Within the past decade, the world has been experiencing profound changes and complex challenging events such as, for instance, the global
financial crisis, human displacement, and mass immigration. In this context, outsider far-right political figures in Brazil, Italy, and the US have
emerged to the central political stage and fostered strong nationalistic political discourses on social media which, rather than weaving integration
and solidarity amongst peoples, have been encouraging and endorsing further divisionism.
Keywords:Political discourse; Fake news; Post-truth era; Extreme far-right; Social media
Within a timeframe of fewer than ten years, the world has witnessed
a significant shift from progressive governments towards
the far-right across Europe and several other Western societies
[1-2]. Amongst the countries who have made this move, three, in
particular, call our attention: Brazil, Italy and the US. The common
feature among them is the fact that their respective emerging leaders
have brought to the surface quite similar political discourses.
Whilst Donald Trump has hailed ‘America First’, in Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro
has fostered the motto ‘Pátria Amada Brasil’ (Brazil, beloved
nation), whereas, in Italy, Matteo Salvini defends ‘Prima gli
italiani’ (First the Italians) [3-5]. More than catchy political slogans,
these three analogous discourses reveal a particular world
view advocated by the respective political leaders centred mostly
on strong nationalistic values. In line with that, these discourses
also convey the embedded message of the inauguration of a completely
different and contrasting political agenda in comparison
to their predecessors. Instead of welcoming and integrationist external
policies, their focus has rather shifted primarily inwards.
The discourses embed a binary perspective centered on ‘us’ and
‘them’, where nationalistic ideals have become predominant above
everything else, whereas the needs and demands of the less privileged
became secondary or simply disregarded. See, for example,
Donald Trump’s implementation of stricter immigration policies
that have caused the separation of young children from their parents
. In Brazil, the election of far-right candidate Jair Bolsonaro,
rather than uniting an already divided country, has deepened
such divisionism . As for Italy, Matteo Salvini had promised to
deport at least half a million ‘illegal’ immigrants claiming that it
was meant to tackle the core of the country’s social problems [8-
9]. Additionally, it is also relevant to highlight that these political
discourses have emerged in the context of the so-called post-truth
era, where one of its major characteristics is that critical thinking
and standpoints challenging the ideas advocated by far-right political
leaders are often framed as ‘fake news’. Indeed, in this regard,
there are numerous examples where Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro
have claimed that certain criticisms to their policies were
simply ‘fake news’ and, consequently, delegitimised them [10-11].
Furthermore, this ideology has also fueled the approach to turn
political adversaries into enemies, since they do not share similar
world views. However, what is usually absent from the debates
regarding the recent emergence to power of far-right leaders in
several Western societies, is the fact that many people did not notice
them arising. Not the civil society, not opinion makers or political
analysts, and neither the mainstream political elite in many
Not long ago, these three political leaders were practically
outsider figures in their respective countries, whereas nowadays
they are either influential voices or the ones setting the tone of the political debate and agenda. Within that, it is not difficult to recall
that not many people foresaw the real chances of Donald Trump
winning the US presidency in 2016 or even the nomination within
the Republican Party . In Brazil, it was not that different from
the US on this aspect. Although Jair Bolsonaro had served as a
congressman for twenty-seven years, initially, his candidacy did
not enjoy widespread credibility . Similar to Brazil and the
US, in Italy, there were also voices claiming that, most probably,
Matteo Salvini would not become such a powerful and influential
political figure . Nonetheless, political predictions can always
be deceiving, and even electoral projections based on opinion
polls are subjected to mistakes or inaccuracy once the ballot boxes
are actually opened and the votes counted. But the important fact
is that this similar phenomenon of emerging far-right political
figures in the three countries reveals that, in fact, society did
not fully realize (or gave real credit to the possibility of) their
successful endeavor. Indeed, here lays the core issue. Failing
to foresee the efficacy of their discourse in establishing strong
bonds with voters’ expectations or their views of the current
political scenario, has proved crucial. Whilst the traditional major
players had the mainstream media spotlights directed towards
them and, consequently, attracting people’s attention, the three
aforementioned politicians were making their move to overtake
their opponents in the key moment in the electoral race. Moreover,
since Barack Obama’s successful election in 2008, it should not
be new to most political contenders that the internet and social
media platforms can play an important and decisive role in the
fate of election campaigns . Within that, different from
their opponents, the three political leaders (Donald Trump, Jair
Bolsonaro and Matteo Salvini) have strongly explored, respectively,
the full potential of Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook to leverage
their campaign, spreading the word about their political views
and connecting with voters.
However, it cannot be taken out of the equation that the
occurrence of certain controversial events might have influenced
voters’ mindset in regard to both Donald Trump and Jair Bolsonaro
campaigns and leading towards their successful election .
Eventually, in the absence of these events (i.e. allegedly external
influence in the US election and mass dissemination of fake
news via WhatsApp in Brazil), the final result could have been
considerably different in both countries. The problem is that we will
never know and, consequently, we have to deal with the concrete
facts rather than with the suppositions. Thus, dealing with the
concrete fact that these leaders have been democratically elected,
it becomes clear that the rise of far-right political discourse in
Western societies might have comprised a phenomenon not fully
acknowledged by many people. It also leaves an important hint
to progressive political forces across different societies, meaning
that underestimating improbable outsider or emerging political
figures might not be a good strategy. Therefore, the silent takeover
of power by the far-right political leaders in Brazil, Italy, and the
US has been characterised, first, by major progressive political
forces failing to see them coming. In other words, ignoring the
possibility of their victory has represented a big strategic mistake.
Second, similar to what Barack Obama successfully achieved in
the past, the far-right candidates have been able not only to notice
but also to explore the wide array of communication possibilities
granted by social media platforms in order to shorten the distance
between themselves and the voters to convey their discourse.
Finally, the current geopolitical scenario is increasingly challenging
and complex. They encompass events such as, for instance, the
global financial crisis caused by Lehman Brother’s bankruptcy
in September 2008, the end of the supercycle of commodities
that had boosted the growth of emerging economies, and other
global social phenomena such as human displacement and mass
immigration in Europe [17-20]. The three political leaders seem to
have managed to navigate better in this changing world than their
opponents. Most probably, not because they had better solutions
to face such challenges, but mainly due to their capacity to
articulate discourses that have captured voters’ disappointments
and converted them into their nationalistic slogans as the solution
for voters’ anxieties and uncertainties concerning the future.
Nonetheless, one of the major problems with the enactment
of this world view is the fact that it increasingly fosters the lifting
of strong borders (sometimes even physical and not only based
on restrictive laws) as the sole and prime solution to tackle global
issues, whereas integration, solidarity and diplomatic dialogue are
left behind . As a consequence, we are witnessing not only the
silent takeover of power by the far right but also the emergence
of increasingly divided societies where the discourse ‘us’ versus
‘them’ is becoming prevalent. Furthermore, in a strongly binary
world, as have been fostered by many political leaders, very little
room (if any) is left for diversity to flourish, for greater cooperation,
mutual understanding, acceptance and constructive debates.
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