2016: Dominated by demagogues

The Brexit referendum, the election of Trump as US president and the rising popularity of right-wing populists in the polls in several European countries. Commentators analyse why 2016 was such a successful year for opponents of globalisation and nationalists.

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Blog David McWilliams (IE) /

The outsiders rise up

2016 was the year in which the politically and economically marginalised masses in the West decided they could no longer tolerate the status quo, writes the economist David McWilliams in his blog and analyses why:

“The outsiders in contrast, are those with no one to speak up for them. They have no stake in the political process and are thus on the outside. They are the self-employed small business person, the contract worker, the immigrant, the unemployed and, of course, the young. They are outside the tent, beyond the process and because they are not organised, their concerns are never felt. They too can be on the left and on the right. .. These are the people who Trump, Brexit and the Five Star Movement appealed to. ... They are not racist, atavistic or deluded. They are simply on the outside. 2016 was the year the outsiders said: 'Enough!'”

De Standaard (BE) /

No antidote to the poison of the populists

Europa’s right-wing populists are being allowed to spread their poison unhindered, columnist Paul Goossens writes in De Standaard in his review of the past year:

“Their demolition project has been successful. Europe is tottering and every conflict reveals new fractures and cracks. There is simply not enough headwind to counter right-wing populism. ... The idea that we as the 'cultural elite' must avoid any appearance of arrogance is being hammered into us. ... For this reason we no longer dare to say that the recipes proposed by the right-wing populists are both utter nonsense and dangerous madness. Because we don’t want to disparage the 'losers' and fuel resentment, we refrain from laughing off and making short shrift of their leaders’ obsessions - such as a sovereign state with hermetically sealed borders or a total stop to migration - as hopelessly stupid and futile. How can Europe - the only alternative to the egoism of nations - be preserved when no one is resisting the nationalist revival?”

Spiegel Online (DE) /

A thriving economy but a feeling of malaise

The majority of people in Germany are satisfied with their personal and economic situation, according to surveys by Eurobarometer. Nevertheless, many people cultivate a basically negative attitude, Spiegel Online observes:

“A latent feeling of malaise is doing the rounds. The old political rule of thumb 'a thriving economy = satisfied citizens’ no longer holds true. That is new. It is the real big issue of 2016, and not only in Germany: the economic situation and the political mood are drifting apart - with grave consequences. ... Populist politicians appeal especially to older voters, even those who are well off, when they promise an end to change. ... The political recipes proposed for solving problems are very simple: close the borders, restrict international competition, renationalise politics - measures that will threaten living Standard, as experience has always shown. Instead of thinking about how the social, taxation or education system can be improved, how international cooperation could work more effectively and, last but not least, how peace can be maintained.”

Corriere del Ticino (CH) /

A revolt against the powerful few

Corriere del Ticino sees a global wave of protests on the way:

“The year that is now drawing to an end was marked by the revolts of the majority of voters in certain countries against globalisation and the prevailing liberal economic policy. A revolt that started in the United Kingdom with a referendum in which the citizens voted to leave the EU. A revolt which led to the victory of Donald Trump in the US and which will no doubt continue in the coming year and create the preconditions for a radical paradigm shift in the economy of the West. We are now in a transitional phase in which the groups currently wielding the power (the financial world, the multinationals and most media) feel threatened by this shift and will use all their weapons to prevent it.”

L'Obs (FR) /

Inequality has become intolerable

The gap between the haves and have nots has taken on unacceptable dimensions, L’Obs warns:

“The year 2016 showed repeatedly that the gulf of inequality can no longer be accepted as a product of fate. It has simply become intolerable. There is no longer a social rift, but most certainly a societal one. The high level of remuneration of some people stands in stark contrast to the deprivation of others, making any belief in a community of destiny impossible. The majority of citizens are consigned to having to function as adjustment variables in liberal globalisation and are now clamouring for protection. One shouldn’t dare to accuse them of shutting themselves off; for many of them it is simply a survival reflex!”

Dienas Bizness (LV) /

"Populism" is just a buzzword

Dienas analyses why the word populism is currently in everyone’s mouths:

“In Western Europe, anyone who doesn’t agree with the government in power is reviled as a populist. That is simplistic and very much in fashion at the moment. Many politicians love to talk about the dangers of populism even if they are not exactly innocent of this themselves. ... Populism has become a word with which to scare people, to marginalise the opposition or new political forces. It is a dangerous game, since today the man in the street doesn’t think much of power-hungry politicians. ... Thank goodness the victories of populists don’t yet spell the end of the world. We can be thankful for democracy and for the fact that so-called populists are not total psychopaths.”