If I’m ever missing America while abroad, I can always turn to the Danish news cycle to feel at home.
“We follow the American elections so closely because they’re actually more important for Denmark than the Danish elections!” my host mom laughs.
This November, this statement is truer than ever. Anyone studying abroad in Europe this semester has likely noticed that Europe’s political climate looks a lot like the U.S.’s right now. This is not a coincidence.
Europe faces remarkably similar pressures as the U.S.: unemployment, mass immigration, culture clashes, terrorism, identity crises – and, unsurprisingly, Europe has responded to these threats in much the same way the U.S. has the past 16 months.
Each country has seen membership in its right-wing nationalist party spike. In Denmark, there is the Danish People’s Party. In Sweden, the Sweden Democrats; in Norway, the Progress Party; in Finland, the Finns; in Germany, the Alternative; in Italy, the Northern League. Britain had the entire Brexit movement. Each of these parties has pinned economic troubles, job losses, crime, terrorism, and budget deficits on one group of people: immigrants.
Borders are closing in Europe. Sweden, for the first time since the creation of the Schengen area, has closed its southern border, preventing the entrance of refugees. Germany is reversing its once liberal asylum policies. Denmark is seeing spikes in violence between Danish nationals and those of foreign descent. Non-Western immigrants feel more and more unwelcome in Europe, and the loudest political groups engage in othering rhetoric. Britain has already defected from the EU over immigration, and several more threaten to follow in its footsteps.
Of course, many of these reactions stem from human nature and our need to scapegoat. It is overly simplistic to trace all the world’s problems to what is playing out in mainstream U.S. politics. However, as we’ve long taken pride in being the role models of the world, we now have to acknowledge what that means.
It means that this November, we are not just voting for a person, or even for a party. We are voting for a principle. The principle that this country, and this world, does not, and cannot, “other” a group of people. We do not, because we have a commitment to justice, and we cannot, because we know what can happen when we do. We remember the years 1939 to 1945, and, though we didn’t live through them, we have a pretty good idea of what led to WWII and the horrors of that period.
This election sends a message to the world that this is not the direction we’re heading. When European countries hold their next elections, the anti-immigration groups are going to have a lot of leverage if they can point to a successful American precedent for their rhetoric.