They flew very high. Now, like Icarus, one after another, out of arrogance, complacency, hubris, ineptitude, for not listening to the advice of the wise men, their precarious wings melted and they crashed against the sea that is swallowing them. The last one, Boris Johnson, a great lover of classical culture, whose high knowledge he used so little, giving instead to low populist instincts. Before he fell Donald Trump, brother symbol of the enormous national-populist shock of 2016 —Brexit, conquest of the White House at that time— with its epicenter in the great Anglo-Saxon nations. The former US president now faces the embarrassing reconstruction, in a parliamentary committee, of his attitude in the sad episode of the assault on the Capitol after his defeat in the 2020 presidential elections.
Other fellow passengers from that golden age of Western populism suffer a similar fate. Matteo Salvini, leader of the League, who reached the vice-presidency of the Government and more than 30% of voting intentions, is splashing in a muddy political fall. His adventure partners in the hyperpopulist Executive formed in Italy in 2018, the Five Star Movement, are badly wounded and have just suffered a split. Both, marked by fire for at least questionable efforts, for scandals, for often unprepared leadership.
There is more. In Austria, the far-right FPÖ was expelled from power after a scandal that revealed the murkiness of his leadership —for more INRI, in terms of relations with Russia—. In Slovenia, voters have thrown the national-populist Janez Jansa into the political sea.
The flag bearers of Western populism feel very bad about approaching the sun of power. Each one has their story, but generally their wings can’t take it: they tend to be ineffective in management, very prone to scandals. In this context, it is significant to note that, unlike the previous cases, Marine Le Pen has managed to avoid this great hangover and obtain unvictorious but convincing results in the recent presidential and legislative elections. Perhaps it is because no one has been able to judge her in the government action. Perhaps, after passing through power, she too would crash into the sea.
The accumulation of cases is enough to trace a trend. It is likely that, after the summer, Brazil will confirm the dynamic with a defeat of Jair Bolsonaroí in the presidential elections. But it would be a huge mistake to consider it univocal, irreversible. Western liberal democracies now have an opportunity to effectively manage, from moderation, adherence to fundamental values, a period of maximum complexity. It is clear, however, that populist forces are still on the prowl, and will skillfully take advantage of the failures of others to rise from the ashes. They already know how to make wings with feathers and wax, they already know the tactic to take off. This fast, superficial, interconnected time is ideal for them, for that unsustainable lightness. Instead, it seems ontologically hostile to reflection, to seriousness, to pronouncing uncomfortable truths.
The British Conservative Party – known as an absolute monarchy moderated by regicide – has carried out an operation necessary for its country and for its own future. The accumulation of scandals and weaknesses was unsustainable. We do not know how much of that action responds to moral criteria, how much to mere calculations of power. In any case, it has been a correct action, and one would hope that the US Republican Party would proceed to do the same and finally rid itself of the specter of Trump.
It is essential that the traditional conservative parties that have been derailed in a national-populist drift redirect their trajectories towards more moderate orbits. The solution to the challenge of the extreme right is not to embrace his thesis. This is very negative for democracies, which have perhaps their main risk in this phenomenon, but not even for them. The glory of flight is very brief. The impact against the sea comes later, and let’s see how it goes back from there.
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