Alongside the upheaval in the existing world order, in recent years we have also witnessed an erosion of the stability of the political order in the West as the doubts surrounding the validity of its foundational values grow: the liberal-capitalist economic system based on free markets and globalization.
The continued effects of the 2008 economic crisis, combined with free-market capitalist forces and globalization trends, new technologies and robotics, have diverted many blue-collar jobs overseas, hurting mostly the working class and leading to growing economic polarization. Migration, from Latin America to the United States, and from Africa and the Middle East to Europe, including illegals, has exacerbated frustrations as many fear these immigrants will compete for scarce jobs. Beyond this, the immigration and resulting demographic trends have fed into a sense of cultural displacement among white Christians, who feel increasingly like a minority “in their own country.” As Muslim minorities expand demographically and become more assertive and integrate into local politics, so does the fear and concern in Europe. The wave of refugees, the largest since the end of World War II, is seen in Europe as a demographic, cultural, and security threat. At the same time, the wave of terror rooted in radical Islam is striking at the heart of Europe and adding to a sense of fear and disorientation. The formation of ISIS, and the thousands of young Muslims from Europe who have gone off to join its ranks, signaled to many Europeans the failure of the open border, multi-cultural system, and the failure of current political structures to deal with the threat.
These issues have strengthened “fear based politics,” turning people against the other, those who are different (nationally, socially, economically or religiously).
The social media discourse encourages short, blunt and violent messages that attract attention. In many cases, information reaching the public is biased or twisted to serve a specific agenda. Even worse, the lines between “real” and “fake” news have been blurred and “alternative facts” are widely disseminated and often left unchallenged. Social media based information sources and partisan news outlets do not allow adequate filtering, fact checking, or balanced reporting. Dialogue has become over simplified. Nuanced discourse has been replaced by simple messages powered by emotional rather than intellectual forces. Political rhetoric has evolved into a repetition of black and white slogans aimed at the lowest common denominator.
There is a feeling in the West that traditional elements of governance – the political system, parties, parliaments – do not represent the interests of a significant segment of the population that feels alienated from political elites and traditional political structures, and powerless to effect change, even through elections. The fact that political leaders can speak to tens of millions instantaneously and gauge their responses immediately, contributes to a weakening of the institutions of representative democracy.
This, combined with a general frustration and disappointment with the traditional ruling classes, seen as corrupt or out of touch, has fueled the rise of populist parties and politicians seeking to take on the ruling elites. One trend we are watching is the rise of nationalistic right-wing political figures and parties espousing – with an Islamophobic soundtrack – populist economic, immigration, and security policies.