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The West, Shifting to the Right to the Beat of the Crisis

In this column, Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency and publisher of Other News, writes that the Tea Party movement is a signal of the crisis in the United States.

ROME, Oct 31 2013 - Much has been written about U.S. brinkmanship with default, but the clear lesson that can be drawn from this unprecedented situation is that a lunatic fringe can block democracy.

Lawmakers belonging to the Tea Party movement, who forced the Republican Party to enter a war without fall-back positions, are not worried about their re-election.

The redrafting of electoral districts is now heavily in favour of incumbents, and makes electoral colleges safe for the large majority of senators in the seven states where Republicans had complete control over the redrafting process.

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. Credit: IPS

Roberto Savio, founder and president emeritus of the Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency. Credit: IPS

Republican Party candidates to the House of Representatives in the 2012 elections received 16.7 million votes while Democratic Party candidates received 16.4 million votes. The redistricting resulted in Republican victories in 73 of the 107 seats concerned.

The radical right wing enjoys a far superior electoral machine, financed by the two billionaire brothers Koch, who are intent to wipe out moderate Republicans, to get rid of President Barack Obama and the state, and restore a world where the American dream will again be possible.

That American dream is gone, and the U.S. political fabric is in tatters. At every election, the number of white voters declines by two percent, making it probable that the next president will be a Democrat and the Congress Republican, because of the district electoral system.

The Founding Fathers of the U.S. established a system of checks and balances between the legislative, executive and judiciary arms of the state, but they could not foresee the birth of the Tea Party movement. And they could not foresee that the judiciary (the Supreme Court) would become deeply politicised and give way to uncontrolled funding from corporations and billionaires, fundamentally altering democracy.

Of course, the Republican Party has taken a good beating, and perhaps the Tea Party movement is a passing fad. But, contrary to a myth running in the Left, crisis tends to reinforce the Right.

The Tea Party movement, therefore, is a signal of the crisis of the U.S., which is coming to realise that it no longer has an exceptional destiny, and that it is slipping from its position as the sole world power.

Social inequality is growing fast (every day there are 3,000 new poor), unemployment has become chronic, and there is ample depiction of a “new economy” in which labour would become minimal and finance would provide the economic lift. Gone is the dream that, by working hard, you can become a millionaire.

Insecurity and fear play a powerful role in the ascendancy of the Tea Party movement as a grassroots, anti-establishment, anti-globalisation, anti-state and anti-immigrant movement. But this is not just a U.S. phenomenon; it is happening all over the West, where populism is on the rise.

In Europe, there was also a dream: a decent job, a stable life, access to education and healthcare, and political stability. That dream is now vanishing as austerity and dismantlement of welfare are becoming a vicious circle everywhere, with the partial exception of Germany.

The young are the most visible victims of this “new economy” and the sense of insecurity and fear is feeding the counterparts of the Tea Party movement.

Every crisis needs its scapegoats; today, they are immigrants and, in particular, the Roma, or gypsies. Economists agree that Europe needs at least 20 million new people to remain competitive internationally.

U.N. and European Union studies universally converge on the fact that immigrants take jobs that locals do not want, that they stimulate demand and improve economic performance, and that only by having more people than provided for by a negative birth rate can the pension system of an ageing population remain viable.

Yet, no government is making any attempt to educate its citizen about this reality. On the contrary, there is a general tendency to restrict immigration.

The simple fact is that, as a recent Financial Times survey showed, Europeans have lost their sense of solidarity. A total of 71 percent of those interviewed wanted their government to eliminate social benefits given to other European Union citizens living in their country.

Asked if they would vote for an anti-European party, 19 percent answered yes. This means that, with a probable low turnout, the result of next year’s European elections will be a dysfunctional European parliament – and this will provide the ground for common space among all the populist parties.

Will the traditional parties be able to stop this phenomenon? No more than the Republicans in the U.S. have been able to ignore the Tea Party movement. On the contrary, the trend is to erode the platform of those parties.

The problem is that the 13 progressive parties in power (out of the 28 countries of the European Union) are all following more or less the same strategy and, of course, people will prefer to vote for the original rather than the copy, as the polls indicate.

Centre-left parties are in serious crisis, reducing the social safety system, dismantling hospitals and affordable education, and applying austerity measures. The lack of economic growth eliminates redistribution and neoliberal globalisation continues to exert downward pressure on wages and working conditions, while the demographics of ageing societies with a shrinking young workforce make welfare benefits and pensions harder to sustain.

In all this, the statistics on growing social inequality are staggering. According to the London School of Economics, we will have returned to the times of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) within 20 years, wiping out a long period of social progress.

Populism was the ground from which Adolf Hitler sprang, and social injustice the ground from which Vladimir Lenin came. History does not repeat itself, but it will be interesting to see how a new solution will turn out for well-known old problems … hopefully without the blood and tears that humankind has shed since the days of Queen Victoria.

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