Populism is a political strategy that targets the general populace, hence the name. In recent times populism has grown in popularity globally. Examples such as Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, the election of President Donald Trump in the United States, and the appeal to populist candidates are rampantly rising. Most recently, in Italy, Giorgia Meloni completed her Prime Minister campaign. Meloni, although she is described as a neo-fascist, perpetuating similarities to Mussolini, Meloni is more similar to a populist such as Donald Trump.
Italy has been described by philosopher Guy Debord as a place that “sums up the social contradictions of the world”. This statement is as true in 2022 as when he said it nearly 60 years ago. Italy continues to reject mainstream media while holding true to its deep Catholic roots, planted deep in the hearts of 83% of Italians identifying as Catholic. Meloni, in her far-right and regressive rather than progressive rhetoric, plays on the beliefs of popular beliefs. Meloni rejects the validity of same-sex marriage and LGTBQ+ rights as a whole. This, although wildly controversial by today’s western standards, is nonetheless a belief of the Catholic faith.
One of Meloni’s biggest foreign supporters is Steve Bannon. Steve Bannon, “Created the political ideology of former US President Donald Trump and is credited with giving birth to the American alt-right movement.” (McGee, Luke. CNN). It should come as no surprise that Bannon, the man who supported the populist United States president, is in the corner of the rising Italian Prime Minister. Similar to former President Donald Trump, Meloni is attempting to limit immigration and abortion rights in Italy. Her opposition to progressive ideas is in line with the Italian idea of returning the world to what it once was instead of moving forward with time.
Beyond Italy, Meloni is receiving an outcry of support from alt-right populists across the European Union as a whole. Since her election, France has seen a major uptick in right-wing political activism. Furthermore, left-leaning Sweden is seeing a revival of the right-wing, anti-immigration, anti-LGTBQ democrats. Meloni and Italy have created a movement marching Europe to a less progressive, right-winged movement.
The momentum that the Brothers of Italy and other alt-right European political parties are facing may stem from the current economic state of the world. With inflation at an all-time high, and costs of living continuing to soar, people feel they need a change. Costs of energy and fuel were rising, but now more than ever, with the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, the price of maintaining a decent standard of living is becoming too high for the common person to pay. It is, “undermining governments and European institutions… The erosion of living standards means that people are naturally becoming dissatisfied with their governments and the political establishment.” (Gunnar Beck). When a large portion of the population shows dissatisfaction with their government and current living conditions, they turn to a leader that promises to change. The promise of change and a more responsive government is what allowed Donald Trump to be elected. His promise to “drain the swamp” was a large factor in his rise to power. Meloni, like Trump, takes a similar stance. Her vows to promote major systemic change within the Italian government are what was driving the common Italian citizen to cast their vote toward her and other alt-right politicians.
In today’s current economic state the common man is growing deeper in distrust and skepticism of their government. People as a whole feel under-represented and under-appreciated by their elected officials. This leaves the door open for populist leaders to capitalize on the distrust. By running on promises to bolster the living standards of the general populace the political influence of populist leaders grows. Populists rely on economic and political recessions to gain popularity. From Adolf Hitler gaining power in post World War I Germany to new Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, bad times call for a leader who promises change. Italy suffered tremendously throughout the Coronavirus pandemic. Businesses were forced to shut down. Many people died. Even now, Italians are reminded of their struggles, still having to wear masks on public transport. The continual reminder of the burdens and misfortunes the country’s people had to bear calls them to vote in favor of change: “Most research shows that conservative voters have a greater need for certainty and stability.” (Alice Stolomeyer). Italy and much of the world are calling for a return to normalcy. However, the question remains, is normalcy too far gone? Does the post-pandemic world need to be embraced rather than rejected? Our new normal is something that many people are having a difficult time grasping. Italy and the world is relying on their leaders to bring their lives back to what they once were, and populism is an attractive option.