More importantly still – and directly contrary to what establishment liberals love to claim in order to demonize all who reject their authority – economic suffering and xenophobia/racism are not mutually exclusive. The opposite is true: The former fuels the latter, as sustained economic misery makes people more receptive to tribalistic scapegoating. That’s precisely why plutocratic policies that deprive huge portions of the population of basic opportunity and hope are so dangerous. Claiming that supporters of Brexit or Trump or Corbyn or Sanders or anti-establishment European parties on the left and right are motivated only by hatred but not genuine economic suffering and political oppression is a transparent tactic for exonerating status quo institutions and evading responsibility for doing anything about their core corruption.
Globalization, the frictionless flow of capital, labor, and ideas has been great for a lot of people – including myself, I work in tech in silicon valley! – but it’s had devastating impacts elsewhere, without key political institutions taking them seriously or addressing them.
This combined with the very large increases in wealth inequality over the past four decades are having a cumulative effect. Blaming “the other” is unfortunately a historically effective tactic for channeling that anger – and in the absence of better ideas to address the root causes and effective policy it’s likely to become even more effective and damaging to western culture.
I am perhaps less surprised by all this since I spent my teenage years reading Thomas Frank articles in The Baffler that mostly seemed shocked this sort of thing wasn’t happening sooner, and how weird it was that populist tactics had been co-opted by plutocratic establishment figures so easily.
Meanwhile In Neo-Liberal Utopia, Nobody Can Afford To Live
While those like myself in the cosmopolitan California peninsula may claim to be beyond the reach of such base tactics, ask your liberal friends in CA (the ones that are renting and complaining about housing costs and threatening to leave for Portland) the following thought experiment –
Would you support a candidate that promised to decrease housing costs 25% by banning foreign investors from residential real estate purchases?
Blaming foreign money for the Bay Area housing debacle – when it’s statistically pretty much the fault of increasing wages, geography preventing sprawl, and mostly a decades long refusal of local governments to increase housing supply, density, and infrastructure to meet increased demand – is the kind of thing I have heard regularly over the past couple years. And while there may be some shred of truth to some tiny bit of it, it’s more indicative of the potential for xenophobic policies to ignite even where people least expect when there’s just the slightest economic pain and lack of security (even amongst the well off) to fuel the fire.
Expect The Unexpected
Bernie Sanders – a 74-year-old socailist who until recently wasn’t even in the Democratic party – led a campaign that nearly beat the establishment candidate.
Donald Trump – a reality television actor and living lifestyle brand of questionable products and services – did beat the establishment candidates on the Republican side, somehow.
Clinton and Trump have historically high negative favorability ratings so we are in uncharted territory in US politics for a lot of reasons.
Regardless of what happens in this election cycle – seems hard to fathom Clinton losing given polling, demographics, and Trump’s inability to stop saying crazy things – the economic stagnation, voter sentiment, and other indications mean we should expect to see more outcomes that are at odds with conventional wisdom and establishment predictions soon.