Painting of Trump and Farage 'Demagogues' - Philip Hunt. Photo: Flickr/Philip Hunt

Trump is feeding a toxic resurgence of the pinstriped populist right, argues Sean Ledwith

The most noxious politician in the Western world is providing significant backing at an increasing rate to the man many would classify as the second most noxious.  Just prior to his UK visit this week, Donald Trump made the ridiculous suggestion that Nigel Farage should be made part of the British negotiating team for Brexit. The US President told the press:

He is a very smart person. They won’t bring him in. Think how well they would do if they did. They just haven’t figured that out yet

Coming in the wake of the astonishing performance of the Brexit Party in last week’s European elections, the backing of the incumbent in the White House is guaranteed to feed Farage’s already inflated ego and fan the flames of his racist rhetoric. Commenting on the results, Trump added:

I hear he has done very well. Obviously, a lot of people agree with me because I saw his numbers and they were very good.

Golden Elevator

The two men’s political relationship is nothing new and this latest episode of mutual appreciation follows on from their notorious meeting in the golden elevator in Trump Tower shortly after the 2016 referendum. Since that moment, Trump and Farage have become leading lights in the resurgence of right-wing populism that now embraces numerous states around the world. There are ominous signs that the two men, and those around them, perceive the current political turbulence as an ideal opportunity to shift the trajectory of global politics towards an intensified neoliberal agenda that doubles down on deregulation, racism and misogyny. 

Next month will see the UK premiere of a documentary film by Alison Klayman that chronicles the ambitions of Farage and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former White House special adviser, to create a global political network to centralise and coordinate the activities of some of the most poisonous figures and organisations in the world today. In The Brink, the two men are recorded discussing the possibility of connecting the agendas of not only Farage and Trump, but also those of Hungary’s Prime Minister Victor Orban and the Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte. The former has pursued an explicitly Islamophobic immigration policy while the latter has been denounced by human rights groups for condoning the extrajudicial killings of up to 5000 alleged drug dealers and users.  

Noxious network

The film, shot throughout 2017 and last year, includes conversations between Farage and Bannon on how they see a global right-wing movement evolving in the future. Bannon comments:

We help knit together this populist nationalist movement throughout the world…So we’ve got guys, cause guys in Egypt are coming to me, Modi’s guys in India, Duterte, you know, and we get Orbán, and we are somehow some sort of convening authority. Farage’s response is ‘Conceptually I like it,”.

Farage has also been holding meetings with Mischael Modrikamen, a Brussels based lawyer described by the Politico website as the Belgian Steve Bannon.  Modrikamen has been pursuing a similarly insidious agenda to weave together all the influential right wing populist strands emerging around the globe into what he labels as The Movement. The Belgian highlights the overlapping views of the two political advisors: 

Bannon and I met for lunch at the Browns Hotel in Mayfair, and we clicked…His vision, what I wanted to do — as Bannon said to me: ‘You started a phrase and I could have finished it.’

Another prominent figure on the resurgent right, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, has also called for closer links between the forces of Europe’s anti-migrant and nationalist parties. Last month, Salvini organised a mass rally in Milan attended by representatives of 11 other right-wing populist formations, including Marine Le Pen from France, Geert Wilders from Holland and leaders of Germany’s AFD. Salvini has called on Farage to ally himself with this developing network of the politics of fear: 

It’s a beautiful Europe and I’m waiting for Nigel Farage to join in… We can work together, I hope.

Poison beneath the surface

Farage has shrewdly kept his distance from this more inflammatory wing of the European right for now as part of his agenda of crushing Ukip, his former political vehicle, which has been tarnished by its association with far right ultras such as Tommy Robinson. However, the reactionary poison which lies beneath the surface of Farage’s shiny new party is always threatening to emerge into the spotlight, as witnesses most recently by Anne Widdecombe’s crass comments about gay conversion therapy. Similarly, senior Brexit Party figures, Catherine Blaiklock and Michael McGough, had to quit amid the EU elections campaign due to Islamophobic and homophobic comments becoming known. 

The fake and real anti-establishment

This consolidation of the far right in Western politics is founded on the ability of cleverly opportunistic figures such as Bannon, Farage and Salvini to present themselves as the voices of people who have been marginalised at the expense of the elite since the crash of 2008. The fact that centrist figures such as Blair, Obama and the Clintons paved the way for that crash has given the anti-establishment rhetoric of the far right credibility in the eyes of some. Trump’s presence in the most powerful elected office in the world has turbo-charged the confidence and capability of this fake anti-establishment movement.

The responsibility of the left in the face of this resurgent right is to articulate clear and unambiguous opposition to Trump and the poisonous politics he personifies. Jeremy Corbyn’s inspired decision to address a mass rally of protesters against Trump in London, rather than clink glasses with the Sexual Predator-in-Chief in Windsor Castle, shows the way forward.

Sean Ledwith

Sean Ledwith is a Counterfire member and Lecturer in History at York College, where he is also UCU branch negotiator. Sean is also a regular contributor to Marx and Philosophy Review of Books and Culture Matters