Authoritarian populism is here. We need a plan.

A right-wing politics of authoritarian populism is gaining strength in Europe and North America. Canada is not immune. In fact, it’s already here.

Canada has always had it’s share of racists and bigots. But perhaps never before in living memory have Canadian conservative politicians so overtly appealed to them.

The new authoritarian populism dog-whistles to racist voters. It legitimizes racist slogans and claims. It emboldens their militant organizations.

It also proposes a new women’s politics – one it brands as a feminism – in which violence against women is fought by arming women with guns and blocking immigrants and refugees.

Authoritarian populism co-opts feminism and mobilizes racism to win power. It’s a strategy that obscures the economic agenda of the right – to advance rent-seeking and privatization at people’s expense while reducing taxes for the wealthy and corporations. It expands the voter coalition of the right to those open to racist appeals who otherwise reject conservative economics.

Insofar as the new right’s racist appeals contrast with elite liberalism, they feel anti-system and anti-social. The result is the right’s slogans about the elites, the people and the working class obtain a veneer of believability.

Whether the leaders of this authoritarian populism are actually racist isn’t important. What is crucial is that they are mobilizing and encouraging racism as a new rampart to voting constituencies. It’s a new strategy to sustain elite economic power despite the evident failure – for most people, anyway – of their economic policies.

It’s no accident this authoritarian populism has occurred while Europe continues in economic crisis and the United States fails to address the causes of the 2009 Wall Street banking collapse. Trust in the economic orthodoxy is down.

Authoritarian populism is a last-ditch effort – successful, so far – to deflect and protect the status quo.

This vile politics leads nowhere good. The question is how to defeat it.

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