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Hate is in the air

Head shot of a man (Volker Wagener) with gray hair and a beard
Volker Wagener
January 23, 2017

In Washington, Trump has blasted demonstrators and the media; in Germany, his like-minded European friends have celebrated themselves. The guns are now well and truly aimed at the old world order, says Volker Wagener.

ENF Tagung in Koblenz
Image: Reuters/W.Rattay

"The old world of the 20th century is over for good" - Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the current German foreign minister and probable next head of state, is certainly not the kind of person to blurt something out without thinking, and here he has put things in a nutshell. And, of all people, Marine Le Pen, the head of the French National Front, agrees with him.

"We are witnessing the end of one world and the birth of a new one," she told an assembly of 800 European right-wing populists in the western German town of Koblenz on Saturday.

The fact can be lamented, but this does little to remedy the situation: Whining has never solved anything. Brexit is real, as is Trump. A political metamorphosis is underway in the West. Populism is in, and nothing will remain as it is. And soon, other major Western countries will also hold elections: France, the Netherlands and Germany.

Wagener Volker Kommentarbild App
DW's Volker Wagener

Incendiary in the White House?

In the meantime, the United States is bidding farewell to its role as an enforcer of world order. In Syria, the US has already left the field to Russia and Vladimir Putin. It is now focusing on Israel all the more. A relocation of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, which was already pledged during Trump's election campaign, would by no means be a mere organizational decision; it would be a political statement - and what a statement! Such a move would be the equivalent of the factual recognition of Jerusalem as the sole capital of Israel. A torchlight procession through a gas station would be safer.

The new US president does not have to worry about Europe. Le Pen, AfD co-leader Frauke Petry, Dutch far-right Freedom Party leader Geert Wilders and others of their ilk - his kindred spirits in miniature - will take care of it. The aim of the European right is to achieve egotistical, self-centered nation-states, mirroring Trump's "America first" attitude . It's no wonder that British Prime Minister Theresa May is to be the first leader from the old continent to meet with Trump. He and the European populists were just waiting for Britain's departure from the EU to unleash their malice toward supranational alliances.

It's as though almost all the lessons the West learned after the end of World War II are being held up to ridicule: alliance policies, the principle of solidarity, economic aid. Admittedly, the Brexit vote was a close one; EU opponents were the ones who allowed themselves to be mobilized, while the others stayed at home, confident in the belief  they were not needed.

Trump, for his part, benefited from the Electoral College; in absolute numbers, he represents less than half of Americans. And the German AfD and French National Front are still in the opposition. But what makes the political shift to the right, the readjustment of values and the overall mood in the US and Europe extremely dangerous is the populists' open or latent hate toward the state, democracy, societal elites, everyday multinationalism and the media.

When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty

Yet from Washington to New York, Boston, Sydney, Paris - and, yes, Koblenz, too - the past weekend also reflects another reality: that of protest - massive protest against simplemindedness, simplistic worldviews and vile rabble-rousers. If democracy is to remain more than an academic term in school lessons, then it must prove itself now, everywhere: in parliaments, in the media and on the streets.

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Head shot of a man (Volker Wagener) with gray hair and a beard
Volker Wagener Writer for DW's Programs for Europe department