In the past several years, elections throughout the world have deeply changed the ideological leanings on several continents. Europe and the United States have increasingly shifted to the right, with populist nationalists growing in power at the same time as left-wing parties have weakened. Latin America has bucked this trend in what likely amounts to a second “pink tide” in this century as leftist leaders have succeeded right-wing presidents.
Latin America is in a period of redefinition, trying to determine the path that it wants to take while simultaneously selecting foreign allies traditionally excluded from Latin American politics. Europe and America are in a similar stage of self-reflection, though on the opposite side of the ideological spectrum. Both regions share the notion of creating countries for their own people, leading to anti-immigrant sentiments in Europe and America and the rejection of unwelcome foreign influence in Latin America.
France’s National Rally directly challenged President Emmanuel Macron in the last two elections. The United Kingdom is having a conservative reckoning in the wake of national and party turbulence. In Italy, a neo-fascist party holds the most seats in Parliament, with its Giorgia Meloni as prime minister. The far-right Sweden Democrats won the second-most seats in the Riksdag, the Swedish parliament, though they are not officially part of the governing coalition. In the U.S., Donald J. Trump won the presidency in 2016, riding a wave of right-wing populism into the White House. And the party of autocratic Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Fidesz, has a supermajority in the National Assembly.
Latin America has done almost the exact opposite. Mexico elected its first leftist president in decades, and Bolivia’s left has returned after being ousted during political turmoil. Xiomara Castro became Honduras’s first female leader, ending a 12-year conservative streak in power initiated by a U.S.-backed coup that ousted Ms. Castro’s husband, Manuel Zelaya, in 2009. Peru rejected familial conservatism and Chile elected a youthful student activist. Colombia elected its first leftist president in Gustavo Petro, a former M-19 guerrilla fighter. Brazil’s former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva overcame Jair Bolsonaro after being freed from prison on corruption charges by a Supreme Federal Court ruling.
All three regions are seeking to redefine their identities, but they are experimenting on how to forge the path to the ideal nation on the polar wings of the ideological spectrum.
Right: Europe and America
Europe and the United States have started a gradual march to the right, with an emphasis on nationalism and the rejection of immigration to preserve a tailored vision of the perfect country. In some countries, like Hungary, this rightward shift is not a new occurrence; rather, it is a continuation of national politics. But in others, like Sweden, the rise of right-wing powers represents a shift in the national psyche that has the potential to shape national politics for years into the future.
The economic ideals that go along with neoliberalism unite the right wing of these countries, yet there is a deeper social understanding that has grown with recent global events, largely focusing on immigration, that brings conservatives together on a much more fundamental level.
France’s right-wing became a national force, albeit a relatively weak one, with the formation of the National Front for French Unity (FN; Front national pour l’unité française in French) by Jean-Marie Le Pen in 1972. This party was strongly anti-communist and anti-immigration, prioritizing French workers above all else. After low-level political involvement, the FN advanced to the second round of the 2002 presidential election, beating the Socialist Party (PS; Parti socialiste in French) by 0.7 percent of the vote. In the final round, Mr. Le Pen lost to incumbent Jacques Chirac by a staggering margin of 82 to 18 percent.
After Mr. Le Pen, his daughter Marine Le Pen assumed leadership of the party, who sought to “de-demonize” the FN by dropping its support for the resumption of capital punishment, the rejection of the European Union (EU), and the return to the franc from the euro as the national currency. As part of this rebranding, Ms. Le Pen changed the name of the party from National Front to National Rally (RN; Rassemblement National in French) in 2018.
Ms. Le Pen advanced to the final round of both the 2017 and 2022 presidential elections against Emmanuel Macron. Though she lost in both elections, Ms. Le Pen markedly improved the RN’s performance, cutting a 30-point deficit in half for her second campaign. In Parliament, the RN won 82 seats, an extraordinary gain that underscores the growing palatability of a far-right party.
Ms. Le Pen has espoused anti-Semitic and Islamophobic views since the dawn of her career, yet this has not weakened her trajectory in French politics. By harnessing white French fears of being replaced by immigrants, Ms. Le Pen is trying to mobilize an agitated base to maintain the right-wing momentum that has elevated the National Rally from a fringe party to a national force until the 2027 elections. The tide has turned in her favor, and with new faces leading the movement, France’s far-right has the potential to win big in the near future.
