The Sunday Magazine

Trump is just one symptom of a global "nervous breakdown" in conservatism, says conservative editor

Demagoguery, protectionism and anti-immigrant sentiment, coupled with anger directed at centre-right parties, is spreading throughout Europe. Freddy Gray, Deputy Editor of the conservative British weekly, The Spectator, explains.
This Aug. 2, 2011 file photo shows a poster of the rightwing Swiss People's Party (SVP) which shows feet walking on the Swiss cross and the message "Stop mass immigration", in Geneva, Switzerland. (Salvatore Di Nolfi/Keystone/Associated Press)

It is tempting to view the rise of Donald Trump as a phenomenon created by a singular candidate; a wealthy TV celebrity with a talent for inciting crowds and insulting his opponents.

But Freddy Gray, the deputy editor of the conservative British weekly The Spectator, argues Mr. Trump's central message — populism, protectionism and hostility towards immigrants, coupled with anger directed at mainstream conservatives — is not confined to the United States.

In cautious, careful Switzerland, the anti-immigration Swiss People's Party won the parliamentary election last October, with nearly 30% of the vote.

In the usually staid Netherlands, Geert Wilders, leader of the ultra-right Party for Freedom, wants to stop immigration and ban the Koran. He tops opinion polls.

The battle in the world at the moment is between internationalism and nationalism, really. And Donald Trump, in his economic protectionism, in his message of 'Make American Great Again,' he's very much appealing to a populist nationalism. And you see that as well in the Brexit debate, and you see that as well in these pirate parties that are doing so well across Europe.- Freddy Gray
The Brexit vote is contributing to a deep schism in the Conservative Party in Britain, where Gray says former London mayor Boris Johnson is "starting to sound a bit like the thinking man's Trump." 
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana, U.S., May 1, 2016. (Kamil Krzaczynski/Reuters)

As a conservative, Gray is uncertain about the future of his political movement. But he believes the "nervous breakdown" in conservatism around the globe could be a catalyst for reimagining what it means to be conservative, and he points to Barry Goldwater's loss in the 1964 American election as an example. 

"What a lot of people think is that it will be a sort of purging moment for conservatism, for the right, in which they'll have to realign themselves and figure out what they stand for," says Gray. "A lot of people think that the failure of Goldwater was the moment in which the modern conservative movement...was born."

Click the button above to hear Michael Enright in conversation with Freddy Gray. 


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