June 2, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads — Fascism in America and Abroad


Protesters take part in an anti-fascist rally. REUTERS/Yorgos Karahalis

Peter Baker has an interesting piece in the New York Times this week that places the rise of Donald Trump into the larger debate over global fascism. He reminds us that Trump’s story is hardly unique to America—it’s a movie playing all over the world.

We know how it starts. Economies tumble. People become poorer. Scapegoats are found, usually in migrants and foreigners. And demagogues rise.

In Europe, this story is all too familiar. Its economic troubles have been compounded by an unrelenting refugee crisis, which has, in turn, led to appalling displays of xenophobic hatred and anger. Just last week, Austria narrowly avoided electing as its president a far-right nationalist who led a strident campaign against migrants and Muslims. In Hungary and Poland, nationalist forces are continuing to propel the campaigns of far-right candidates.

We know how this ends, too. When demagogic, strongmen take power, unbound by the rule of law, the world becomes a more dangerous place. The tragedies of World War II spring to mind. Additionally, two modern examples are North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and Russian president Vladimir Putin, both of whom have used a repressive brand of politics while pursuing belligerent foreign policies.

This week’s reads examine some of the pockets of authoritarianism that have emerged in America and abroad, as well as their causes and consequences. 

Rise of Donald Trump Tracks Growing Debate over Global Fascism

Peter Baker/The New York Times

Donald Trump’s campaign has engendered impassioned debate about the nature of his appeal and warnings from critics on the left and the right about the potential rise of fascism in the United States. Mr. Trump and his supporters dismiss the label as smear tactics used to tar conservatives and scare voters, but Peter Baker says the discussion comes as questions are surfacing around the globe about a revival of fascism. Baker’s article explores the nature of fascism that many see coming to the fore and tracks fascism’s rise throughout today’s global political environment.

Carl Bildt: Austria's Narrow Election Is a Warning Signal to All

Carl Bildt/The Washington Post

Austria nearly elected a far-right nationalist to its highest office, and Carl Bildt says the tight contest should serve as a warning to others that proponents of closed societies are gaining strength. “Previously you won elections by saying that tomorrow will be better than yesterday,” he writes. “These forces are promising to bring back a yesterday that they portray as better than the tomorrow they see coming.” Bildt believes a better future will come from open societies, but to get there political leaders must combat the rise of far-right nationalists and make a better case for an open world.

How to Defeat Rightwing Populism

Martin Wolf/Financial Times

The US has shaped the modern world by spreading enduring institutions, creating alliances and trade, and building US credit. However, thanks to the “greed, incompetence and irresponsibility of elites,” that system has done poorly for the middle and lower classes, writes Martin Wolf. Donald Trump has channeled anger against this system into rightwing populism, which “despises institutions and rejects expertise.” Wolf says his ideology is dangerous because it has no notion of the foundations of US success, and can be countered by viable policy alternatives that help the lower and middle classes reverse the failings of poorly performing elites.

Looking for a Home

The Economist

The migrant crisis in Europe over the last year is not an isolated event, writes The Economist. Last year’s drama not only served as a reminder that Europe cannot insulate itself from the troubles of its wider neighborhood, it also showed the rich world that the current system of international protection for refugees is broken. As the globally displaced continue to rise in number, The Economist reminds readers that there’s no “iron law” that the refugee population must rise. Today’s politics are turning away from migration, but it says the root problems can be solved and durable solutions can be found if rich countries are willing to muster the will to help.

Russia’s Long Road to the Middle East

Yaroslav Trofimov/The Wall Street Journal

Russia’s long history of involvement—and warfare—in the Middle East is largely unknown to Westerners, but it helps to explain President Vladimir Putin’s decision to intervene in Syria’s civil war, writes Yaroslav Trofimov. In tracing Russia’s history of geopolitical influence in the region, Trofimov shows the intervention is part of Russia’s longstanding goal to gain influence over its “strategic backyard.” Excepting Turkey, Putin’s unconstrained efforts to create alliances have put Russia on speaking terms with all of the region’s main powers. However, its readiness to deal with all sides also means Russia finds itself with no true bedrock allies in the Middle East.

Putin Battles for the Russian Homefront in Syria

Fiona Hill/Brookings Institution

Russia’s involvement in Syria isn’t only an attempt to gain international relevance, writes Fiona Hill. Putin thinks anyone whose ideas can spark violence in opposition to the legal, legitimate state (and its leader) is an extremist who must be countered. With Russia’s long history of housing its own Muslim populations, Putin views Syria as a crucial front in holding the line against extremism in his country.

By the Rockets’ Red Glare

The Economist

It is always tempting for America and other countries to put North Korea’s nuclear ambitions on the back burner of policy priorities. But the many failed missile launches in North Korea are matched by the many failed attempts by America and the West to curb the country’s nuclear program. Even China’s newfound willingness to cooperate on international sanctions is hamstrung by fears of North Korea’s imminent collapse. Anti-missile defense technology and economic sanctions may mitigate Kim Jong Un’s march towards nuclear arms, but nobody really knows how to stop him. 

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