By now you’d have to be living under a rock to not have noticed the resurgence of the far-right (I don’t accept the use of the term “alt-right,” it’s not a viable alternative). From protests in the US, Europe and even in Canada, the far-right is trying to make its presence known and its never had a better opportunity to do so. Countering it will be far more difficult than people may think.
Despite all the calls for diversity and good feelings towards neighbors, the far-right relies on anger and diversity to push its message and its a message that can easily cross genders and class and to some extent ethnicity too. The message that “immigrants are taking our jobs” is an old refrain but one that has the most success during economic downturns. We face that now. Despite proclamations of the economy being in great shape, many people feel financially strapped, and good jobs appear scarce. Add to this a growing sense of neglect, that is, that people have been ignored by politicians. One clear example that ties into our present day is the NAFTA agreement between Canada, the US and Mexico. For years the manufacturing sector was claiming that good manufacturing jobs were drying up, former auto worker towns and manufacturing towns continued to suffer losses. “Don’t worry workers!” was the constant refrain form politicians. “You auto workers will just become….computer programmers in the new knowledge economy!” Completely unrealistic calls for “retraining” like this were and are common as workers went form having good paying jobs to having their wages slashed or were just let go completely. Unions went from demanding better wages to just pleading for companies to not leave. Supporters of the benefits of trade agreements like NAFTA that also recognized their drawbacks (encouraging a race to the bottom for wages) called for reform for years to address this issue, that is, if we want free trade, all have to abide by the same rules in terms of labour, environment laws etc. or we encourage capital to flee to where conditions are best for them, leaving a trail of unemployment and dejection behind them. These calls went unanswered. The Canadian government has recognized the importance of this and is bringing it up in NAFTA talks much to their credit. But is it too late? The far-right is the the group picking up on this anger and in the US speaking to it. The anger and dejection, the belief that foreigners take jobs (by outsourcing or arriving) is already becoming hardened and despite mistaken beliefs that Canada is so tolerant and diverse, my sense is that there are plenty of people in Canada who quietly agree with some of the far-right’s most racist and xenophobic policies but are just staying silent. They will be silent until someone arrives in this country who can put a voice to their feelings (and who is better at it than Trump). Dejection in the oil patch in the West is another good example of an area ripe for far-right exploitation. An old leading auto town, Oshawa was recently pegged as the most likely place in all of Canada to spawn a populist movement. Here’s a story about that here
That’s the reality on the ground, but the pervasiveness of far-right ideology isn’t limited to just appealing to the down and out. Far from it. In the modern age, the far-right has been careful to mask their racist and misogynistic pro-white views in the language of “fairness,” at least initially, once they feel support is present they are happy to bring the issue back to race. But the angle they take is that it’s not that they’re racist, it’s that things are just not fair, be it in ways of speaking (having to use gender pro-nouns) to the right to insult anyone they please (free speech). This language of being unfairly treated allows them to not only reach the dejected worker, but the academic who feels like their freedom is impacted, the student who feels they should be able to say as they please and even the politician who may agree with much of it. It allows the ideology to reach into government, into the security services, into police departments, the education sector, even the military and immigrant communities. I’ve heard of a number of Canadians who originally immigrated to Canada decades ago making similar far-right pronouncements claiming that current day immigrants (often non-white) don’t work as hard as they did. It’s just not fair. Why are whites being blamed for the world’s problems or the problems of the past? It is this language of fairness and victimization that enables the ideology to be so pervasive.
Unlike the days when communism was a movement, this ideology is harder to spot, as many people will not publicly admit to supporting it, unless they believe themselves in the company of a fellow traveler. It isn’t an ideology that promotes equality but self-centered individualism. It isn’t a radical sect of a religion or limited to a geographical region though presently it is manifesting itself in Europe, North American and Slavic nations. The biggest present threat is that Russia is promoting it abroad and using it to sow division in the West but also to have itself seen as the last guard, so to speak, protecting whiteness and masculinity. A number of far-right groups have professed support for Russia, claiming it isn’t the enemy and if the ideology can be, and is, as pervasive as I’ve outlined, they may certainly try and garner the support of not only politicians but Western citizens working in the many different sectors as I’ve outlined. Countering the disinformation becomes much harder when so many agree with it and it enters various levels of government and security personnel. I’m not sure what the answer is but it will certainly not come from platitudes and encouragement for everyone to hold hands and sing songs. Too many of those hands are presently and silently clenching into fists.