There is a tendency at the moment to dismiss the concerns of the “millennial” generation as being a pathetic sort of sensitivity surrounding opinions that don’t overlap with their own. And indeed there have been some strange developments in that direction: safe spaces in universities that prevent debate; trigger warnings on websites to allow people to not view content that might upset them (fine for obscene material, but if you’re hiding a particular political view or anything involving meat you’re going a bit far). This has led to the offensive epithet “snowflake” used to dismiss the views of anyone who points out you’re being an offensive dinosaur.
But we’re currently suffering through a much wider epidemic of triggered snowflakes attempting to create a safe space, one that has overtaken political discourse entirely. I talk, of course, of the surge in far-right and alt-right activity that has plagued American and British politics in the rise of the grotesque characters of both Trump and May, including her push for a hard Brexit. The head of this ugly hydra appears elsewhere, threatening the impending Dutch and French elections in the form of Geert Wilders and Marine le Pen respectively.
These characters all speak of “taking their country back”. They dislike immigration, multiculturalism and diversity, linking it to terror to a ridiculously inflated degree. They are generally skeptical and opposed to LBGTQ rights and environmentalism whilst being in favour of more authoritarian regulations on society and are rampantly neoliberal, favouring privatisation, austerity and the dismantling of worker’s rights.
There is an exquisite irony to their stance. Broadly speaking, these groups are reacting against globalism, the EU and free movement, seeing them as demons of the modern age that have created vast problems. And indeed, there are many problems with globalism, the EU and even free movement, but they aren’t the scapegoat demons they are made out to be. The only reason a referendum on EU membership was held in the UK was because David Cameron promised it if he won the 2015 election to quell a few vocal dissenters in the back benches of his party. Suddenly, a group of rabidly vitriolic far-right Eurosceptics piled in to blame immigration and the EU for the woes of a country ravaged by over thirty years of neoliberal politics that had caused great inequality and economic strife for the working class.
The EU exercises a lot of powers, some unhealthily autocratic, but a country’s economic health is rarely down to EU directives, particularly one that maintained as privileged and beneficial a position as the UK. It’s not like they’ve done a Greece to us. However, the rhetoric of the EU being to blame for all problems has extended to France and the Netherlands, and will probably rear its ugly head in countless other member states as and when their election years come around.
The USA’s excuse? Buggered if I know. Which is to say I’m going to posit an overarching theory soon, but in the context of the far-right backlash against globalism, the USA has no moral ground to stand on. It is the orchestrator of globalism, the persistently bellicose nation that brown-noses to Israel and bombs the Middle East on a regular basis. It has covertly invaded countless countries and destroyed their economy, displacing regimes that were surprisingly equitable in lesser developed countries and introducing crony capitalism instead, often by force. If the political globe was divided up into personality types, the USA would be a twenty-feet tall psychopath murderer bully with a tiny penis.
The logic of the USA, which ties into that of other countries, is intertwined with the “take our country back” rhetoric. You only need to tweak that slogan to understand it. “Take our country back” doesn’t describe a physical action, it’s a temporal call to arms. It’s an urge to take the country backwards.
The American alt-right are horrified by the provision of rights to minority groups, be they immigrants, LBGTQ, the vocal environmentalist sector, blacks in the USA, gun-control advocates – anything that upsets the status quo; that goes against the second-amendment, God-fearing rhetoric of a nation founded upon zealotry. It threatens a feeling of white supremacy. Not necessarily of the far-right, racist kind, although this is the stance of the US government. The people however, have been brainwashed into thinking that the proliferation of rights to minority groups necessarily undermines the rights of the straight, white, gun-toting population. This is, of course, rubbish, but the media and demagoguery of the Christian right have hammered this idea into the minds of countless working class Americans, indoctrinating them to the alt-right cause.
In Europe, it’s less insidious and there’s less of an appetite to reverse the rights of minorities and LBGTQ people. The war here is more specifically conducted against immigrants and the globalism of the EU. There’s certainly a threat of anti-environmental (consider the UK governments support for fracking) and a repealing of rights, but these play second fiddle to bolstering the sovereignty of rampantly neoliberal, far-right governments.
And here we come to the exquisite irony: the alt-right and far-right in Europe are terrified by progress. They’re triggered by the idea that LBGTQ people can walk around being gay in public, and going into bathrooms that don’t correspond to their gender at birth. They hate that something as silly as the environment – which is there to be shot at and to find oil in – could stop the inexorable march of progress. They hate that people are telling them they’re destroying the climate when the Earth is here to be plundered and man reigns supreme. They hate that actions not condoned by the bible could possibly become acceptable. They hate that black people don’t toil for free on cotton farms and Arabs are allowed to wear headdresses on the tube.
They’re triggered. And their snowflake constitution can’t handle it. So they roll back the clock to when all these threats were the background noise of hippies who could be beaten by the police. They roll back the clock to an archaic time when these liberal attitudes didn’t exist, a place where they can’t be horrified by other people being free and doing things that don’t affect them.
You could call it the ultimate safe space.