Populism and the End of the European Union

The newly-installed US ambassador to Germany, Richard (Ric) Grenell, is at the center of a Trumped-up “controversy,” after having given an interview to Breitbart saying that he’s looking forward to encouraging beleaguered European conservatives. The NeverTrumpers went wild: neocon Anne Applebaum accused him of being part of a conspiracy on the part of the Trump administration to back "nativist, pro-Russia and anti-pluralist" forces – as opposed to the globalist, neo-liberal, cravenly pro-Washington (as opposed to pro-American) sock puppets we’ve been backing previously. Applebaum was joined by German Communist leader Sarah Wagenknecht, a leader of the far-left wing of the far-left “Die Linke” Party, who demanded that Grenell be expelled from Germany.

This little brouhaha underscores the utter hypocrisy of US political elites: ever since the first cold war, Washington has routinely utilized its diplomatic apparatus in the service of client parties and movements, most of which are directly funded by Washington. We funded and supported the Ukrainians who overthrew the democratically-elected President of their country and installed a new regime: the long list of recent regime-changing campaigns, complete with US-funded “democrats” in the front lines, is too long to even list – and of course our record of overthrowing governments and installing “friendly” ones during the cold war era stretches back to the late 1940s and early 50s, from the Middle East to Latin America. Now, suddenly, neocons like Ms. Applebaum are objecting to US “meddling”! Gee, why the abrupt turnabout?

The reason is because the populist rebellion against commie-Europa, a.k.a. the European Union, is in full swing, with the Brexiteers champing at the bit as the Tories betray them and the Italians driving out the pro-EU parties and demanding that Brussels get off their backs. Both Hungary and Poland are defying the Euro-crats, with the former saying no to the open borders edicts coming from Brussels and the Poles refusing to kowtow to the demands of the Eurocrats on the judiciary and other matters. The very last thing the Euro-weenies want to see is an American ambassador, who loudly supported Donald Trump during the presidential campaign, openly rallying the populist right.

While I don’t think it’s wise to intervene in the affairs of foreign countries, Grenell’s Breitbart interview implies nothing of the sort: he merely notes that a populist form of conservatism is sweeping not only the US but also Europe, and who can deny that this is so? Secondly, it has been past US policy to support “former” communists and other leftists – and so whatever rhetorical support Grenell and the Trump administration give to their overseas admirers will balance the scales. And, mind you, this support is purely rhetorical, unlike the billions of dollars we’ve poured into left-wing, jihadist, and other dubious outfits throughout the world.

The power of ideas is what’s driving the populist upsurge, not the “soft power” resources of the US and its allies, and the latest victory of this Trumpian trend is in Italy, where both immigration and the economics of austerity are issues driving voters to the polls and driving elites out of power. There the old parties – the Christian Democrats, the Socialists, the Communists, etc. – have practically disappeared, and a brace of new untested movements have arisen to take their place. An alliance of the insurgent “Five Star” movement, which is generally leftist in tone (albeit anti-immigrant), and the Lega Nord, a right-wing movement centered in northern Italy, won the recent elections with nearly 70 percent of the vote.

However, the victors faced a roadblock: the refusal of the Italian President to accept the proposed cabinet, specifically the finance minister.

All the usual suspects were up in arms: George Soros declared the Italian populists to be agents of Putin: Emmanuel Macron advised Italy’s political class to resist the insurgents, and the New York Times denounced the new government as “a miserable bunch.”

The Presidency of Italy, held by Sergio Mattarella, is normally a symbolic position: his job is to simply ask the winner(s) of the most recent election to form a government and to give his pro forma approval once the cabinet is announced. Not this time: Mattarella refused to approve the incoming government, but was forced to back down in the face of threatened protests.

The attempted coup failed, and that is just the beginning of the conflict between Italy’s rising populist majority and the European political class: the Italian budget (tax cuts and more spending!) is going to be a source of contention, and the continuation of Italy’s membership in the EU is inevitably going to arise as an issue. Italy is joining a growing list of dissident EU countries chafing under the heavy weight of the Brussels bureaucracy: it looks like the future of the EU is limited to its core, the Franco-German alliance, with the “fringe” countries falling away.

The political tumult isn’t limited to the Old Europe. In the New World we have to ask: What in the name of all that’s holy is going on in Nicaragua?

We haven’t heard from this Central American mini-country since the 1980s, when it was at the center of the foreign policy debate on account of the Reagan administration’s determination to overthrow the popular left-wing government of the Sandinistas. A long and destructive civil war commenced, with US-funded “contras” committing acts of terrorism against civilians and “Contra-gate” threatening the Reagan presidency. At long last the Sandinistas succeeded in driving out the Yankees and their proxies, and, moderating their Marxist ideology, established a social democratic regime. Their leader, Daniel Ortega, went on to win the presidency on three consecutive occasions. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Cuba’s retreat from its “internationalist” foreign policy, the Nicaraguan leftists pulled in their horns, but apparently their moderation has given rise to another problem: they are now experiencing the hazards of having to actually govern. A recent proposal that would have cut social security benefits while increasing the amount payees would have to put into the system sparked massive protests that have turned violent, with dozens killed.

The proposal was quickly withdrawn, but the protests didn’t stop: indeed, they gathered force and became more violent as government forces opened fire on demonstrators and university students took the lead in demanding the government step down.

It seems there is more at stake than mere social security payments, but exactly what is going on and who is directing the goings on isn’t quite clear. I would not be at all surprised to find the long arm of the US “regime change “ apparatus involved in the Nicaraguan events: from Colombia to Venezuela there’s no doubt that Washington is fighting a covert war against those it perceives as “anti-American.” Is Uncle Sam also stirring the Nicaraguan cauldron?

NOTES IN THE MARGIN

You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.

I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).

You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.

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Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo is the editorial director of Antiwar.com, and a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He is a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and writes a monthly column for Chronicles. He is the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].