Us & Them

The widening gap between liberals and the people who hate them

via Washington Post by Ishaan Tharoor – Dec. 13, 2017


In a year marked by political turbulence and increased polarization in the West, it more and more seems as though the battered liberal establishment and right-wing populists speak different languages. One side champions a shared global future, the other clings to the mythic bonds of blood and soil. One side agonizes about inclusion and dialogue, the other finds its greatest energy in a climate of rage and fear.

Macron’s globalism — to use a term loaded with political meaning over the past year — and the good intentions of jet-setting financiers have no real answer for what drives the fury of right-wing populists in France. Indeed, the leftist populism of Britain’s Jeremy Corbyn seems perhaps a more effective counter at a time when large sections of the European electorate see themselves losing out amid two decades of rapid globalization.

But the appeal of right-wing populism is not just about economic grievance. Trump and his far-right counterparts across the Atlantic have clung to the issues Macron dodges, namely narrow visions of identity and the siren song of nationalism. As the liberal Bulgarian thinker Ivan Krastev wrote in a recent New York Times column, “populism thrives when politics become about symbols rather than substance,” while populists seek “to keep society highly polarized.”

That is powerfully on show in the United States, where Trump has marshaled his base with claims of restoring a lost past, demonizing immigrants and warring with mainstream institutions, including the media. His messaging revolves around incessant declarations of victory and promises for further success — the building of a wall, the bombing of the enemy, the banning of migrants.

So while Macron and other champions of the liberal order winked and smirked at Trump’s absence in Paris, it’s almost certain the U.S. president didn’t care much — indeed, in the current climate, enemies like Macron are exactly what he may want.

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