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KEMBURU: Rise in populist support in response to Left’s growing power

Column: An Optimist's Opinion

Over the course of the past couple of years, there has been a remarkable shift in the political ideologies of countries all around the world. 

While the Left has become increasingly more liberal, the Right has responded with an ideology of its own: nationalist populism. Although it is somewhat difficult to characterize, it is defined by certain factors, such as anti-immigrant values, a dislike for transnational movements and organizations and the belief that the government has become a corrupt institution. Nationalist populism essentially relies on the people’s sense of nostalgia, encouraging them to cherish and desire the “good old days.” 

Nationalist populism slowly garnered more support due to four different factors: the high levels of distrust in political institutions, the fear of the destruction of national cultures and values, the anxieties related to the loss of jobs and income and a sense that their social group is being left behind relative to others, according to an article by The Guardian. Although these factors seem rather abstract and difficult to conceptualize, they can be applied to different real-life scenarios in the present. 

Examples of this rise can be found in the election of 2016 and the subsequent victory of President Donald J. Trump, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union and even India’s majority support for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), a party with roots in Right-wing organizations. The last example is further proof that the rise in this ideology is not simply a Western phenomenon. Countries within the East are also slowly going down that route too. 

Trump’s election can be used as a case in which at least some of these ideas can be applied. It is important to start by looking at who exactly believes in these national populist ideas — essentially, who voted for Trump. A significant portion of those who voted for Trump included the post-industrial white working class. Besides that, another key group that played a role in his victory was the "80 percent of white evangelicals 45 and older,” according to The Washington Post.

If neoliberalism is considered the norm on the Left, characterized by increased globalization and diversity, then nationalist populism is considered a response to neoliberalism. Most of those in support of neoliberalism are individuals who have gotten a higher education and who therefore believe that every problem, social or economic, stems from a lack of education. 

There then forms a sense of hierarchy, in which the working people feel like they are being left behind while the educated are at the top. The individuals who were not a part of this growing group of people therefore felt alienated and resentful and chose to vote for the party that catered to them and recognized their needs. While the polarization in America is seen as a class and education problem, this is not necessarily the case elsewhere. 

In the case of India, the BJP has relied on the reassertion of national culture and values in India. While there have always been ethnic and religious conflicts between Hindus and Muslims, India itself has remained a secular country. But now, this is becoming less and less true with the Hindu nationalist party gaining power. 

Approximately a week ago, India’s top court ruled that Hindus would be allowed to build a temple on a site that Hindus and Muslims fought over for the longest time. While Hindus believed that the site was the birthplace of Lord Ram, Muslims have also prayed at this same site for centuries.

This is just one example of the Indian government playing a greater role in religion, specifically, in support of Hindus and against Muslims. India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi has labeled himself as a Hindu nationalist, and "has spoken out repeatedly against India's secularism," according to CNN.

These political and social changes are just a couple examples of what is happening around the world every day. The effects of this ideological shift are being felt most by the minorities within these different nations. There is greater negative discourse surrounding immigration in the United States, and even refugees and asylees are not safe from deportation. In India, Muslims are increasingly worried about future changes that could directly or indirectly impact them. 

It seems as the Left gains more power and support, the other side will seek to balance out that power. As of right now, it seems like nationalist populism is winning. 

Anusha Kemburu is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in political science. Her column, “An Optimist’s Opinion,” runs  on alternate Thursdays.


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