Looking at the past two years, it is uncanny that right-wing parties have been on the rise, especially those situated at the far end of the political spectrum. While some, including the opposing parties, seem gravely concerned at this development, the question is not necessarily why right-wing parties can get more votes in elections. The question we have to ask is why are left-wing parties failing?
The Brexit, Donald Trump, and strong right-wing contenders in The Netherlands, France, and Germany speak a strong language. It seems western countries have rediscovered their nationalist zest for life. But why is that? Why do voters in some of the richest and most developed nations decide in favor of isolation and not for social welfare and inclusion? The answer is painfully simple: fear and wealth.
Welfare States = Socialist States?
Let’s leave fear out of the discussion for now, shall we, let’s jump right to wealth. Four out of five previously mentioned nations are located in Europe, do relatively well and have social democratic principles implemented in one way or another. They are or used to be welfare states with strong social programs such as universal healthcare. The US can be considered a limited welfare state as well if one is so inclined. That means the very foundation of those countries has already implemented structures that are mostly represented by left-wing parties, yet those are the parties that are losing the current political race against a strengthening right wing. Well, maybe it’s not working as well as it looks on the outside? Maybe there is a flaw we all overlook?
It turns out that, when asked, only 4% of people in the UK say their healthcare system needs to be rebuilt, yet they had the arguably biggest move to the right of all. Germany and France have 10%-11% saying the same about their systems, yet those, too, have experienced a tremendous voter movement to the right.
So why the shift from political movements that are closer to what we cherish and go to the other extreme? Well here is a hypothesis – we are scared, we don’t think about what we have, and we don’t vote for our own interests. Let me elaborate.
Spoiled Brats Full of Fear
If you think if you are living in a state that does well and has a good working welfare system you’d be, by US conservative definition, a left-leaning leech of society. Not that simple (listen carefully, Donald). Having a great social welfare system isn’t all peachy. It goes hand in hand with higher taxation, government spending and restrictions on the free market. Nevertheless, having strong social systems to support citizens in time of need should free people up to do other things. Live freely and be happy about it. Well, what do we do when we don’t necessarily have to worry about things? We find things to worry about. Such as immigration, globalization and pretty much everything that could take that away from us. We are very jealous people wouldn’t you say?
Those who have a lot tend to get greedy and overprotective, that’s the nature of things. The right-wing parties and the media often blowing things out of proportion and creating their little machinery of fear does the rest. This is not to say there are no issues to tackle, but oversimplified answers are not the solution to complicated problems, no matter how hard we try.
Voting for the Greater Good
While we are self-centered and greedy people, we do care about the greater good. That’s why we don’t vote for what’s best for us but for what we think may be good for us all. If most of us could start voting strictly for our own needs, we would have far fewer problems in our democracy. That’s the theory at least.
Picture a father of two, earning minimum wage and just getting by. He may vote for a right-wing party, claiming migrants are taking away lower paid jobs. There’s threat; there’s fear; there’s an immediate reason to vote. Or so it seems. Migrants taking over your particular job is a very far-fetched idea though, however you spin it. The felt threat though is very immediate. So this hypothetical father goes on to vote the right wing. Maybe they win, maybe they cut healthcare support or other government support systems like those for families. Maybe this father will have to realize that we nowadays get too easily blinded by fear and do not see what’s important.
His vote would’ve been better invested in a party with a strong family policy, a party inclined to raise the minimum wage or free education. These would have been more immediate benefits, which so easily get lost when they have to compete with populistic phrases and the fear of the unknown.
Left-Wing vs. Right-Wing
The issue here might be the strong right-wing populism, chanting easy solutions to fears enforced previously. Social democratic policies are something people are accustomed to, and iterative steps in those directions might not feel as radical as the changes right-wing parties propose. This can lead to frustration and the feeling of not being addressed.
Left-wing parties need to find a way to counter the right populism. Not necessarily to win, but to cancel them out. The extremes should be what they are – extremes that are only represented by a small percentage of voters. If we look at demographics, most people would be scattered around the middle of the political spectrum, yet we increasingly have people vote in extremes, mostly the right one in recent years.
The system has been thrown off balance, and unless the left spectrum get’s it act together, being its own populistic offspring or a more convincing concept, it doesn’t look too good.
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