In seeking to ensure a permanent radical-right stamp on US governance and society, the US Republican Party (a.k.a the ‘Grand Old Party’ or GOP) has become even more radical right than during the Trump presidency. GOP congress members now openly proclaim credentials and behave in ways that are barely distinguishable from those of the far right, whether in the US or abroad (e.g. AfD, Fidesz, Jobbik, PiS). The continuing threat by Trump to get himself elected again in 2024 encourages boldness in his GOP supporters. The prospect of a ‘Trump 2.0’ regime, as a thinly-disguised elected dictatorship and an illiberal pseudo-democracy enveloping the US, will soon become an existential threat with a high likelihood of becoming reality emboldening supporters to further anti-democratic action. However, countries with prospective and actual radical-right regimes vary, and few are yet at a stage where the influence of radical-right propaganda is as strong as it is in the US.
Against relevant contexts and evidence, this article will examine four projected scenarios for how radical-right influence in nominally democratic countries might develop, and consider which, in general terms, is most likely to occur based on current information.
Projected Scenarios for Radical-Right Influence
Scenario 1: Status Quo Maintained
Despite some electoral successes, the inability of the radical right in many countries to retain seats and expand its elected representation may result in its remaining a fragmented, minority movement memorable only for noisy protests and controversial rhetoric, albeit harbouring hate mongers and violent elements. Nevertheless, dyed-in-the-wool radical-right politicians, protagonists, supporters and sympathisers will remain, and their determination to achieve radical-right ‘successes’ would be undiminished (e.g. anti-abortion law, anti-gun control, anti-vax, anti-Covid controls, anti-immigration, ethnic and religious discrimination, anti-social welfare).
In addition, the current characteristics of, and level and extent of interactions between, on the one hand, some corporations, institutions, and their leaders and, on the other, radical-right political interests (including agencies and intermediaries) would continue. A minority of corporate and institutional leaders predisposed, either ideologically and/or psychologically, to adopt an authoritarian style and/or radical-right ideas would continue to do so. Individual and corporate donations in the US (whether directly or via trusts and foundations) to radical-right organisations, causes, and activities would remain at their current levels estimated conservatively to exceed US$1.3bn per annum in the US, with asset values exceeding US$10bn. The 2021 paper in Social Policy by ben Asher and Bat Sarah reveals the intensity of the networks involved in the US. These networks are facilitated greatly by online platforms, and especially the commercially-motivated Internet and social media giants. In many respects, the apparent hegemony of these giants (with annual revenues totalling more than US$250bn) in the promulgation of far-right and extremist propaganda and hate messages is but a part of the wider threat from emerging and disruptive technologies (EDTs), cognitive warfare, and psycho-political warfare that operates at multiple levels (Reding and Eaton, 2020).
Populist support would continue at current levels, which vary from country to country. For example, in the UK, estimates have put such support at no more than 5% of the electorate (as evidenced by the low votes for unequivocally radical-right electoral candidates and their sparse successes). However, such low (apparent) support masks a wider, more insidious and nuanced radical-right thinking in British society and government, as evidenced by the Boris Johnson’s unapologetic support for a number of his Cabinet Office advisers who had expressed opinions supporting extreme radical-right views (e.g. Dominic Cummings (Waring 2021, 52-57), Chloe Westley, Andrew Sabisky, and Will O’Shea).
In contrast, in the politically polarised US, approximately 50% of voters are prepared to support the Republican Party (as evidenced in both the 2016 and 2020 votes for President Trump). While not all elected GOP politicians are radicals, a significant number are and have succeeded in gaining dominant control of the party. It is unclear whether the majority of Republican voters realise and endorse the fact that the GOP’s political centre of gravity has shifted in recent years markedly to the right and now encompasses ideology and policies more in tune with the far right than with ‘one nation’ conservatism.
Scenario 2: Gradual Incrementalism in Authoritarian Control
A slow rightward societal drift may occur and entrenchment into an illiberal democracy in some countries, relying on determined radical-right candidates, entryist infiltration of mainstream parties (for example, radical-right infiltration of the UK Conservative Party by UKIP, Brexit/Reform Party and other far-right supporters), weak mainstream candidates, and populist radical-right voters. In line with this general and almost imperceptible solidification and normalisation of a radical-right tenor to civil and political governance (i.e. illiberal democracy and elected dictatorships, as in Brazil and Hungary), a similar drift may occur towards a wider prevalence of authoritarianism in institutions, corporations and society at large.
