It’s worth reflecting that in the past 2-3 months the following things have happened:
- Liz Truss, Britain’s most disastrous Prime Minister has been expelled from power after a few car crash weeks at the helm.
- Jair Bolsonaro has been removed from power in Brazil and Lula has staged an extraordinary political comeback
- Donald Trump has been humiliated in the mid-term elections and is now seen as a pariah by swathes of his party that hoped he would be an electoral asset.
- Elon Musk has been exposed as an incompetent charlatan, proving that billionaires are unlikely to save us from our problems and just as likely to add to them.
- Vladimir Putin’s forces have been forced to withdraw from Kherson
It can be tempting to ascribe meaning to clusters of events, and it’s in the nature of human beings to do so. Our understanding of the world is shaped into narratives which by their very nature include some facts and exclude others. Are there some object lessons we can learn from the disparate events of the last few months without making generalisations that are to broad and too sweeping?
Perhaps. Let’s look at the failings of the global right by examining Britain, America and Brazil.
There are established links between right wing political and media forces in all three countries. One key feature of the 21st Century global right is its capacity for cross sharing techniques and ideas. The Conservative Party in Britain has a long and sordid history of supporting Latin American fascists and dictators, and it established itself as an ally of Bolsonaro from the outset, as this feature in the Tribune explains.
It is also no secret that Donald Trump was courted by both Theresa May and Boris Johnson, with Truss parroting talking points from the most extreme right wing think tanks in the USA. Truss’s relationship with US think tanks has a long and inglorious history, just as her relationship with British ones does.
Bolsonaro’s dream of breaking open the Amazon for logging and cattle was one that both the Republican Party in America and the Conservative Party in the UK were comfortable with, and his wider importance as a bulwark against the left in South America made him a hugely important part of the global right.
The fact that right wing British politicians see the UK as part of some global coalition against Bolshevism suggests two things; firstly that there is a generation of ageing Tories who still think they are fighting the Cold War, and secondly that the very politicians who have engineered a collapse in Britain’s global relevance have little if any idea how diminished the UK actually is, post Brexit.
The recent defeat of Bolosonaro, the humiliation of Truss and the crushing of Trump’s ambitions in the mid-terms all suggest that appetites for the chaos and culture warring that the right in all three countries has specialised in has begun to wane
It also suggests that the right in all three countries has been incapable of anticipating this weariness and adapting to it; the current extreme right wing quasi fascist iteration of conservatism is, by design, incapable of compromise or deviation from its explicitly racist and reactionary agenda.
The right has created a cage for itself that its fully fascist forebears in the 20th Century were able to exit by establishing totalitarian control over society and eliminating the need to appeal to the centre ground. In all three countries, the right still needs moderate voters and swing voters who can be convinced by tax cuts, fear of immigration and other culture war topics.
The appeal of Trump, Johnson and Bolsonaro, based in part on a cynicism and weariness towards politicians and the belief that if one was to be ruled by a villain, it was better for it to be an entertaining one who would fulfill the public’s hidden sadistic fantasies and enable the punishment of minority groups.
Covid, the economic crisis that came in its wake and to some extent the war in Ukraine, along with (in America) the galvanising of millions of women voters in defence of abortion rights has torn a significant chunk of swing voters away from the right wing coalitions of 2016.
The core right wing voting base has remained relatively consistent and it is very difficult to see this dwindling; the belief in conspiracy theories (great replacement etc) which fascism thrives and a sense of grievance and resentment ensure that this is a constant.
In America, whether or not Trump dwindles away into insignificance is irrelevant, as other right wing grifters like Ron DeSantis wait to take the crown. After four decades of de-industrialisation and a vociferously fascist media in the guise of Fox News, the MAGA movement was already there and Trump stumbled across it in 2016 when he ran for president in a bid to make himself a more bankable reality TV star.
There is an immense and understandable fear that the USA is one rogue president away from a dictatorship or a civil war. Another outcome is the civil cold war that is being suggested by some commentators, one where the MAGA base, irrespective of what racist, sexist, homophobic or transphobic policies it is offered, exists in a permanent state of grievance and resentment.
The ability of the conservative right to whip up a sense of grievance, even when it has achieved political power is a vital part of the thought system of modern fascism; throughout his presidency, Trump frequently presented himself as a persecuted martyr, the victim of shadowy liberal forces. In this way, Trumpism felt like a constant insurrection, the last stand of ‘real Americans’ against forces threatening to sweep them away.
In Britain, it’s slightly different. The extreme right wing variant of conservatism has found its ultimate expression in Brexit, a fantasy policy led by the greatest political conman Britain has ever seen, one Alexander Boris de Pheffel Johnson.
Boris Johnson is no more, born down by his own lies and his arrogance, but his legacy lives on. The brief nightmare of the Truss weeks in government has now been replaced by the Sunak era, and we have hopped from a Tufton Street Government to a Banker’s Government (though I suspect Tufton Street still heavily features).
Now Britain will face the full fury of the economic storm it initiated in 2016. Britain is about to find out, during the second bout of austerity at the hands of the Tories, what it is like to be a poorer country.
There will be those older Brexit supporters who lent the project the last phase of their lives, either because they genuinely believed a shining economic future loomed for their grandchildren, or, more realistically, because they wanted to engage in some nationalistic cosplay and didn’t care.
For Brexit to endure, it has to be a continually popular idea forever. It is now significantly less popular than it was and it is becoming less so; despite the fact that the two main parties dare not criticise it, within the life of the next parliament the Labour Party will almost certainly break ranks and begin talks to rejoin the Single Market and the Customs Union.
The Far Right international (I suspect it is no way near as well organised and coordinated as we’re led to believe), has nothing to offer except resentment and nostalgia and, despite the prevailing cynicism in party politics, ruling parties have to offer coherent economic arguments and answers.
The right has become exhausted because it has simply operated on misdirection and lies for so long that in Britain, America and Brazil there is a slender majority still committed to the rule of law and meaningful political arguments.
Will this endure? Will democracies learn from the existential threat they have faced? Will right wing parties be able to reform themselves or will they simply collapse?
It seems unlikely that some comfortable re-establishment of the pre 2016 world will occur, and should the global right endure further losses, its full transformation to overt fascism may occur.
Ominously, Trumpist Republican Josh Hawley Tweeted on Saturday that the Republican Party was now dead, and should be replaced by a new political party. I think I can guess what he has in mind.