Loss of trust in political institutions fuels populist movement

Aaron Seibert, Reporter

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Germany’s institutions have taken a fall into far-right nationalism and populism. Extremist parties are threatening political institutions in Germany and rapidly destabilizing them by breaking the sacred bond of trust between the people and their government. It’s unclear how and when Germany’s political harmony will be repaired.

Johannes Kiess, a German political researcher, conducted a series of surveys between the years of 2006 and 2016 at the Center for the Study of Right-Wing Extremism at the University of Leipzig. He asked the German population if they trust a variety of political institutions and measured this trust as a function of time. His studies show that the German people have become increasingly polarized. German democrats became more trusting while a smaller group comprised of older, middle to upper class wealthy white men lost trust in political institutions, causing them to become radical.

These demographics have been moving farther apart from each other on the political spectrum because middle-class workers feel threatened that they are going to lose their jobs. Compared to ten or twenty years ago, according to Kiess, the average middle-class family income is low. He also stated that the recent influx of Syrian refugees has contributed to the middle class’s economic fears, worrying them further with a new political crisis.

The German Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, has added to the fears of middle-class workers. He claimed that Chancellor Angela Merkel’s immigration policies have taken away German jobs, redirecting resources towards incoming refugees. When the German people saw that there was money for foreigners and not for them, they felt betrayed. Seehofer’s effort to seize power from Angela Merkel caused the German people to lose faith in her promise to maintain political and social stability. Inadvertently, his political maneuver to seize power added to the numbers of a far-right nationalist party called Alternative for Deutschland (AfD).

Since 2013, the AfD has gradually attracted support not only because voters feel like they can no longer trust German political institutions, but also because the AfD makes established parties look weak by aggressively pushing the boundaries of what can be said in the media. The AfD is rapidly changing German politics with their aggressive populist rhetoric in an effort to destabilize it. According to Kiess, they plan to get rid of the Euro currency, prohibit immigration, remove Angela Merkel from power, and leave the EU. All of these goals are extremely ambitious, but the AfD is an extremist party after all.

Similar to the AfD, ambitious and aggressive politicians around the world running on the platform of extremist ideology are gaining momentum. They have adopted a new persuasive rhetoric that takes advantage of the people’s fears and manipulates them to get elected. This situation occurred in the United States with Donald Trump, in the UK with Brexit, through the movements of far-right nationalist and populist parties in Italy, and it almost occurred in France with Marie Le Pen. These political upsets have in part been affected by Russia’s cyber campaigns, and all of these rising populists have a common goal: aiming to win elections by destabilizing democracy.

Global economic crises have shown that capitalism and democracy have their limits, opening up a window of opportunity for new leaders to emerge and question the legitimacy of our current political systems. Nationalist and populist forces are on the rise and rapidly gaining momentum, leaving in question if democracies can survive this new outbreak.

When posed with a question regarding Germany’s future and the future of democracy, Kiess only shook his head in despair and got up to get a beer.

In my opinion, if the German people do nothing to stop this populist movement, it will only continue to get stronger and threaten democracy around the world. The people must organize and fight this evil together, or it will overcome them.