Far-Right political groups are not new to US politics. White nationalists have been in different forms and shapes in the American political landscape for over two centuries.
However, the election of Donald Trump as President in 2016 marked a significant resurgence of extreme right-wing politics in the US.
Since then, the country has witnessed a considerable rise in hate crimes and the strengthening of far-right groups. Trump’s defeat in the 2020 Presidential election and somewhat disappointing results from the recent midterm elections can no way be interpreted as signs of the tide of right-wing populism receding in the world’s most powerful democracy.
In September, US President Joe Biden, while addressing the nation from the Independence Hall in Philadelphia, warned about the serious threat the country is facing from within. He did not point at Russia, international terrorism, or a pandemic but at the right-wing extremism within the country.
He was referring to Trump’s core support group, MAGA (Make America Great Again) Republicans, and asked his fellow citizens to isolate them.
We should not forget that more than 74 million Americans voted for Trump in the 2020 election. Isolating MAGA Republicans from that number is in no way going to be that easy.
American politics has been so divided that an organised attack on its own Capitol doesn’t get bipartisan condemnation. Political violence is rising significantly, and the country is witnessing a surge of violent threats and attacks targeting public officials and their families.
Reported threats against federal judges have gone up four times in the last six years, and threats against members of Congress have increased more than ten times during this period. According to a recent Washington Post and University of Maryland poll, one in three Americans believes that they can justify violence against the government in some cases.
Since Trump’s election victory in 2016, the number of politically violent acts by right-wing group members has surged. Per Anti-Defamation League data, right-wing extremists were involved in 26 extremist-related deaths in the US in 2021. They have also been responsible for 75 per cent of such killings in the last ten years.
Political analysts fear increasing risk factors from right-wing extremists, mainly white supremacists, that elevate possibilities for higher electoral violence in the country. There is no doubt that, at present, the greatest terror threat to the US on its domestic front comes from far-right extremists.
There is little hope that right-wing populism will lose traction in the US soon. Instead, there are several indications that it may rise for some time.
In Brazil, Bolsonaro lost the Presidential election narrowly, but Europe is witnessing a resurgence of far-right politics. In France, the far-right candidate Marine Le Pen received more than 41 per cent of the popular vote in her Presidential run-off.
Even in Sweden, a far-right party has become the second-largest parliamentary party in the September election and controls the government. Viktor Orban won his fourth consecutive election in Hungary by a landslide. Italy has elected a Prime Minister whose party’s origins go back to a movement founded after the World War II by former fascists.
The present sociopolitical landscape of the US is like Europe, which has witnessed a surge in right-wing populism. The US, like the continent, is facing job loss issues and high inflation, and small businesses are struggling. Political discourse is also focused on crime, illegal immigration, and protecting racial identity.
Though in the recent midterm, democrats have barely managed to keep the Senate, the House has gone to Republicans. Trump has already declared his 2024 Presidential bid.
Health of American democracy
For democracy to work in a country, a couple of basic norms need to be respected at any cost. One is rejecting violence as a legitimate process to capture power, and the other is accepting election results. Unfortunately, on both these fronts, there are serious doubts about the state of the health of American democracy.
Since the 2020 election season, there has been a larger acceptance of violence as a political tool in the US among right-wing groups. Armed demonstrations have become regular affair. In 2020, 6.2 per cent of all pro-Trump rallies were armed; in 2021, it increased to 8.8 per cent.
To put these numbers in perspective, only 1.5 per cent of all other demonstrations in the US in these two years involved armed protesters. Violence tends to lead to more violence and move to the other side of the political spectrum.
The denial of election results is directly linked to the increasing support for violence on the right. Trump, who is yet to accept the 2020 election results, could become the Republican party’s candidate again in 2024. In the last midterms, in 30 out of 50 states, the election deniers contested at least one of the key positions in their respective state.
The rise of right-wing extremism, no doubt, continues to pose a dual threat to American democracy by questioning the election results and advancing violence as a political tool to capture power.
President Biden is right — US democracy is in danger.