In New York City, many students may still be reeling from the 2016 political whirlwind. However, leaving the coastal elite bubble to spend time abroad gives students a rude awakening that world politics continues to advance around us, not stopping for anyone. This spring, it is important to realize that President Donald Trump is no political anomaly: We are witnessing a global trend towards isolationist populism.
Populism applies to many policy stances Trump has taken in his first 100 days. Trump’s “America first” platform is isolationist, which refers to a foreign policy that avoids international trade agreements, mutual assistance and aid packages. In Trump’s case, examples of his isolationism include criticisms of NATO and leaving the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. His administration’s populism, based upon condemning Washington’s elite by “draining the swamp” and returning factory jobs to working class America, has been largely more rhetoric than policy. However, its effectiveness in elevating him to office displays the appeal of such policies to American voters.
Many connect this rhetoric to the United Kingdom’s decision last year to leave the European Union. Supporters of “Brexit” also voted in support of isolationist populism, reflected by the Vote Leave campaign painting in the EU as harmful to the U.K. As in the United States, British Prime Minister Theresa May and European Parliament member Nigel Farage’s emphasis on anti-immigration, anti-trade policies is deeply rooted in populist ideals.
This trend continues to ripple across the world, threatening the infrastructure of regional alliances like NATO and the EU. NYU students must pay attention, as the universal EU access they enjoy over weekend trips from Prague, Florence, Berlin and other European sites may hang in the balance.
In Turkey’s referendum last weekend, the Justice and Development Party narrowly won its initiative for an executive presidency. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan now possesses sweeping powers that include executive orders that limit parliamentary oversight, as well as assuming the Prime Minister’s former powers. Voting patterns showed division in urban centers like Istanbul and Ankara, while the rural majority supported Erdogan. Erdogan has stressed hostility toward the EU, which has rejected Turkish membership in the past.
Meanwhile, in Germany, politicians have taken a very firm stance in keeping Erdogan’s hateful policies and rhetoric out of the European Union. In an interview with Der Spiegel, German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that “Turkey is now further away from EU membership than ever before.” Although Gabriel and Chancellor Angela Merkel both have been showing hostility to Erdogan’s increased power, the past weekend’s parliamentary election shows rising nationalism. According to Truthout, the recently formed populist Alternative for Germany party increased its presence to hold seats in 11 of 16 state parliaments, largely running on growing fears of security surrounding Merkel’s “open door” refugee policy.
Similarly, France is facing potentially historic new leadership, no matter the results. The French presidential elections are nearing an end, with the first round of voting having occurred Sunday. Notably, the country’s prominent Socialist and Republican parties, which regularly do well in elections, failed to advance. The two finalists proceeding to the May 7 second round reveal a polarizing disparity in France’s public opinion, between center-left globalist Emmanuel Macron and National Front leader Marine Le Pen. Macron, from the newly created En Marche! Party, pushes a policy of tax cuts, renewable energy and social welfare programs for low income voters. On the other hand Le Pen, a far-right conservative, promises to slash immigration, pull France out of NATO and follow the Brexit example in leaving the European Union, according to CNN. She has received criticism for her nationalist, xenophobic stances and has referred to immigration as an “organized replacement of our population” which “threatens our survival” in an interview with RT News.
The aforementioned rhetoric highlights the isolationist populism trend’s main victims: immigrants and refugees. France, Turkey, the United States and Germany are the four Western nations which have accepted the most refugees per year, according to The World Bank. With rising nationalism and campaigns advocating for closing borders or building walls, it is imperative to maintain a critical eye on elections like these worldwide — and the people they threaten most.
NYU students must not treat semesters away as vacations from the worthy causes we willingly and quickly fight for on Washington Square. Rather, months spent at global sites are an opportunity to witness the international context of current American politics. By failing to understand this context, we fail to understand our own communities.
Email Raven Quesenberry at [email protected]