Austria’s election is a warning to the West

Sylvie Kauffmann writes: On Monday, the Western world may well wake up to the news that, for the first time since the defeat of Nazism, a European country has democratically elected a far-right head of state. Norbert Hofer, of the Austrian Freedom Party, claimed 35 percent of the vote in the first round of the presidential election on April 24. Now he is heading into the second round on Sunday with the two mainstream parties having been eliminated from the runoff and the Social Democratic chancellor, Werner Faymann, having resigned.

One month later, Europeans may wake up to the news that British voters have decided, in their June 23 referendum, that their country should become the first member state to leave the European Union. Many observers fear that would be fatal to the European project itself.

And on April 24, 2017, exactly a year after Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory, the French may well wake up to the news that Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front, has come out on top in the first round of France’s presidential election. That is what polls say we could expect if the election were held today.

In the meantime, it is not impossible that Donald J. Trump, however low his odds seem now, will have moved into the White House.

These are not Orwellian scenarios. Signs of defiance toward the old democratic order are so numerous that the news of Mr. Hofer’s first-round victory hardly reached the front pages of European newspapers. Remember when the election of President Kurt Waldheim in the 1980s, or the antics by the Freedom Party leader Jörg Haider in the 1990s were considered deeply disturbing? That was last century. Today, Austria’s weird politics are no longer isolated. They are part of a solid trend across Europe.

And not just Europe. The trend reaches across the Atlantic, too, with Trumpism threatening to split or take over the Republican Party. [Continue reading…]

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