For a certain kind of American liberal, it’s almost a reflexive gesture to wish the United States were more like Europe. There, health care is provided on a more egalitarian basis and a university education is much cheaper, if not free; sexual mores are more relaxed and gun ownership is rare; religion is vestigial and militant nationalism is strictly taboo. Widespread European distress over the presidencies of George W. Bush and Donald Trump only confirmed what American liberals knew: that the Old Country was also the dreamland of their imagined liberal American future.
I wonder how it will feel when Europe becomes distinctly more right-wing than the United States.
It’s not an inconceivable prospect. The United Kingdom has a Tory government right now, and based on current polling their position looks increasingly secure. France’s centrist president Emmanuel Macron would likely be re-elected if the election were held today, but Marine Le Pen’s right-wing National Rally party polls considerably higher today in a one-on-one contest with Macron than it did in 2017. Italy’s fragile coalition could be followed by a right-wing coalition of Matteo Salvini’s Lega and the neofascist-derived Fratelli D’Italia.
Even in Germany, where the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel’s 16-year rule is coming to a close, the next government may once again be a coalition led by the CDU/CSU, if not with the center-left SDP, then in a “Jamaica coalition” with a reinvigorated center-right FDP joining the Greens by their side.
Of course polls can and do change, and one election does not imply a radical cultural shift. But the overall political climate in Europe has been trending rightward for some time. After the financial crisis, and the austerity that followed, the traditional left-wing parties began to collapse, and more nationalist and extreme-right alternatives to the mainstream — the AfD in Germany, National Rally in France, UKIP in England — began to arise. The surge in immigration that followed Syria’s and Libya’s collapse into civil war were further sources of fuel. These parties and movements — critical of the European Union, strongly opposed to immigration, frequently more friendly to Russia — were initially and in many cases still are opposed by all the mainstream parties, but that opposition did little to stem their growth. Eventually, in countries like Hungary and Poland, they began to win elections and assume the powers of government.