continued population growth would be characterised as being a progressive policy.

  6. Hey Jim Rose

    How about you provide evidence to back up your assertion that “many policies of one nation and the greens overlap.”

    Then overlay those policies with other parties.

    It’s a reasonable ask ie to provide reason.

  7. I was going to delete that but somehow it snuck through.

    Time wasted walking moles.

  8. well to sort of back up Jim Trump has a number of policies that would be considered left wing. Trade anyone

  9. Should the second last sentence in the second last paragraph be “their child” instead of “a child”? I got a little confused over it. Of course, that could just be me.

  10. “In 1996, Pauline Hanson won the seat of Oxley after being disendorsed by the Liberal Party over her controversial comments published in The Queensland Times that called for the government to get rid of welfare assistance for Aboriginal people.”

    That doesn’t sound like a left wing ‘policy’ to me.

    But I’m not sure you could trade her for anyone, but it would be good if could trade her in on a nicer kinder version.

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