While we were reading, writing, eating, sleeping and breathing da trumpeter, things were happening on the other side of the globe! Yes, folks, there really is life in places outside the boundaries of the U.S.! Let us first go to Austria.
The Austrian election, which I have written about before, finally took place on Sunday! And … drumroll … the Trump-like populist candidate, Norbert Hofer, DID NOT win! This, folks, may well be a blow to the populist movement of those such as Trump, LePen, and Wilders, and I am happy to see it. Center-left candidate Alexander Van der Bellen won with 53.3% of the vote at the end of the day. This was Austria’s third try at a second-round election between Van der Bellen and Hofer. The first was thrown out after certain irregularities were discovered in some voting districts, and the second failed when it was found the glue on the absentee envelopes was defective and the envelopes came open in the mail. There are several things to note about this election.
First, and I would congratulate Mr. Hofer on this, is the gracious concession he made when it became obvious that Van der Bellen would be the next president of Austria. Mr. Hofer congratulated Mr. Van der Bellen and called on all Austrians to “stick together and work together”. What is so striking about this, at least in my opinion, is that I keep trying to picture Donald Trump saying the same, had the results been different last month and Hillary Clinton had won. Nope, I simply cannot picture it, because I am 100% certain he would not have been a gracious loser. So, while I am glad Mr. Van der Bellen won, and I did not agree with Hofer’s right-wing platform, I tip my hat to the man for his grace and dignity in a tough moment. This, folks, is how mature, intelligent people act.
Hofer’s platform, just as other right-wing populists, was based on anti-immigration, but Hofer also planned to conduct a referendum in Austria similar to Brexit earlier this year in the UK, to determine whether Austria would stay in the EU. Thus, European leaders breathed a collective sigh of relief when the news came of Hofer’s defeat. German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel called Hofer’s defeat “a clear victory for good sense against right-wing populism”. Let us hope.
In the U.S., we have Trump, in France they have LePen, and the Netherlands have Geert Wilders. Though they may differ on other issues, the one they all stand firm on is immigration … and this, as we here in the U.S. saw last month with the election of Trump, is a growing movement. Back in April, when the original election was held, Hofer won 35.1% of the vote, compared to 21.3% for Van der Bellen. Prior to the first runoff election, the polls were favourable for a Hofer win, though Van der Bellen actually did win by a very small margin. I would have laid odds on Hofer winning, especially after the Trump win, which I thought would encourage more voters across the European continent to take a chance on the populist candidates. So, what happened?
I do not know … I have not had time to study the situation much, and even the most seasoned analysts have not reached a consensus yet. At any rate, it is surely more complex than anything I could cover in a single blog post, but I have a theory. Since Trump’s November 8th electoral win (Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.5 million votes), he has been acting in an increasingly dangerous manner. He has thrown caution and common sense to the wind in matters pertaining to foreign relations, he has selected racists, white supremacists and other ill-qualified people for his advisors and for cabinet positions, and he has continued to flip-flop on the rhetoric and promises he made to those who voted him into office. His antics and the mayhem he is creating are well-publicized across Europe. I wonder if the Austrians looked at Trump’s actions and at least enough of them switched their votes to Van der Bellen because they decided they really did not want a trumpeter in a leadership position in their government?
I think Hofer’s defeat must be a blow to the right-wing populist movement in Europe. While I do not think it signals a death knell, I do think it will have a slow-down effect on populism overall. Germany had feared that a win by Hofer’s Freedom Party in Austria would encourage similar gains by the far right in Germany and in neighbouring France and Holland. Unemployment, nationalism, immigration and an overall desire for change from the establishment are the major issues fueling right-wing populism in Europe, as they were in the U.S., and those issues are not likely to dissolve any time soon, so the movement is not likely to die altogether.
The Austrian election, similar to the U.S. election last month, was divisive and contentious, with one Austrian news outlet dubbing the election an “Election of Hate”. In fact, much of the rhetoric is reminiscent of that from the U.S.
Mr Hofer’s Freedom Party portrayed Mr Van der Bellen as a forgetful geriatric, and suggested he had worked as a spy for East Germany’s hated Stasi secret police. Mr Van der Bellen used a video broadcast by an 89-year-old woman Auschwitz survivor to denounce his opponent as somebody who “ brings out the basest in people.”
Critics denounced Mr Hofer as a Nazi because of his anti-immigrant, nationalist rhetoric. On hundreds of his Freedom Party election campaign placards his photograph was defaced with a Hitler moustache.
“We think he is a Nazi. He is against women, foreigners and Europe. He comes from a party which was founded by Nazis,” a young woman protester told Austria’s ORF television channel filming a “No Nazi for President” demonstration in central Vienna on Saturday. – Independent, 04 December 2016 Link to full story
The past year and a half have wrought changes and surprises. Most people did not believe the UK would vote for Brexit or that the U.S. would vote for Trump. I think there may be many more surprises in store, but for today, I am relieved that Van der Bellen won the election in Austria and have hopes that this is at least a small step toward slowing the right-wing movement, which I firmly believe carries some very real dangers. I think it is important to keep abreast of the politics around the world, as we are not an island, but a part of a much larger world. What we do affects those around the globe, and what they do affects us. We tend to forget that these days.
The other news that I had planned as part of this post is the resignation in Italy of centrist Prime Minister Matteo Renzi. However, the hour has grown late and I have rambled for over 1,000 words already, so that will be ‘Part II’ either later today or, more likely, tomorrow. Until then …