NEW YORK—On a visit to the United States in the aftermath of the US presidential election, German politician Ralf Fücks said it’s time to take seriously the concerns of people now turning to right-wing populism, whether they’re Donald Trump voters in the United States or fans of Germany’s National-Democratic Party. “We need to change our tone, stop attacking these people and label[ing] them as ‘fascists.’ But we have to do it without giving up on our values and ideas.”
Fücks spoke at NYU’s Center for European and Mediterranean Studies on Tuesday. The talk, moderated by Christian Martin (Max Weber Chair at New York University), was announced prior to the election of Donald Trump as 45th president of the United States. Fücks, a member of the German Green Party, former mayor of Bremen and co-president of the Heinrich Böll Foundation, was expected to discuss the future of the West and of transatlantic relations, but he focused on populism and the turn Western politics have taken recently.
While right-wing populism has become more popular in several European countries, Germany’s National-Democratic Party, a right-wing, nationalist party often associated with neo-Nazism, remains an outsider in the national political scene, said Fücks. “Right-wing populism is still a marginal phenomenon in Germany, as a result of the ‘lessons learned’ by the country.”
“Donald Trump, just as Marine Le Pen in France, has become the hero of the white working class,” said Fücks. “The liberal parties in the United States and the social democratic parties in Europe have changed in the past 20 years; they have now become the parties of the public sector and the academic professionals,” said Fücks. “Right-wing parties promise to shield the national economy and protect it from the global market.”
The politician explained that part of the current right-wing ideology revolves around protectionism: protecting the nation from whatever is foreign. He said that the right-wing sees immigrants—who may be willing to work for less pay—as a threat to the wages of native workers.
“This protectionism reminds me of the European Fascist movements of the twenties and the thirties,” said Fücks, who feels we’re experiencing a revival of ideas from the European totalitarian regimes of the 20th century. In Fascist Italy, imports were strictly controlled and the society and economy were “protected” by the government from any foreign influences.
A significant difference between the United States and Germany today, he said, is the role of the media. Climate change and the need for an energy transition process are not disputed issues in the German media, for instance.
Fücks stressed the need to counter the anti-globalization sentiments that populist parties express. He believes that the cultural ties between countries, such as partnerships and joint projects, are strong enough to counter what he called an “anti-modernization” movement. The German Green Party is trying to educate teachers on how to deal with right-wing school kids; it also supports civil society initiatives that work with right-wing young adults.
“We have to leave our bubble,” he concluded. “We need to listen to them.”