A Finnish friend recently asked me why I chose to take an American angle with my inaugural post here on Migrant Tales, “Of Birds and Feathers: The PS, the Sweden Democrats, and Their American Bedfellows. What could political trends in America tell us what we don’t already know about the phenomenon of the PS and their counterparts across the European Union?
I submit that American (and foreign) political goings-on, especially in recent times, can help anti-racists and immigrants defeat forces such as the PS with the right amount of cunning and patience. And being an American who has studied the far-right in my home country since my teenaged years, I know a lot more about the PS’ Yankee friends there than Finland-centric contributors at Tales. Not that the other contributors aren’t knowledgeable themselves in their own right. But if you want to understand people like the PS, you may have to look at outside of Finland to succeed in doing so.
As you may recall, at the start of Obama’s presidency, the United States went through a wave of right-wing populism engineered by a collective movement called the Tea Party. With its uncompromising rhetoric, xenophobic hostility, and politics of resentment, it was something of an inspiration to the far-right parties that sprung up in Europe at roughly the same time. I have often heard European populists, sometimes during personal interactions, compare themselves to the Tea Party. And vice versa. Which may be problematic soon, the Tea Party is not doing so well.
Despite the Tea Party’s projected successes in the 2010 mid-term elections – big enough that they inspired left-wingers to write excessively pessimistic op-eds like, say, this – those successes were somewhat limited in the final result, and nothing has gone right for the Tea Party since. Obama was re-elected. Gay marriage, something the Tea Party staunchly opposes, is poised to become legal, or at least more likely, in the U.S. The constantly changing racial makeup of the American electorate threatens the relevance of the Tea Party’s “angry white male” power base.
Fox News and Glenn Beck, the Tea Party’s main cheerleaders in the media, have destroyed their mainstream credibility and, in Beck’s case, have migrated to the outermost fringes of American political discourse. Most Tea Party candidates were either defeated or unseated in 2012. Sarah Palin is about to disappear as a national figure, as is Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN), whose disastrous presidential campaign and subsequent public appearances have exposed the extent of her avarice. The doom and gloom among the American left has proven premature in the case of the Tea Party.
If we chart the decline of the Tea Party with the decline of European populists, a pattern emerges. Geert Wilders, the Dutch politician who in many ways inspired Islamophobia to take root in parliaments across the continent, saw his party lose half its seats in the Dutch parliamentary elections last year, not long before the Tea Party defeats of 2012. Since April 2011, the PS has consistently performed poorly in elections despite its high poll numbers. Remember how the PS’ polls went as high as 19% before the municipal elections, yet they only got 12% of the vote – half of both what the pollsters predicted and the 2011 election result?
If the Tea Party and European populists have anything in common besides rhetoric, it’s the fact that they are banal and self-destructive. I could compare both to the Greek mythological figure Icarus, who got nifty artificial wings but was too arrogant not to fly too close to the sun. The Tea Party had a chance to set the U.S. agenda after the 2010 elections, but they were so self-absorbed and uncompromising and narrow-minded that they squandered it. The PS is in the same position, and may (and likely will) go out the same way. Same with the Sweden Democrats, which is in a more precarious position than it lets on.
So if you are an immigrant or ideological opponent of the PS, I don’t think you should fret quite yet. The PS looks powerful now, but like the Tea Party before it, it does not truly appreciate the democratic process and thus cannot adequately function within it – the party’s poor election returns are partly a testament to that. The worst enemies the PS has are not the immigrants or the leftists, but the egos of its own members.
It’s two-and-a-half years until the next election. Two-and-a-half looooooooong years. Long enough for the PS to make a mistake that it cannot sweep under the rug.