The European Parliamentary elections in May revealed an interesting trend in the changing political landscape of Europe. The first and most obvious indicator of an increasingly febrile continent was the high voter turnout. Since 1979 when nearly 62% of EU citizens voted in Parliamentary elections, the turnout has steadily declined, reaching a record low of 43% in 2009 and increasing by a meager 0.9% in the subsequent 2014 elections. The 2019 election is reported to be 50.9% which would make it the highest turnout in twenty years.
This is significant for several reasons, chiefly that the EU parliamentary elections have largely become a method for European citizens to voice the more ardent of their ideologies and political beliefs. Most understand that while they may not agree completely with the soft politics of major parties in general elections, their vote has additional value as a defense against the opposition who they likely don’t agree with at all.
Thus, the more nuanced EU parliamentary elections give us a better understanding of which way the wind is blowing. The surging voter turnout coupled with the rise of nationalist far right parties and the equally ascendant green far left parties is a clear indication that the wind is blowing to extremism on both sides.
The analysis of major players and specific victories on the right and left wing are well publicized and need no further dissection from me. Instead, the interesting point to consider is what effect the current trajectory of politics will have on the next generation. A generation which will comprise over 30% of the world population by 2020.
Generation Z, or their more appropriate sobriquet “the Zoomers” are those born sometime between 1998-2010. Whilst many are not yet old enough to vote, almost all of them grew up on the internet and have watched the world through their cellphones and tablets at ages where passed generations best outlet for watching the world was spinning a globe. They are the guinea pigs of mental globalism; the planet has never seemed smaller then to those who can virtually walk down streets across the world via the Google Maps “Street View” feature.
They are addicts to stimulus. The internet offers them everything they could wish to find, at high speeds and in fiery language. The average American Zoomer has an attention span of just 8 seconds and 98% of them own a smartphone. While the numbers are slightly less alarming in European equivalents, it’s not by a significant amount. Zoomers want to be involved with something special, they need to be stimulated and they yearn for individuality. What could be less involving, less stimulating, and less individually engaging than soft centrist politics?
As is evident by the Parliament elections, the popular new actors shooing out centrism from the political stage are those under the umbrellas of the Green movement and the Nationalist parties. Beneath the broad canopies of these labels wait the more layered and extreme characters. Sticking to the analogy of the umbrella, these more extreme facets of each party huddle up with those who agree with the general goal of Green or Nationalist movements and seek to pull stragglers and sympathizers over to their cause. Examples of this include movements like AntiFa or the Alt-Right.
For better or worse these movements have everything the Zoomers crave. They are stimulating in their clandestine and mysterious nature, oftentimes requiring thorough vetting just to become a trusted member or attend in-person meetings. Involving, in their appreciation for the willingness of the Zoomers to be soldiers on the front line, whether it be on the streets or the internet. Engaging, in their understanding for the supreme role the internet has in the future of politics, an alluring aspect for a generation who has never known a world without internet and thus uses it more frequently and effectively than any before them. But perhaps most enticing of all characteristics exhibited by these new extreme movements is the uncertainty old-world politics and their constituents feel toward them. Whether left or right, censorship and ostracization are unavoidable components to getting extreme messages out, and as with anything in life, attempts to squelch or hide something only increases the appetite for it.
This phenomenon leads many of the Zoomers to seek out the most censored people on the internet, the far right. While there are varying degrees of brazenness and extremism under that moniker (alt-Lite, Dissident-Right, alt-Right etc.), they are kindred on a few issues that are reflected in the recent European Parliamentary elections. Nationalism, immigration and a disgust with the social turpitude of the left are the most accessible for Zoomers. All three of those things they can find being disavowed by a Matteo Salvini, a Fraser Anning or a Nigel Farage.
On the other hand, the left tends to control the high ground of propaganda vehicles and they push their narratives through them masterfully. Hollywood and most social media platforms tend to skew left and thus the far left faces much less censorship. Google, Facebook, Twitter, Reddit and all their subsidiaries are unabashedly left leaning. With few exceptions, mainstream media titans like New York Times or BBC barely attempt to have balance. Hollywood is essentially a microphone for the far left, as are tertiary education platforms. With control of the universities comes a control of “experts” and “scientists” who know very well where their bread is buttered. This combination of factors enables the Green parties of the world to sell their impending doom on impressionable young minds like Generation Z and galvanize them into campaigns like Antifa and Extinction Rebellion. With the idea of impending doom comes a deep hatred for anybody who doesn’t agree. If the scientists and “experts” are telling the truth about the planet dying and you argue with such a thing? In their minds you’re an accessory to murder.
This animosity furthers the divide between both sides. Actions have reactions, and each one acts as a confirmation-bias fishnet for the dwindling amount of centrist Zoomers. The left leaning youth believe the planet is dying and boil in anger that anyone could disagree or do nothing about it. The right leaning youth believe their nations and cultures are dying and react similarly to the taunting of this belief. The gap between the two intensifies and with it an aversion to cooperation and deepening of beliefs. This in turn leads to trolling and acrimonious bickering on a cyber level and protests to match in the real world.
One can let their imagination go with the consequences of such a diametrically opposed and hostile generation slowly aging their way into the voting booth. The next US election in 2020 will be the first to witness a large number of Zoomers at the polls, and while the soft two-party system of American elections caters to centrist politics and won’t be as indicative of rising extremism as the parliamentary elections, the atmosphere of this election cycle certainly will. Given that a third of the voting population will be a member of Generation Z by the time the elections roll around, both sides are beginning to understand that they can benefit from an increase in extreme rhetoric. The 2016 elections were oft called the most vicious in US history, I would say to those who called it that, buckle up.
By Eric Alexiev