The United Kingdom has had a Conservative prime minister since 2010 with David Cameron. Through the five Conservative premierships, the UK has undergone a tremendous political transformation. The most notable example is Brexit, initiated by Theresa May who succeeded Mr. Cameron after he resigned in response to a referendum supporting the British quitting of the European Union. A complex timeline of events muddied Brexit, ushering in a third prime minister, Boris Johnson, to complete the UK’s transition out of the EU, which was finally achieved on January 31, 2020.
In hindsight, a majority of Britons believe Brexit was the wrong decision. Brexit caused significant damage to British economy and pound and underscored rifts between Scotland and Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, with the former two countries voting to remain in the EU.
Besides Brexit, scandal has enveloped recent Conservative prime ministers, with Mr. Johnson resigning in the wake of numerous scandals, both personal and ministerial, and his successor, Elizabeth Truss, resigning after several poor economic policy decisions. Despite having a new Conservative prime minister in Rishi Sunak, the United Kingdom has failed to let its people determine the direction of the country in order to keep the Conservatives in power.
The United Kingdom has not had a sudden shift to right like other European countries, but the failures of its Conservative leadership serve as a cautionary tale for countries that may look to the United Kingdom for domestic political guidance.
Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy (FdI; Fratelli d’Italia in Italian) was the only opponent to former Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s national unity government, which dissolved in July 2022. Despite Italy’s Constitution expressly prohibiting fascism in the wake of Benito Mussolini’s fall in World War II, a party with fascist roots has come to power. To be fair, Ms. Meloni has sought to distance herself from this past and is not as isolationist as some of her allies: Unlike right-wing League (Lega in Italian) leader Matteo Silvio and former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, Ms. Meloni has supported Ukraine in its war with Russia and rejected the questioning of sanctions against Russia.
Ms. Meloni’s support for a strong Europe is a double-edged sword, though, manifesting itself in a strongly anti-immigrant platform that parallels those of other right-wing populist parties around the globe. She has called for a naval blockade against immigrants partially in response to the 2015 refugee crisis in which 1.3 million mostly Syrian refugees sought asylum in Europe. Her hard anti-immigrant line corresponds to her support for the “great replacement,” the notion that “replacist” elites are diluting the electorate by encouraging immigration that would be beneficial for their party. This white supremacist trope has sprung up across Europe (it originated in France) and has traveled across the Atlantic Ocean and taken hold in far-right wings of the American Republican Party.
Now governing the eurozone’s third-largest economy, Ms. Meloni has advocated deep tax cuts at a time of clear economic uncertainty and seeks to regress Italian social ideas with her traditionalist family values. Ms. Meloni has previously expressed euroskeptic ideas, though she softened some of these to become prime minister, mostly notably in her support of Ukraine. Nonetheless, her anti-European Union partners and her own Italian hypernationalism threaten to weaken the bloc further.
Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson of the Swedish Social Democratic Party resigned in September 2022 following the achievement of a right-wing majority in the Riksdag, Sweden’s Parliament. The new government, holding 176 of 349 seats in the Riksdag with Moderate Ulf Kristersson as prime minister, formed the Tidö Agreement between four center-right and right-wing parties, laying out the policy positions of the new government.
One of the members of this agreement, the Sweden Democrats (SD; Sverigedemokraterna in Swedish) led by Jimmie Åkesson, is the most extreme right of Sweden’s major political parties, and it won the second-most seats in the most recent election. While not officially part of the governing coalition, the other three member parties in the majority (the Moderate Party, the Christian Democrats, and the Liberals) have agreed to work with the far-right Sweden Democrats, threatening the human rights of noncitizens. The SD’s rise underscores the failing of cordon sanitaire in Sweden, which had refused to cooperate with the far-right party for decades.
Previously, the SD rejected Sweden’s place in NATO and the EU, though these positions have been walked back. Much like France’s National Rally and Italy’s Brothers of Italy, the Sweden Democrats are staunchly anti-immigrant, citing a rise in crime and gun violence as proof of a failed immigration system. After an influx of immigrants in the 2015 refugee crisis, Sweden has shifted its worldview to a more Sweden-centric position, rejecting the positives of welcoming immigrants. Changing demographics unite the European right as it seeks to create a more “pure” version of its countries by limiting immigration and focusing on domestic problems.
The United States has also experimented in right-wing populism as a reaction to the two-term presidency of Barack Obama. The election of Donald J. Trump in 2016 was, in part, the work of the Tea Party movement, a fiscally conservative faction of the Republican Party. Mr. Trump succeeded in making the Supreme Court of the United States historically conservative with a 6–3 supermajority as a result of the confirmations of Mr. Trump’s three nominees, Justices Neil M. Gorsuch, Brett M. Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barrett.
