Alternative facts and the angry citizen: Maria Stopfner

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“Europe has always been multilingual and multicultural. However, faced with new migration flows and increasingly diverse societies, nationalist movements and populist leaders of the far-right resurrect Herder’s ideology of “one people, one state, one language” for their own political goals and gains, threatening social cohesion and transnational solidarity within Europe.

Contrary to extremist political groups, official populist parties still operate within the democratic parliamentary system and try to gain power via elections. In this case, they need to convince the electorate of their political positions. In order to do so, populist parties rely on the charisma of a central political leader and build their reasoning on the fundamental opposition of “us”, the people, versus “them”, consisting of the privileged elite and, in case of far-right populism, also foreigners. What is more, in order to render the electorate more receptive to this ideological stance, populist leaders strategically evoke and utilize emotions. Based on a general call for justice, populist leaders create a positive feeling of togetherness in terms of national, ethnic, and religious identity, social class etc. whilst simultaneously arousing feelings of resentment and anger against “them” that, unfortunately, can turn into irrational personal and social rage against groups of people. In this way, aggravated by online “filter bubbles” (Pariser 2011) and “walled communities” (Ling 2004), alternative facts can become more convincing and powerful than any empirical evidence.”

Maria Stopfner, Senior Researcher at EURAC