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The Increasing Instability Of The Overton Window And Its Possible Consequences

Milei's arrival to power has provoked diverse responses from the international community and political figures, from the big support assured by Donald Trump and even by the representative of the Spanish right-wing party VOX, to the increasing concern and criticism from Maduro, Venezuela´s president who refers to Milei as “right extremist with a colonialproject”.

Not only has Argentina seen the victory of “extremism” but it was also the case in the United States when Trump was elected in 2017 and is still nowadays one of the likeliest candidates to be elected in this year´s elections. It can even be seen in the rising support of far-right in Europe (Giorgia Meloni in Italy, Lepen in France). Maybe what was considered unthinkable not that far in time, as it was thought of as the construction of a wall between the USA and Mexico to avoid Mexican immigration, is now becoming acceptable.

The origins of the Overton Window

Joseph P Overton was an American policy analyst who set a spectrum in which the implementation of policies can take place. He defined that what is politically acceptable at a certain time is set in a window that limits what is considered radical and inconceivable. His model, now known as the Overton Window, aimed at distinguishing the current and popularly acceptable political policies (independently of its political ideology) which can change and move towards what is considered extreme but can become the new popular. This would therefore mean the shifting of the window, hence a policy change.

Nevertheless, Overton emphasized the need for policy changes to be backed by social movements and popular support, since as he explains, the movement of the Window takes place mainly when a politician with radical ideas wants to gain support or wants to put forward a policy that is overwhelming to the current population´s ideals, but to achieve this, in a democratic country, he/she needs the citizen´s support.

However, the model of the Overton Window has also been seen as a dangerous weapon within politician´s grasp. The Russian journalist, Evgueni Gorzhaltsán presented the risk that this theory can pose if politicians use it spitefully. Taking the example of cannibalism, he analyzed the evolution of an idea considered inconceivable at a certain point in time and how it can be transformed into something popular and supported. At first, it might be seen as extreme and unthinkable but through the process of exposing the subject to debate, creating a net of support through media, and judging as intolerant those who oppose such an idea, a total reversal takes place. Therefore, what was considered inconceivable once now is the new acceptable. A new dogma is established therefore setting a new normality, the window has been displaced and has at its center the new popular, leaving outside what was once a well-established and supported policy. At this moment, Evgheni considered that society had suffered a breakdown, the excessive freedom of expression has led to an increasing dehumanization, and the justification of ideals and policies that threaten certain rights and freedoms.

Argentina and the USA led the Overton Window change

As we have seen in the past decade, there has been a worrying tendency towards what would be set in the Overton Window as radical. Argentina´s elections in December 2023 led to the victory of Javier Milei -representative of the “La Libertad Avanza” party- against Sergio Massa, candidate of “Unión por la Patria” a Peronist and progressist party, to which the ex-president of Argentina, Alberto Fernández belonged to. Milei has been attributed to a wide range of political stances; far-right populist, ultra-liberal, anarcho-capitalist… nevertheless, his political plan is what defines him and will determine the future of Argentina. The video that went viral where he blames the state for being the source of all the problems in the country, shows quite accurately his political plan: a cutoff of all ministries unrelated to the economy.

Most recently, on the 1st of March of this year 2024, he declared the reduction of public funding to political parties, which would usually count with private and public funding. This leaves parties to only count with private funding, which includes: funding contributions by its affiliates (can only take place periodically), or from other human persons -non-members- and legal entities, income from its patrimony and other types of activities, including promotional activities and funding from inheritances or legacies received. What could the consequences of this decision be? Could this be a way of discouraging the existence of political competition? Could this lead to a possible reduction and vanishing of some political parties (due to a lack of funding)?

Not only has Argentina been the victim of radical changes, that have nonetheless been democratically voted since Milei won through elections, but also the USA has proved to be able to move towards the unimaginable slowly. The building of the Mexican border (physical) has become a reality, Mexican immigration was already an extremely controversial issue when Trump was president (2017-2021) and still is due to the worsening of the immigration crisis. Immigration has become the centre of the electoral campaign, and both Joe Biden and Donald Trump made separate visits to the Mexico-USA border on the 29th of February. Although Trump´s initial idea of building the wall was more radical due to forced separations of family members where children were split from their parents, Biden affirmed during his visit his intentions to harden his immigration approach, moreover, he has been making important use of Trump´s policy of expulsing non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico.

The end of an era?

The displacement of the Overton Window is a challenging process and it is quite rare that politicians on their own attain its shift. Nevertheless, nowadays we have seen the implementation of radical policies such as the construction of a wall between a democratic country such as the United States and Mexico, which also carries with it immigration policies like direct deportations. Both Argentina and the USA have proved to be examples of key steps towards an important shift of the Overton Window, however, it is a phenomenon that is not limited to these two countries but is occurring globally, what dangers does the expansion of this phenomenon pose? Could it eventually pose a threat to democracy and human rights?

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