Mr. Trump has eroded democratic norms by seeking to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential elections, culminating in the January 6, 2021 Capitol insurrection. Despite these efforts, American conservatism is not an unstoppable force. The 2022 midterm elections failed to bring about a red wave due to America’s sudden shift to the far right, with the aftermath of the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization and the Republican embrace of extreme candidates leading to a small Republican victory in the midterms.
America’s right-wing movement is in a state of self-reflection as it considers the place of Mr. Trump in the movement as well as the effects of this midterm; regardless, American conservatism is not out of the political equation.
Unlike the other countries in this right-wing list, Hungary has maintained a streak of conservatism since Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s return to the premiership in 2010, which made him the longest-serving Hungarian prime minister in the modern era. In the 2022 elections, Mr. Orbán’s far-right Fidesz party won a supermajority in the National Assembly for a fourth time, granting them the unilateral ability to amend the constitution.
Much like the proposed tax cuts of Italy’s Ms. Meloni, Mr. Orbán wants to cut income taxes, which has the potential to weaken the government’s ability to carry out its policies. And while many other European countries tightened their immigration policies in the wake of the 2015 immigration surge, Hungary shiftly reacted to the rise in immigration by erecting a 325-mile barrier along its border with Serbia.
Hungary represents one of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin’s last major ally in Europe, which has prompted the EU to cut €7.5 billion in funds for Hungary in an effort to further isolate Russia for its invasion of Ukraine. Mr. Orbán originally turned his back on Russia at the start of the war, but he has moved to prioritize national interests over those of the broader European community.
Mr. Orbán’s Hungary represents the threat of continuing illiberal democracy in Europe as he has curtailed civil freedoms such as speech and the press that have the potential to weaken his grip on power. Hungary is the precursor to the rest of Europe’s shift towards the right, and Mr. Orbán’s political consistency demonstrates that European rightism is not going away anytime soon.
Left: Latin America
Latin America is undergoing a period of self-reflection like that of the United States and Europe. Yet the histories of its countries and their previous experiences with foreign influence have led these countries to soundly reject right-wing politics in favor of leftist social democracy.
Where America and European countries see failure in social liberalism, Latin America sees opportunity. Even in the countries that have experimented with right-wing politicians, most notably with Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, they have moved to reject further strength of the right by bringing in a second “pink tide” movement that would revitalize their economies and societies. With the 2010s conservative wave defeated, the Latin American left is preparing to implement their policies that would enshrine their progressive ideals in the body politic.
São Paulo Forum
São Paulo Forum (FSP), a Latin American and Caribbean left-wing conference, was launched by the Workers’ Party (PT; Partido dos Trabalhadores in Brazilian Portuguese) of Brazil in 1990 São Paulo. With the purpose of determining alternatives to the neoliberalism that was beginning to take hold in the political minds of the world, the Forum wrote the Declaration of São Paulo to combat foreign hegemony and create “a new concept of continental unity and integration.”
The FSP rejected the Washington Consensus, which laid out a 10-point plan for the economic development of emergent nations. While the Washington Consensus is not synonymous with neoliberalism, the FSP rejected it for essentially the same reason: It would limit the economic sovereignty of Latin American countries.
Starting in São Paulo, Latin America experienced its first “pink tide” in the beginning of the 21st century. With the recession of the conservative wave, it is in the midst of a second “pink tide” as countries seek to reassess their national ambitions in the political arena.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador was elected in 2018 as Mexico’s first leftist president in decades, riding a wave of populist angst against governmental corruption. Similar to right-wing European leaders’ rejection of globalization, Mr. López Obrador portrayed himself as someone fighting for Mexicans, not someone beholden to the interests of the global community.
Mr. López Obrador breaks from the right-wing similarity in that he has proposed and implemented various social welfare programs in response to the threats Mexico faces, including the Covid-19 pandemic and general poverty. But Mr. López Obrador’s plans to address the impacts of the pandemic have not proven successful: 5.2 million students dropped out of school during the pandemic, and the most recent governmental data shows 38.3 percent of Mexicans are living in poverty in 2022.
Mr. López Obrador appears to understand the gravity of the situation in which his country finds itself: He has committed to not raising the national debt and maintaining a close relationship with the United States, best demonstrated by 2020 trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada. But Mr. López Obrador has faulted the United States for exacerbating unrest in Cuba and sued U.S. gunmakers in an effort to stop weapons crossing the border to respond to a crime rate that has been growing since 2014.
