BY: DIYA CHADHA, CONTRIBUTOR
According to social scientists, “It makes people hold more tightly to what they have and regard the unfamiliar more warily. It makes them want to be protected. The fear reaction is a universal one to which everyone is susceptible.” In recent months, the power of fear has been clearly exhibited, as voters across the globe have taken an unprecedented “turn to the right.” Propelled by justifiable fears like terrorism, economic collapse, and immigration, people have turned to extreme solutions: reactionary candidates.
Earlier this year, news of Brexit shocked the globe. The right-wing “Leave” camp beat out the “Remain” camp with a 4% margin, further contributing to geopolitical instability in the European Union. Similarly to the United States election, forecasts before the day of the vote largely showed a victory for the “Remain” camp, just as polls predicted a win for Hillary Clinton. The surprising decision reflected growing fears of immigration and the revival of British ethnocentrism. Political leaders like Theresa May and Nigel Farage, former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, played into the fears of the middle and lower classes, claiming that the people needed to take civic control back from the rich upper-class and political elite. Coupled with the refugee crisis and the EU’s inability to limit their mass migration, fears of shifting welfare programs, overpopulation of schools and hospitals, as well as threats of terrorism, pushed Britons to “Leave,” despite the disastrous economic implications of doing so. The shift to the right displayed British wishes to “Bring back the Britain of their memories. Take back control, not just from Europe, but from their own runaway politicians.”
In the United States, Donald Trump’s election seemed to contradict all the progress that had been made in recent years. The goal to “Make America Great (Again)” and emulate the presidency of Ronald Regan is one that belittled the general views of millennials across the country. But to many adults and the Baby Boomer generation, Donald Trump represented change. Building a wall, banning immigrants from the Middle East, and defunding climate change research and environmental initiatives, means that more money and power goes to American citizens. Even though all of this is unrealistic, Trump was able to make it sound like it was through fear-mongering.
France has also seen a rise in conservatism, which can be attributed to the constant threat of terrorism in the country. Leading candidates in the election include Marine Le Pen of the National Front party. In light of right-wing victories in both the United Kingdom and United States, a populist win seems more likely than ever. French philosopher, Bernard-Henri Lévy, even noted that “If Trump is possible, then everything is possible. Nothing, from now on, is unimaginable. The people listen less and less to policy, and they even seem less concerned about whether the candidates are telling the truth or not. They are more interested in the performance, in the theatrical quality of what is said than whether it is true.” Like both the “Leave” camp and Donald Trump, Le Pen exploits the fears of the public, particularly in regard to immigration. She too advocates for a return to the “glory days” of France – The France in which her father’s, former leader of the National Front party, xenophobic and anti-semitic comments were accepted.
So, is this political shift the right one? For many people today, especially the next generation, the future looks bleak. And after the most recent elections, the youth voice is becoming increasingly important. Low voter turnout resulted in the election of candidates and campaigns that do not fit the needs of today’s millennials. It begs the questions of what kind of world our future should be: right or left?