If Trump had been re-elected as US President in November 2020, this scenario would likely be more evident now than if the Democrat (Joe Biden) had been elected. Trump’s re-election would have encouraged and emboldened like-minded radical-right political and corporate interests in such countries as Brazil, Britain, Germany, Hungary, Italy, and Poland, whose extant governments are either radical-right or increasingly influenced by radical-right ideology (see Bevelander & Wodak 2019 on European trends). Nevertheless, even without Trump’s 2020 election, creeping radical-right authoritarianism in the US has become self-evident throughout 2021. For example, Republican controlled states (such as Texas) have forced through hard-line radical-right ideology in the form of repressive legislation targeting particular groups (e.g. removal of historic Roe v. Wade abortion rights and refusal to implement federal public health policy requirements to counter the Covid-19 pandemic). In ‘small town America’, the discriminatory statements and diktats of local GOP administrations, on such topics as the civil rights of minorities, minority voting rights, gun control, and impartial delivery of policing, have even taken on a secessionist tenor. For example, Professor Leonard Weinberg has reported that some sheriffs in Nevada have asserted that they have the right to override federal government policy, decisions and directives.
A number of large US corporations are reported to be supporting Texas employees who fall foul of its anti-abortion laws imposed by state Republicans. For example, Salesforce is reported to be offering employees in Texas assistance to relocate to company jobs in other states, if they are sufficiently concerned about the Texas Heartbeat Act (the 2021 anti-abortion legislation negating the Roe v. Wade abortion rights). Other large employers are also reported to offer legal assistance for any abortion-related civil actions in Texas against employees (e.g. Lyft, Uber) or funds to go out of state for an abortion (e.g. Match Group). Texas-style creeping authoritarianism may add pressure towards an eventual cleavage of US states into two distinct groups (see below).
Scenario 3: Crisis Opportunism for Rapid Harshening of Authoritarian Climate
A major crisis, or multiple major crises, affecting for example society, economy, employment, trade, national security, public order, or public health, may result in the crisis being used by radical-right administrations as an opportunistic pretext to engage in ever more draconian authoritarianism. In a federal state such as the US, where political control of individual state administrations and legislatures takes precedence, such opportunism is highly likely to be grasped by GOP zealots. Examples of such crises include: pandemics, economic recession, trade wars, international or regional conflicts, mass migration, and even attempted far-right coups.
The precipitate and abject ‘Retreat from Kabul’ withdrawal by the US of all its security and stabilisation forces from Afghanistan in August 2021 after 20 years, and its abandonment of the country to the predations of international terrorists, signalled beyond doubt that the doctrine of US exceptionalism had expired, despite the likelihood that its ‘for ever’ fantasy will continue in the minds of many. Such a humiliating trashing of the all-powerful US image creates an opportunity for the radical right to present themselves via the GOP as the ‘saviours of American honour’ – a salvationist departure from the allegedly failed multi-lateral ideology and policies of the Democrats and one that will ensure a ‘Fortress America’, ‘America First’ and an end to foreign adventures and assistance. A number of writers have also noted radical-right opportunism in relation to the Covid-19 pandemic, for example, Christou (2020a; 2020b), Volk (2020), Weinberg (2020a, 2020b) and such authors in Waring (2021a) as Denis Fischbacher-Smith, Vasiliki Tsagkroni, and Antony Vass have all noted how the radical-right has engaged in mixed attempts to seize on popular misgivings around Covid-19.