Mr. López Obrador represents a generally even-keeled leftist president in Latin America, and while some of his policies have stirred controversy, he is a leader that illustrates the potential of leftist power in Latin America.
Bolivia saw a left-wing president in 2006 after the election of Evo Morales, the first Indigenous president of Bolivia, who founded the Movement to Socialism (MAS; Movimiento al Socialismo in Spanish) in 1998. Mr. Morales prioritized fighting racial and economic inequality, a socially-based campaign as opposed to current Bolivian President Luis Arce’s economy-based platform.
Mr. Arce’s ascension to the presidency was predicated by the 2019 political crisis in which Mr. Morales was ousted because of U.S.-backed rumors that he fraudulently won the 2019 election. In the ensuing political vacuum, Jeanine Áñez, then-vice president of the Senate, proclaimed that she was the legal successor of Mr. Morales and governed Bolivia with strong anti-Indigenous policies. Her reasoning for taking over control of the country’s government was later rejected by the Tribunal Primero de Sentencia de La Paz, which sentenced her to 10 years in prison for illegally using the political system to achieve and maintain power.
After Ms. Áñez’s term, Mr. Arce focused on curbing what he views as excessive globalization and harmful capitalism in Bolivia. Bolivia’s government’s current ideological leanings were inadvertently caused by American fears of leftist power in Latin America, and Bolivia is not the only example in which countries’ electorates shifted to the left in response to foreign — and particularly American — influence.
In an almost direct parallel to the political occurrences of Bolivia, Honduras experienced a leftist president who was ousted by a U.S.-backed coup, which was then rejected and replaced by another leftist president who sought to champion domestic sovereignty. In 2009, then-President Manuel Zelaya was ousted in a coup d’état that was encouraged by the United States. Mr. Zelaya was replaced by two-term President Juan Orlando Hernández, who was later extradited to the U.S. for assisting in the trafficking of cocaine through Honduras into the United States.
After this 12-year period of political uncertainty, Hondurans soundly rejected U.S.-backed Honduran rightism in favor of Xiomara Castro, the wife of Mr. Zelaya. Ms. Castro of the left-wing Libre party is the first female leader of Honduras, an achievement secured through highest voter turnout since 1997 in the 2021 elections. Ms. Castro presents an opportunity to stabilize Honduran democracy after an extended period of political turmoil.
Peruvians rejected the potential renaissance of a neoliberal dictatorship in 2021 by electing socialist Pedro Castillo to the presidency. Mr. Castillo ran against Keiko Fujimori, whose father Alberto Fujimori served as president of Peru from 1990 to 2000 with an iron fist. Mr. Fujimori was sentenced to 25 years in prison for crimes against humanity during his rule, and while Ms. Fujimori is not her father, her policies were not popular enough among Peruvians to grant her the presidency.
While Ms. Fujimori tried to frame the choice between her and Mr. Castillo as a choice between “markets and Marxism,” this binary was rejected by voters in a stunningly close election that left Mr. Castillo on top. Ms. Fujimori baselessly claimed fraud, but these assertions were denied and Mr. Castillo was inaugurated as president.
Mr. Castillo has supported broad government programs to assist Peruvians pushed into poverty by the Covid-19 pandemic, a plan that he shares with many other Latin American leftist leaders. His ideas to address economic inequality through government assistance is a clear about-face for countries that had conservative leaders who rejected the role of government in the direct improvements of peoples’ lives.
Former student activist Gabriel Boric became Chile’s youngest president at age 35 following his election in December 2021. Chileans voted against far-right candidate José Antonio Kast, an ally of dictator Augusto Pinochet, and in favor of Mr. Boric by over 10 percentage points.
Mr. Boric is the most liberal president of Chile since Salvador Allende, who died by suicide following a 1973 military coup that ushered in a 17-year dictatorship. Chile’s politics, like those of the United States, have been defined by an action-reaction loop, with the election of a liberal politician followed by their removal and replacement by an aggressive far-right ruler.
Mr. Boric proposed a new constitution that would have enshrined gender equality, environmental protections, and Indigenous rights in a document that would replace the current Pinochet-era one. However, this 388 article and 57 transitional clause constitution was rejected by a referendum, which determined that it was too utopian and unable to pragmatically address the challenges faced by everyday Chileans.
In its rejection of the United States and turn towards more regional powers, Chile has also sought to create a deeper economic relationship with China, though there are risks of the development of a state of dependence on China, which could mean China would simply replace the U.S. as foreign influencer.
