Moving Beyond “Us vs. Them” Politics: How Progressives Should Respond to the Rise of Right-Wing Nationalism

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Since the global financial crisis of 2008, right-wing populist, nationalist, and anti- establishment movements have steadily gained strength across Europe and in the United States. This expanding influence is evident most recently with the presiden- tial election in Austria, the Brexit vote in favor of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union, and the Republican presidential nomination of Donald Trump in the United States. Although populist movements of the left have also grown to influence mainstream politics in important ways, these efforts have yet to produce as strong an effect as right-wing nationalist movements have in recent elections. 

However, there are bright spots for progressives in Western democracies, however, as par- ticularly evidenced by the two successful terms of President Barack Obama; the solid first two years of Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s tenure in Italy; the election of London Mayor Sadiq Khan as the first Muslim leader of a major European city; and the very promising start of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s leadership in Canada. These examples highlight how a policy agenda focused on investing in economic opportunities for all people, promoting social tolerance, and taking on vested inter- ests can create rising prosperity and greater equality. When combined with a new political approach that is more open, inclusive, and transparent, these strategies also help to improve democratic participation and thereby solidify electoral strength.

Yet progressive parties and movements remain targets of rising economic and social backlash across multiple nations. Confronting and turning back these challenges requires an exploration of how these political movements have gained strength, as well as considering coordinated actions progressives might pursue to help fight these movements and expand progressive political coalitions. 

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