the supposed rebellion of “common people” against elites has not been much in evidence. Billionaires have taken over US politics under President Donald Trump; unelected professors run the “populist” Italian government; and all over the world, taxes have been slashed on the ever-rising incomes of financiers, technologists, and corporate managers.
.. Meanwhile, ordinary workers have resigned themselves to the reality that high-quality housing, education, and even health care are hopelessly beyond their reach.
.. What, then, explains the sudden dominance of nationalism? There is not much positively patriotic about the new nationalism in Italy, Britain, or even the US. Instead, the upsurge of national feeling seems largely a xenophobic phenomenon, as famously defined by the Czech-American sociologist Karl Deutsch: “A nation is a group of people linked together by a common error about their ancestry and a common dislike of their neighbors.”
- .. Hard times –
- low wages,
- regional deprivation, and
- post-crisis austerity
– provoke a hunt for scapegoats, and foreigners are always a tempting target.
.. There is nothing patriotic about Trump’s belligerence against Mexican immigrants and Canadian imports, or the nativist policies of the new Italian government, or Theresa May’s most famous statement after becoming UK Prime Minister: “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what citizenship means.”
.. The xenophobic effort to blame economic hardship on foreigners is doomed to failure.
.. Consider the post-crisis effort to divert popular anger about the collapse of market fundamentalist economics onto “greedy bankers.” This ultimately failed, in part because bankers have huge resources to defend themselves, which foreigners generally do not.
.. banker-bashing failed to assuage public anger mainly because attacking finance did nothing to boost wages, diminish inequality, or reverse social neglect. The same will be true of the current attacks on foreign influence, whether through immigration or trade.
.. European issues have nothing to do with the genuine political grievances that motivated a large part of the “Leave” vote. Instead, the Brexit negotiations will now dominate and distract British politics for many years, or even decades. And Britain’s nationalist confrontation with the rest of Europe will offer politicians of all parties endless excuses for failing to improve everyday life.
.. scapegoating foreign influences, whether through trade or immigration, will do nothing to lift living standards or address the sources of political discontent.
.. Successive Italian governments since the financial crisis have gradually laid the foundations for pension, labor market, and banking reforms. These changes have created the conditions for economic recovery .. but they have been politically unpopular and are now being denounced as symbols of elitist foreign oppression.
.. If the new government abandons all three reform projects, Italians can also abandon hope of economic recovery, perhaps for another decade.
.. Trump thinks his measures against imports from China, Germany, and Canada will hurt these trading partners and create American jobs. This might have been true when the US economy was suffering weak growth and deflation. But in a world of strong demand and rising inflation, German and Chinese exporters will find new markets for their products, whereas US manufacturers will struggle to replace foreign suppliers.
.. tariffs will act as a tax on American consumers, through higher prices, and on American workers, businesses, and homeowners, through rising interest rates.
WHICH side are you on? Are you with Donald Trump, or with the Washington insiders who want to undo his election? Do you favor the legitimate president of the United States, or an unelected “deep state” — bureaucrats, judges, former F.B.I. directors, the media — that’s determined not to let him govern? Are you going to let a counterrevolution by elites bring down a man who was elevated to the White House precisely because the country knows that its elite is no longer fit to govern?
This is how the debate over Donald Trump’s mounting difficulties is being framed by some of my fellow conservatives, from Sean Hannity to more serious pundits and intellectuals.
.. But Trump is not actually governing as a populist or revolutionary, and the rolling crises of his first four months are not really about resistance to an “America First” or “drain the swamp” agenda
the various outsider groups that cast their lot with him
- working-class ex-Democrats to
- antiwar conservatives to
- free-trade skeptics to
- build-the-wall immigration hawks to
- religious conservatives fearful for their liberties —
have seen him pick very few difficult fights on their behalf.
.. his legislative agenda has been standard establishment-Republican fare — spending cuts to pay for upper-bracket tax cuts, rinse, repeat.
.. he’s mostly handed foreign policy over to his military advisers
.. Religious conservatives got Neil Gorsuch because he was a pedigreed insider. But they aren’t getting anything but symbolism on religious liberty, because Trump doesn’t want to pick a fight with the elite consensus on gay and transgender rights.
the establishment keeps winning:
- Planned Parenthood was funded in the budget deal and
- the border wall was not, the promised
- NAFTA rollback looks more likely to be a toothless renegotiation, Trump’s occasional talk about
- breaking up the big banks is clearly just talk,
- we haven’t torn up the Iran deal or
- ditched the Paris climate accords, and more.
.. populism needs a seat at the table of power in the West, and the people who voted for our president do deserve a tribune.
.. Trump is not that figure. As a populist he’s a paper tiger
.. too incompetent and self-absorbed to fight for them.
he’s not being dogged by leaks and accusations because
- he’s trying to turn the Republican Party into a “worker’s party” (he isn’t), or because
- he’s throwing the money-changers out of the republic’s temples (don’t make me laugh), or because
- he’s taking steps to reduce America’s role as policeman of the world (none are evident).
.. he’s at war with the institutions that surround him because he behaves consistently erratically and inappropriately and dangerously, and perhaps criminally as well.
.. there is no elite “counterrevolution” here for them to resist, because there is no Trump revolution in the first place.
He berated both parties for being venal and corrupt, and announced an agenda on trade and foreign policy starkly different from what the Ronald Reagan coalition sought for 40 years. In particular, his pronouncements on foreign policy cut sharply against the views of American exceptionalism favored by George W. Bush.
.. utterly breaking with every conventional expectation for an inaugural that speaks to a false sense of unity. Instead, Mr. Trump doubled down on the idea that he is the champion uniting patriotic Americans against a corrupt bipartisan elite that has served them poorly for 16 years.
.. This was a speech for those who support him, and it immensely satisfied supporters I spoke with on the mall.
.. The night before the inauguration, I tweeted a prediction about the speech — that Mr. Trump would echo the theme of a speech from Christopher Nolan’s “Dark Knight Rises,” in which the character Bane promises war against the elites, and that he will return power back to where it belongs — to the people.
This is the speech Donald Trump decided to give: populist, nationalist, thrilling to his fans, disturbing to his foes — and sending the message to Washington that he intends not to bring peace, but the sword.