Chile, much like the rest of Latin America, is in a state of fundamental change. If the left wants to stay in power in Chile, Mr. Boric must prove that his goals are not so lofty that they cannot be attained. He must help those he promised to assist to prove that even without an expansive constitution, he can legally obtain the victories Chile needs to progress.
While Chile experienced a left-wing resurgence, Colombia experienced its birth. The first leftist president of this country, Gustavo Petro, defeated Rodolfo Hernández Suárez, who was backed by outgoing President Iván Duque. As his running mate, Mr. Petro selected Francia Márquez, who became Colombia’s first Afro-Colombian vice president.
Mr. Duque was confronted with widespread protests against his economic policies, including a proposed decrease in the minimum wage, which quickly devolved into an extended period of violence. These protests eventually died down as Mr. Duque’s term came to an end, and Mr. Petro launched a grassroots campaign to harness the energy behind the nationwide protests to achieve victory at the polls.
Mr. Petro has focused on environmentalism, vowing to combat climate change by transitioning Colombia’s energy consumption completely to renewable sources. (Colombia already relies on hydropower alone for approximately 68 percent of its energy needs.)
Colombia’s first leftist president, a former M-19 guerrilla member, will have to unify a country divided by economic disparities, but his advocacy for government programs that directly address such issues would surely be a piece in equation to address systemic inequality.
Former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva emerged victorious in a race against incumbent far-right President Jair Bolsonaro in October 2022. Mr. Lula was previously imprisoned for 580 days on allegations of corruption, though these charges were eventually annulled by the Supreme Court.
Mr. Bolsonaro was elected during the conservative wave sandwiched in between the first and current “pink tides.” He prioritized so-called personal liberty during the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 690,000 Brazilians. He also ignored the importance of the Amazon rainforest by permitting record deforestation, something that Mr. Lula has promised to rectify.
Mr. Bolsonaro focused on the economic success of business, while Mr. Lula has committed to improving the lives of those in the lowest socioeconomic class. He has advocated for Congress to exempt the poorest from income taxes, a softer parallel to Hungarian Viktor Orbán’s plan to get rid of the income tax writ large. Mr. Lula has also vowed to repeal Mr. Bolsonaro’s policies that have harmed the Amazon to counter climate change, much like Mr. Petro of Colombia.
With a record number of votes cast in this presidential election, Mr. Lula defeated Mr. Bolsonaro by 1.8 percent of the vote. This small margin encouraged Mr. Bolsonaro and his supporters to assert — without evidence — that the election had been stolen from Mr. Bolsonaro. Previously, Mr. Bolsonaro stated that the only way he could lose the election was through voter fraud or hacking, setting up the protests that have emerged throughout Brazil in the wake of the election.
Tens of thousands of pro-Bolsonaro Brazilians have protested throughout the country, blocking roadways and, in some cases, advocating for a military junta in line with the last dictatorship that lasted 20 years until 1985. After 45 hours of silence, Mr. Bolsonaro came out and agreed to a transition of power, though he did not concede the election, much like Donald J. Trump’s refusal to acknowledge the legitimate election of Joseph R. Biden in the United States. While the protests have been largely nonviolent, Mr. Bolsonaro has a duty to call on his protestors not just to stop blocking highways, but to accept Mr. Lula as the legal president of Brazil come inauguration day on January 1, 2023.
Europe, the United States, and Latin America are in a period of national redefinition. While Europe is now experimenting with right-wing, nationalist government in response to domestic and regional problems, the United States is examining its quick turn both toward and away from the populist rightism personified in former President Trump. Latin America, having already experienced several cycles of rightist and leftist governance, has broadly turned back toward leftist leaders to guide its countries through a likely perilous future.
Each of the countries outlined wants to forge its own path without the influence of outside forces. These forces are defined in the right wing of Europe and the United States as immigrants who threaten to corrupt what rightist politicians see as the ideal vision for their countries, while Latin America sees this force as primarily American influence in backing (or creating) right-wing governments because of an American fear of leftism.
Now that all six of Latin America’s largest economies are governed by leftist leaders, the Latin American left has the clear opportunity to prove that progressivism can defeat conservatism. The right wing of Europe and the United States would like to prove the exact opposite. In all likelihood, however, this episode of global ideological division is one section of a shift in political ideals around the globe. The success of these movements in this moment will define the direction of national and international politics, creating the political crusades of the future.