In extreme circumstances, a crisis could lead to rapid collapse of current democratic order and opportunistic takeover of some provincial (or even national) governments by radical-right elements, possibly involving armed force, and leading to pseudo-democracy or dictatorship. This possibility became glaringly evident when Trump refused to concede defeat in the 2020 US presidential election and made concerted efforts in November and December 2020 and into January 2021 to stay in power regardless of the election result. The angry histrionics and intimidating tactics by frequently armed pro-Trump radical-right protestors across the US during the election campaigning, including the far-right Proud Boys whom Trump exhorted to “stand by”, amounted to a thinly veiled threat of potential insurrection unless Trump were re-elected. Coupled with Trump’s initial refusal to acknowledge the handover of power to the officially declared new President, his machinations to damage and thwart the incoming Biden administration, and his orchestration of potential or actual violence by armed supporters intent on forcing authorities to back them, came perilously close to a coup. His ‘dog whistle’ orchestration of the mob attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021 speaks for itself, and his impeachment authorised by Congress on January 13, 2021 for inciting insurrection, were almost a logical progression for who many regard as a megalomaniacal despot. Indeed, before this, he is reported to have seriously contemplated during an Oval Office strategy meeting on December 18, 2020 a declaration of martial law to impose a second term as president, as urged by former national security adviser and retired General Michael Flynn, and legal adviser Sydney Powell, who were present. A highly controversial advocate of radical-right ideology and a QAnon conspiracy theory devotee, Flynn also aired the suggestion publicly on TV.
This unprecedented ‘banana republic’ conduct overall by a US President and his radical-right entourage and caucus within the GOP, including his sustained baseless attacks on the integrity of the electoral system, severely damaged not only his own credibility and legitimacy but also the reputation and standing of US democracy, at home and abroad. No longer would the US be entitled to lecture foreign regimes about their lack of democratic credentials. The ‘land of the free and the brave’ looked increasingly like the ‘land of the right-wing bully and the cowed’, and no longer the world’s leading democracy.
Although Trump and his supporters were eventually defeated in their hoped-for coup in January 2021, they and fellow travellers have not disappeared. Such far-right militias as the Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, the Three Percenters, the Boogaloo Bois/Boys, Gun Owners for Trump, and many more, continue to flourish. Without robust counter-action, their threat may well resurface and such developments in the US, especially if involving GOP collusion, might even result eventually in secession in the form of two different confederacies, styled here and earlier (Waring 2018, pp. 420-421) as the Confederation of Liberal Progressive States and the Confederation of Nationalist Conservative States. The recent repressive predations of the GOP state governance of Texas, and the flight of citizens (many with the support of national employers) to other more liberal states or Canada, may be a foretaste of such a schism unless such policies can be reversed and also stopped more widely in other states (e.g. voter suppression by Republican legislation and officials in Alabama, Georgia, North Carolina, Ohio, and Wisconsin). Whether an apocalyptic homeland event (including radical-right insurrection and coup) might force a rapid break-up of the extant United States of America, or whether the US remains in a constant debilitating state of aggravated but inconclusive social and political turmoil engulfing ‘the radical right’ versus ‘liberal progressives’, remains to be seen. According to Leonard Weinberg, the very US constitutional structures and protocols designed to curb, if not thwart, demagogue presidents ironically have failed in recent years and have created conditions not dissimilar to those that led to the American Civil War.
Accentuated by pressures arising from crises that affect most or all sectors, populations in particular countries may become increasingly polarised. On the one hand, authoritarian power wielders in government, the Establishment, and some corporations, will be backed both by other organisations fearful of being penalised for not accepting authoritarian policies, and by a cowed and increasingly compliant populace fearing uncertainty, unemployment, and reduced living standards more than curbs on democratic rights and freedoms. Such competing fears have been clearly evident in a period of sudden very high unemployment and sharp economic recession resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic. In such a context, short-term perceived self-interest may eclipse moral imperatives among the population and, as noted above, the radical right are likely to seize on the political opportunity such vulnerability presents. For example, during the deeply polarised 2020 presidential election campaigns in Poland, such inducements included increases to pensions and benefits, coupled with openly pro-government, anti-immigrant, and anti-minorities propaganda issued via public broadcast channels by the ruling radical-right PiS [Law and Justice] Party (see e.g. Balcer, chapter 9 of Bevelander & Wodak 2019). In the 2021 run-up to elections in Hungary, the incumbent radical-right President Viktor Orbàn promised electors a $1.4bn payback of income tax, an increase in the minimum wage, and home renovation grants. The point at which legitimate inducements become naked bribes to perpetuate unwholesome, or even egregious and draconian, regimes is worthy of further debate.
