Why I turned away from populist right politics

Once angry and disillusioned with the world, the populist right held strong appeal to me through its anti-elite message. The rise of Donald Trump and his supporters finally demonstrated to me that this kind of politics was immoral, contemptuous and outright dangerous. It is overwhelmingly worse than the “same old” politics it claims to oppose.

Those who know me well will know that I have a political history which involved support for a controversial right wing political organisation and associated individuals, even including a (paper candidate) local election run back in 2014. My support of such did not stem from prejudice or xenophobia, but a time in my life where I experienced a sense of general anger, anxiety and disillusionment with the world, perhaps owing to the circumstances related to my childhood and upbringing. The anti-elitist message of the populist right, appealed to this strongly. For me, challenging and breaking the political status quo with an insurgent cause felt empowering, it acted as a vent for whatever sense of weakness and insecurity I felt at the time. Although I left the organisation in question in 2015, I carried the same feelings with me through to the 2016 European Union referendum, where I supported the leave campaign. On both counts, although I never had sinister intentions or a desire to inflict negative consequences upon any group of people, the issue I failed to recognize was that I, unintentionally, was legitimizing those who did. My grievances became an obstacle to the truth.

Anger is a strong emotion. It is not always unjust to feel angry. Often there are many things within our lives and within society that we are justified in feeling angry about. However, what counts the most is how we deal with that anger and consequentially, how that anger leads us to act Thus, it is not feeling angry itself, but what we do with it and how we understand it. If we allow anger to consume us and lead us, we can become blinded, lost in the heat of irrationality and subconscious self-justification to the point we lose touch with reality. Herein lies the danger and poisonous appeal of right wing populist platforms, a toxic brand of politics which mobilizes itself with an appeal to the irrationality of our anger, which leads us to ignore the actual impact of the ideology itself. This is the mistake I made, it is the mistake millions are continuing to make in the world today. It took events not in Britain, but on the other side of the Atlantic for me to finally realize this and, come to a sense of remorse.

Although in Britain, the Brexit vote succeeded, this political movement faltered. By 2017, its vote share had collapsed, both of its members of parliament were long gone and it was lost in a state of disarray. In America, the outcome proved different, the populist right successfully fused itself with the already poisonous mantra of the Republican Party and colluded right wing Christendom with angry nativism, occupying the most powerful political office in the world in the process. Similar to the experience of the party, the platform of Donald Trump presented itself as an empowerment of a disillusioned and displaced white working class wrapped in the slogan “Make America Again“. This was combined with Trump’s blunt, offensive and outrageous approach to politics. Despite the fact his campaign was steeped in lies, misinformation, falsehood, explicit racism and misogyny, these things appealed to people’s anger to the point they were prepared to turn a blind eye on it. Despite widespread condemnation of Trump, a CV which posed no experience for office whatsoever and proposals based on nothing but dangerous rhetorical nonsense, Trump was successful. America and the world would now bare the consequences of this.

Therefore, Unlike that party (although arguably one could say Brexit is from their influence), Trump has ultimately become a living example of what happens when this type of politics is allowed to thrive and ultimately attain power. Despite not being American, the horror show of the last 12 months has been enough, as I have continued to learn more about politics and society, to teach me that this style of politics can never yield good results. Trump has without a doubt made the world a less safe, less secure and less harmonious place. All for the sake of appealing to his “base” he has threatened nuclear war recklessly, withdrew from the most comprehensive climate change treaty in history, trampled on the Middle East Peace process, endorsed far-right organisations, refused to condemn the Klu Klux Klan, tolerated the sexual abuse of women and targeted minority groups with accusations based on ignorance, bile and outright lies. Despite this, his supporters continue unabated to defend him to the death, insisting that he still is the anti-establishment crusader who will defend America, despite not just evidence, but reality itself firmly demonstrating the contrary. Everything else is just “fake news”.

If the only claimed merits of this form of politics is “anti-establishment”, then does it live up to its name? I myself once advocated this state of mind, but it was toothless and hollow. Decisively, the occupation of the White House with a populist demagogue ultimately proves that the “alternative” is worse than the status quo itself. Whilst of course, both in America and in Britain there are many things about the status quo which one can be unhappy about, the idea that a resort to right wing populism and nationalism as a means of fightback is horrendously futile. I was naive to endorse this and blinded of the consequences such things could lead to. Now, I have it all to see across the pond in the White House, it isn’t pretty. Even from a distance, the experience of Trump is horrible, frustrating, tedious and alarming. We need to bring an end to this kind of thing, with a firm resolution that we ought never to let it happen again.

The result is that now, I harbor deep regrets for this past, yet it has also taught me a lot about those who follow these kinds of things. It is easy to sit on a pedestal and judge these people harshly, mocking them as unintelligent and morally inferior people, but that doesn’t change anything. Whilst what they are doing is wrong, misguided and should be known as such, it is the anger, disillusionment and disaffection of these people which leads them to dismiss and rebel against the moral signals and fabric of society. In the process, they either directly or indirectly, allow given groups and individuals to advocate racism, division and prejudice without consequence. Instead, they simply shoot the messenger.

Why? Because they have no stake, vision or place in it. In the Western world, angry nationalism and populism is filling a civic void which has been created by rampant individualism and a weakening of the ties which obligate us to the people and communities around us. These populist political messages, no matter how offensive or destabilizing they may be, appeal to people’s anger and frustrations. The discourses of “Brexit”, “Immigration”, “Political Correctness”, “sovereignty”, “Make America Great Again” construct powerful social understandings which give people a purpose and as I stated, a venting point for their own situation. But, what it ultimately offers is in vain, with a heavy price to pay.

So what is the solution? Like I said before, it is not wrong that people feel angry or disaffected, but it is wrong in how some people have chose to express and vent this anger politically, ignoring the moral failures of what they are endorsing. The status quo is not great, but what we aspire to replace it with must be morally superior, than inferior and based on optimism and hope, than pessimism, anger and even hatred. Society ultimately needs a new model, a model which provides support for an ethical means of community, solidarity and political obligation, one which all people can have a stake in and share a positive vision for the future. The economic and social dislocations which fertilized populism must be extinguished. I for one am saddened by this phase of my life, that is not the legacy I want to be remembered for. No longer can I passively refuse to take a stand against racism, sexism, Islamophobia and other forms of prejudices.