By: Ashir Rao
The Jan. 6 Capitol attack shifted America’s attention to the danger of fringe, right-wing movements in our country. This attack on the world’s oldest democracy is symbolic of a larger, worrying trend across the globe: the rise of reactionary extremism in democracies. Be concerned about it.
In South America, one worrying figure is Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil’s current president, who is currently running for reelection, and has indicated that he may refuse to concede if he loses. His attacks on democracy include eliminating protections for indigenous Brazilians. Letting one of the world’s largest elected governments fall to a demagogue who refuses to concede could set a trend in more fragile democracies all over the world, as well as accelerate the one in our own.
Equally concerning is a favorite of America’s fringe, Victor Orban. Orban’s premiership of Hungary pulls it towards authoritarianism. His attacks on press freedom terrifies journalists everywhere. It should concern Americans that he was the opening speaker at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Committee) in Texas. Orban’s connections to fringe elements of the Republican Party show how illiberal right-wing movements across the world learn from each other. Americans should not let autocrats give tips to politicians here.
Another example of a demagogue with similarities to her American counterparts is France’s Marine Le Pen. Le Pen’s speeches contain several allusions to nativist rhetoric in the U.S., such as “Immigration has a huge cost on social programs, and it lowers salaries and drives up unemployment.” France, another country with a long tradition of democracy and racial diversity, nearly elected Le Pen to its highest office. Strategies used to weaken democracy in France could be used in the U.S. to weaken it here.
In India, the ruling Indian People’s Party (BJP) was criticized in Freedom House’s 2022 report for its use of “troll armies” to harass political opponents on social media and laws creating obstacles to interfaith marriages. The BJP’s leader, Narendra Modi, was invited to a 50,000 strong rally in Houston called “Howdy Modi”, a show of solidarity between right wing movements in the US and India. If Americans condone right wing tactics in India, they will inevitably spread here.
The rise of these populist figures are inextricably linked. Whether they refuse to concede elections, exhibit xenophobia, or commit social media demagoguery, right wing movements around the world use similar strategies that they have learned from each other. Don’t let your elected leaders sympathize with them. Watch out when a fringe movement in another country becomes mainstream. A blow to democracy in one country is a blow to democracy everywhere.