In the years after the Second World War, there was a determination never again to repeat the horrors of the 1930s and 1940s. Countries – including the UK and the US – built international alliances and coalitions around values and the aim of global stability.
The United Nations, the European Convention on Human Rights and the European Union have all played a role in protecting people from persecution and preventing further global conflicts.
This week, one of these key institutions, Nato – set up to counter the communist threat to our democratic freedoms – celebrates its 70th anniversary.
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But, worryingly, many of the institutions created to bring countries together are now being undermined, with the rules, norms and values of the last seven decades under assault from a dangerous new wave of populism and nativism.
This is being led by the likes of Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Matteo Salvini in Italy, Andrzej Duda in Poland, Donald Trump in the USA, and his kindred spirits here in the UK – Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson, who I believe are adopting and normalising the same divisive language and tactics of the far-right.
These reactionary voices are not identical, but they appear to share common defining characteristics. They tell untruths, peddle fake news and, I believe, seek political benefit from a strategy of deepening racial and religious tensions and fear of “the other”.
Instead of bringing people together – recognising that the solutions to the world’s problems are international – they seek to undermine the supranational institutions established to maintain our peace and prosperity, preferring a retreat into nationalism. And, it seems, they see as a key aim the dismantling of the crucial social democratic safety nets, like the NHS and the welfare state, which underpin the post-war consensus.
Whether he likes it or not, Trump is the global figurehead of this new movement. After three years in office, it’s now clear that his true doctrine is not just America First, as he claims, but White America First – through the embracing of white nationalism.
In normal times, the head of state of our most important ally arriving in the UK for a Nato summit would be a moment of unity and pride and a chance to renew our collective commitment to safeguarding democratic freedoms.
But this summit is different. We are confronted with a US president who has questioned the founding principles of Nato, advocates narrow nationalism over multilateralism, and openly attacks the progressive and internationalist values we have fought so hard to defend in the west.
He has turned a blind eye to Russia’s campaign to destabilise Nato members in Europe as well as Putin’s interference in the last US presidential election.
And with both his words and his deeds, he has repeatedly propagated the dangerous myth that Islam is somehow incompatible with our western values – and that we are in the midst of a clash of civilisations.
In doing so, he is pushing the same false narrative as those he claims to hate so much, playing straight into the hands of the sick and twisted extremists – like the London Bridge terrorist – who despise our open, liberal values and believe they are not compatible with Islam. They are wrong.
Trump’s use of such inflammatory, divisive and hate-filled rhetoric is only stoking animosity at a time when we need to bring people together.
In the UK, we have seen how the long shadow of Trump’s agenda and the rise of the far-right extends far beyond the US. There has been a disturbing increase in the public demonization of immigrants and minorities in our country – with senior politicians playing communities off against one another for political gain.
We have a British prime minister who has stoked a crude nationalism based on a bygone era, and who has previously employed racist, Islamophobic, homophobic and sexist slurs. We have also seen Nigel Farage meekly stand aside for Johnson in this general election because their parties’ agendas are now so aligned.
So, with the UK election just over a week away, and with the US presidential election less than a year away, the next 12 months will likely be decisive in determining whether or not the democratic world confronts this growing threat.
It will fall to us to decide if our future is darker and more dangerous than our recent past. Or if we reject those who appear to seek to divide us, defend the progress we have worked so hard to achieve, and keep the flame of our open, liberal values alive for future generations.