Scenario 4: Radical Right in Decline
Although unlikely, it is possible that radical-right ideology may reach a point beyond which it ceases to become strengthened, plateaus, and then suffers substantive decline. Although there is always likely to be a hard core of radical-right supporters in a population, electoral support is volatile and unpredictable, especially for populist radical-right parties. Populist sympathisers and supporters typically enthuse over parties that pander to their prejudices and offer (or appear to offer) ‘quick-fix salvation’ solutions to their contemporary fears and anxieties. However, as soon as these parties fail to deliver such salvation, or if their policies begin to appear a liability in other ways, they are likely to be quickly deserted by erstwhile supporters. Examples include: the rapid post-2016 collapse of UKIP (Waring 2019, 112) and its derivative Brexit Party in the 2019 general election, the rapid demise of the Austrian FPŐ following the 2019 collapse of the FPŐ-ŐVP coalition [triggered by the Strache bribery scandal], the further decline of the FPŐ in 2020 relating to its Covid-19 policy and “the fact that the corona virus has exposed the poverty of the FPŐ’s program”, and the diminution of the Italian radical-right Lega party’s power following the collapse of its coalition government with the 5 Star MSP populist party.
For other radical-right rulers or ruling parties, it is too early to predict how they will fare in the short-term. For example: Will Trump continue to be a wunderkind figurehead for the radicalised Republican Party? Will Boris Johnson’s radical-right Conservative government in the UK survive the economic consequences of the ‘triple whammy’ of the Covid-19 recession, the consequences of Brexit, and the NHS/social care crisis? Will Bolsonaro’s radical-right government in Brazil remain popular following the uncontrolled Covid-19 impact on public health and the economy, made worse by his sustained cavalier dismissal of the virus as a serious health threat?
However, substantive and perseverant electoral setbacks for the radical-right do not necessarily mean that their political parties or entities will disappear. Hard-core members and supporters are likely to remain intact, waiting for new opportunities to gain political traction and power. An example of this are observations on Salvini’s likely fight back following the setbacks of Italy’s radical-right Lega party in 2019. Whether this is likely to happen, we’ll have to wait and see.
Any prognosis for the radical right needs to consider both relevant historical contexts and new contexts and factors that will continue to influence the phenomenon (for example, Covid-19 impact and ramifications; dissemination via uncontrolled Internet and social media platforms of radical-right hate material, fake news, fake facts and fake conspiracy theories; threats to US exceptionalism sparking radical-right reaction; migration fears fuelling nativist and nationalist prejudicial agendas; ethno-religious supremacists stirring up social strife).
Reflecting on the four posited scenarios, I conclude that, in the present and short-term context of multiple crises, the most likely development overall is not clear-cut. It is, however, possible that Scenario 2 (Gradual Incrementalism in Authoritarian Control) will progress to Scenario 3 (Crisis Opportunism for Rapid Harshening of Authoritarian Climate). A lot will depend on which country is being considered and whether both current and unknown future crises are effectively dealt with by mainstream governments (thereby denying the radical right opportunities for offering salvation and threatening disruption, if not violence or even insurrection). In the US in particular, President Biden will try to follow Scenario 1 and roll back, if possible, the authoritarian excesses of the previous Trump administration, but if he fails to obliterate the Covid-19 crisis inherited from Trump, rejuvenate the economy, and enact a Democrat agenda, then Trump or a similar radical-right Republican could well regain the Presidency in 2024 and possibly 2028. In such a development, Scenario 2 would immediately follow Biden’s departure and may accelerate to Scenario 3, depending on any future crises that an authoritarian US administration could exploit. Scenario 4 (Radical Right in Decline) is the least likely. However, my conclusion is speculative, and new developments may intervene that may significantly alter this.
 In Waring 2021 (pages 465-470), the author suggests four potential primary scenarios for future development of radical-right influence.
Dr Alan Waring is a Policy and Practitioner Fellow at CARR and is a retired risk analyst and former Visiting Professor, now Adjunct Professor, at CERIDES (Centre for Risk and Decision Sciences) at the European University Cyprus. He is author of several books on risk, including editing and contributing to the three-volume anthology The New Authoritarianism (2018; 2019; 2021 Ibidem Verlag). See full profile here.
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