When The Blame Game Goes Bad

When The Blame Game Goes Bad

Politicians in a growing number of countries have boosted their popularity by demonizing outsiders as “enemies.” Here are three stories that illustrate what can go wrong with this strategy.


In Norway, Fisheries Minister Per Sandberg, deputy head of the anti-immigrant Progress party, was forced to resign this week after visiting Iran with his girlfriend without notifying the prime minister’s office in advance.

This particular girlfriend is an Iranian immigrant (and beauty queen) who had seen three requests for asylum in Norway rejected before she was finally granted a residency permit. Sandberg’s party has called for those with rejected asylum applications to be swiftly expelled from the country. Fortunately for Sandberg, his girlfriend managed to avoid that fate.

Here are two (more serious) examples.

In Italy, a bridge collapsed in the northern city of Genoa on Tuesday, killing at least 39 people. For Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini (pictured above), the enemy is the European Union and the spending caps the EU asks of member states. That spending could have helped repair shoddy infrastructure, he argued.

But journalist Albero Nardelli points out the EU has not only warned that Italy needs infrastructure spending, it “has given the green light to some €10 billion” for exactly that purpose, including in Genoa. But the M5S, the party with which Salvini’s Lega governs in coalition, has argued that Italy’s government shouldn’t spend big money on infrastructure because the need for repairs is a “fable.”

In addition, as Tuesday author Alex Kliment rightly notes, Salvini’s complaint that the EU doesn’t allow Italy enough for infrastructure spending would have more credibility if Italy weren’t dead last among Western European countries in corruption rankings. Too much money is stolen before it can be invested.

Salvini’s accusation won’t help the mood when Italy’s government submits a draft budget for EU review in October.

In Turkey, an economic crisis has taken hold. President Erdogan says the enemies are outsiders preying on the country’s economy. He calls tariffs imposed by the Trump administration “economic terrorism.”

But the true source of Turkey’s current turmoil is an economy built on heavy borrowing that’s denominated in foreign currency and a refusal to fight rising inflation by raising interest rates.

Erdogan presses Turkey’s central bank to keep rates low in hopes of keeping growth, and his own approval ratings, artificially high. The result is a sharp drop in the value of Turkey’s currency that began well before Trump imposed penalties in response to the standoff over a US citizen held in Turkey.

The bottom line: All three cases illustrate the reality that, though posing as defender of the people against foreign enemies can make for successful politics, it doesn’t help with governing.

This time last year, world health experts were speculating about why Africa appeared to have escaped the worst of the global pandemic. Younger populations? Natural immunity created by exposure to past viruses? Something else?

They can stop wondering. Africa is now in the grip of a COVID emergency.

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Get insights on the latest news in US politics from Jon Lieber, head of Eurasia Group's coverage of political and policy developments in Washington:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi barred two Republican members from serving on the Jan. 6 commission. What's going on?

Well, the Jan. 6 commission was designed to be a bipartisan commission, taking input from members from Democrats and Republicans. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy had the opportunity to make recommendations but the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, could always veto those recommendations. In this case, she did, saying no to two members, Jim Banks and Jim Jordan, both of whom are strongly aligned with President Trump and who voted against certifying the election results in 2020. The Republicans for the most part see the Jan. 6 commission as an opportunity to score political points against them, and the Democrats say this is going to be a fair, non-biased, and nonpartisan investigation into what happened on Jan. 6, starting with a hearing next week with some of the police officers who were involved in the battle with the protesters inside the Capitol.

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In his New York Times op-ed, David Brooks says the US is facing an identity crisis — protecting liberal and progressive values at home while doing little to stop autocrats elsewhere. But has the US really abandoned its values abroad just because it's withdrawing from Afghanistan? Ian Bremmer and Eurasia Group analyst Charles Dunst take out the Red Pen to argue that the US can advance democracy without being the world's sheriff.

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When the Tokyo Olympics begin on Friday, Japan watchers will be following more than just the performance of Japan's star athletes, including tennis star Naomi Osaka. They will also be tracking the political fortunes of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who is taking a big gamble by staging the event — amid a raging pandemic — in the face of strong and longstanding opposition from the Japanese public. What are the stakes for Suga, particularly with elections on the horizon? Eurasia Group senior analyst Ali Wyne explains.

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YouTube pulls Bolsonaro's rants: Google-owned YouTube pulled down a series of videos on the channel of Brazil's populist President Jair Bolsonaro, accusing him of spreading misinformation about the pandemic. YouTube removed more than a dozen clips for touting quack cures for coronavirus or claiming, in defiance of scientific experts, that masks don't reduce COVID transmissions. Last year, Twitter and Facebook also removed some content from Bolsonaro's feeds for similar reasons. But critics say that YouTube's move is too little too late, because Bolsonaro has been spreading misinformation about COVID since the pandemic began. Many Brazilians hold him personally responsible for the country's abysmal pandemic response, which has led to almost 550,000 deaths, the second worst toll in the world. Will YouTube's move change Bolsonaro's message? His weekly address to the nation, where he converses not only with government ministers but also various conspiracy theorists and loons, is broadcast on YouTube. Surely he doesn't want to risk losing that — or does he?

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Boycotts! Bans! Protests! Drugs! Think you've got gold medal knowledge about politics at the Olympics? Test what you know with this special Tokyo Olympics Quiz. And to stay current on all the latest political stories at the Games and around the world, subscribe here to Signal, our daily newsletter. Now, without further ado, the first question is...

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