The West Moves to the Right

by Max Simpson ’10

Recently, the United States and countries in Europe moved toward the right end of the political spectrum. This shift has been primarily influenced by the global economic downturn, but this swing to the right varies on each end of the Atlantic. 

In the United States, most of the victors in the midterm elections won running on changing the government’s economic policies while avoiding most social issues. In Germany, the move to the right came to light after Chancellor Angela Merkel commented on multiculturalism while addressing members of the Christian Democratic Union party. Elsewhere in Europe, Swiss voters have supported a ban on minarets (the tall slender tower of an Islamic mosque), a far right party formed a ruling coalition in Vienna, the French protested the raise of the retirement age to 62, and England has enacted austerity measures that include increasing tuition in public universities to about $14,000 a year. 

“We kidded ourselves a while. We said: They won’t stay. Some time, they’ll be gone,” said Merkel. “But this isn’t reality, and of course the multicultural approach living side by side, being happy with each other, this approach has failed, utterly failed.” 

These comments were made shortly after a study found that over 30 percent of Germans felt that the country was “overrun by foreigners,” 13 percent would welcome a “Führer” to run the country with a firm hand, and 60 percent would be willing to “restrict the practice of Islam.” When Merkel referrs to multiculturalism, it is not the same as the diversity that is commonplace in the United States. In Germany and other European countries, there are millions of foreign workers who remain deliberately separated from the rest of society, do not attempt to assimilate and compete for jobs during the recession. 

This situation is far from the way immigrants have become successful in America. Over a century ago in the United States, the first generation of European immigrants often lived almost exclusively with people from the same nation, but subsequent generations assimilated, learned English, spread out and became more and more successful over time. In the United States, speaking out and making policies against legal immigration would not be well received or successful within the government. 

The midterm elections in the United States focused on the government’s influence on the economy rather than the effect of immigration on the availability of jobs and productivity. Although states like Arizona have taken stands on immigration, most candidates nationally focused on what they would do in Washington to help the economy recover. The Republican victories in November were less of an embrace of the Republicans and more a rejection of the Democratic policies of the last two years. In Europe, many governments are limiting their social programs in an effort to save the budget, and in nations like Germany the people are beginning to turn against the immigrant population. Over the next few years, the United States and Europe will be cutting back on the size of their governments, though issues with legal immigration are not likely to arise in America as they have across Europe.