Editor’s Note: Nic Robertson is CNN’s international diplomatic editor. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
This week, icy blasts of change swept two continents.
They were not heralding seasonal variations in weather but could be harbingers of what might become an enduring – and chilling – political climate.
As unseasonably early winter storms dumped heavy rain and snow across Europe, Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, effectively stepped down as the leader of her party and irreparably weakened her ability to keep Europe on an even keel.
That very same day, Brazil elected a far-right leader who is even Trumpier than US President Donald Trump.
He believes Brazil’s military regime, which ran the country in the 1970s and 1980s, didn’t kill enough of its opponents and wants guns in the hands of citizens. “Weapons defend our freedoms” was a campaign cry.
His arrival and Merkel’s slow shuffle to political oblivion are not happening in isolation: The world is changing, and this week ruled out a reverse.
Merkel is the old right wing: a political chameleon when she needed to be yet commanding enough to make tough moral choices.
Thanks to her, Germany opened its doors to more than a million refugees in 2015.
They were mostly fleeing the bloodbath civil war in Syria; other European countries shunned them.
But as much as she was applauded by liberals for an apparently Damascene conversion from her traditionally cautious Christian Democratic roots, she sowed the seeds of her own political demise.
Ever since, she has been buffeted by the rise of far-right politics whipped up in the wake of her open-door policy. Her opponents trade on fears of terrorism, violence and a clash of cultures.
It’s not just Germany where right-wing nationalism is profiting at the cost of the more traditional parties; it’s all over Europe.
Brexit is as much part of its complexion as is Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s shutdown of the EU’s migrant-sharing policies.
The post-war institution is under pressure from euroskeptics of all stripes. Be it from Brexiteers, Italy’s new government, Hungary’s or Poland’s right-wingers, change is coming.
They are all trading on fears and harnessing the anger their rhetoric generates.
But that’s nothing new in politics, so why is it successful now?
Logic says because there is an appetite for change. Anthony Scaramucci, former White House communications director, calls Trump an “authentic voice,” not to be confused with liar.
Millions in America are hungry for authenticity, according to the President’s most transitory of hires.
Whatever the attraction of Trump’s fresh approach, it is still working for him. His base is loyal, and none of that is lost on wannabe leaders around the world.
Like Trump, Bolsonaro has a female following, despite his verbal debasement of woman.
Those who like Bolsonaro do so because he addresses deeper fears: not of molestation by him but the everyday fear of rape or robbery. He says he has an answer, and they buy it.
It doesn’t matter that his answer is untested by them or that previous generations have found similar rhetoric empty or plain dangerous and decisive. In their world, his answers are the right ones.
In Europe, as in Trump’s America, voters’ fear stems from their lack of faith in the economy working for them – fears based on migrants and their questionable cultures flooding in, stealing jobs.
How that resonates when the economy – particularly in America – is doing so well, according to Trump, and with unemployment rates at a generational low is another question.
What it indicates is that the margin between getting by and falling by the wayside is getting narrower. The American dream is perishable, no longer as plausible to the masses as it once was to their parents’ generation.
Whether you are Bolsonaro convincing the middle class you need protecting form the poor, or Trump and Orban, convincing voters they need protecting from migrants, the message is much easier to sell if the cost of making the wrong choice at the polling booth could cost your life or your livelihood.
We are watching the world order being ripped up over fears of a return to a world order that our current post-war world order was designed to forestall.
It sounds complicated, but it is not.
There is not enough of everything to go around. There are not enough people making decent livings in a global economy. So, we are reverting to protectionist nationalism to insulate ourselves from the deficit.
We are running from the problem, not solving it. But it’s what we have always done when fear takes hold.
The world order we are seeing now is one fixing for a fight. We are not quite sure what that fight will be, or where it will begin, but we are shaping the arguments for it and preparing our defenses.
As with many arguments, it has a momentum of its own.
We are watching, aware of what’s happening, but without seeing a way to hold it back.
That’s what makes Merkel’s slow political demise all the more troubling.
In a turbulent Europe, she provided a bulwark of no-nonsense common sense, a steadying logic in an increasingly illogical situation.
The season of her political generation is waning, and there is a chill in the air.