To be fair, they aren’t alone in this. Galvanizing communities is a frequent aim of politicians, and some measure of romanticism often appears in the effort to bring people along; however, right populists do more than chide and cheerlead—they make ‘us vs. them’ central to their programs. They conflate their constructions of identities and nations with a truth so great and unassailable that it crushes mere facts beneath its heel. They sell their ideals via impossible slogans. “Italians first” proclaims the Lega—assuring us that there is consensus about what those vague terms mean. “Make America Great Again” proclaims Trump, presuming the same agreement on some unidentified, bygone greatness, which must now be reclaimed. And if you question the fantastical nebulousness of it all, or just try to pin it down? Well, you make yourself a nasty person, to use President Trump’s preferred pejorative, or—for both Salvini and his far-right counterparts in Germany—a “do-gooder” (buonista).
For those who embrace the politics of sloganeering and insults, the benefits are clear. They get to bypass the uncertainty and complexity of investigation and go straight to the emotional reward. Relieved of the need to work towards a material accomplishment, or to consider the role of provenance in their good fortune, they may instead pat themselves on the back for they have succeeded simply by belonging to an elite community. Here they are safe, and never at fault. If not actually heroic, certainly, they are better. The appeal is easy to understand: the wish to feel belonging is primal. But what happens when the threat to their community comes not from some hazy group of outsiders and enemies, but from nature itself?