On Economic Issues, the Populist Right and Left Share a Lot of Common Ground

“Both the populist right and left are protectionist when it comes to trade. While the right advocates for protectionism to support national security, preserve manufacturing, and maintain national sovereignty, the left supports tariffs and other trade restraints to protect workers’ rights, prevent exploitation in developing countries, and reduce environmental impact. Both sides, if for different reasons, favor trade barriers and are skeptical of free-trade agreements. The best evidence is that President Joe Biden has retained most of former President Donald Trump’s tariffs.

Similarly, under the misguided excuse of strengthening our economy, both sides now practice an industrial policy that dispenses massive subsidies, tax credits, and other government-granted corporate privileges. For instance, the Biden administration’s $52 billion in federal tax breaks and subsidies through the CHIPS Act to prop up the semiconductor industry, including reports of $40 billion—77 percent of the funds—benefiting giant companies like Intel, GlobalFoundries, Samsung, and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., was passed in a bipartisan way.

Utterly inconsistently, both sides also express serious distrust in mega-corporations. The New Right often views large corporations as part of a “global elite” disconnected from the average citizen and influencing government policies for its own benefit. Meanwhile, the left criticizes these entities for their alleged role in increasing income inequality, opposing workers’ rights and degrading the environment.

As a result, despite throwing money at big businesses with one hand, both sides are bogging down corporations—especially the ones that successfully earn a lot of customers—with the other hand, stacking up regulations, or even threatening to break them up with antitrust cases.

Both the New Right and the left reject talks of fiscal discipline. No side wants to reform entitlement programs like Medicare and Social Security even though these programs are becoming insolvent. Both groups support expensive, often excessive, and politically popular redistribution to families, including rich ones, in the form of paid leave programs, child care subsidies, or expanded child tax credits.”

“This shift bodes poorly for the economy, as populism has a track record of producing results opposite what their proponents promise.”


What a new conservative call for “regime change” in America reveals about the culture war

“most of his anti-liberal broadside is at once underbaked and overheated.
The critique is underbaked in the sense that it’s not clear from his account how exactly this rather large “elite” is responsible for the destruction of conservative norms and small-town America. How can we hold a graphic designer in Chicago or a Whole Foods supply chain specialist in Austin responsible for the decline of Christian morals and the hollowing out of small towns?

It’s overheated in the sense that Deneen turns his rivals into cartoon villains, arguing that “the current ruling class is uniquely ill-equipped for reform, having become one of the worst of its kind produced in history.”

Roman nobles were legally permitted to rape their slaves. The military elites of the Mongol Empire were constantly murdering civilians and each other. In France after the Black Plague, the impoverished aristocracy stole from their already-suffering peasants to continue funding their lavish lifestyles. The elite of the early American South centered their entire society around the racist brutality of chattel slavery.

Is the American elite out of touch with the working class in ways that have tangible and negative consequences for the country? Sure. But it’s not remotely comparable to the bad elites of previous centuries.

This loss of perspective tarnishes Deneen’s argument throughout the book — a problem most vividly on display in his treatment of the divide between “the many” and “the few.”

In Deneen’s thinking, it is axiomatic that the central divide in Western politics is between the villainous liberal elite (the “few”) and the culturally conservative mass public (“the many”). The liberal elites wish to impose their cultural vision on society and attack the customs and traditions of ordinary people; the many, who are instinctively culturally conservative, have risen under the banner of leaders like Trump to oppose them.

Except how do we know that liberals really are “the few?”

Deneen doesn’t cite election or polling data to support his theory of a natural conservative majority. Trump has never won the popular vote while on the ballot; his party performed historically poorly in two midterm elections since his rise to power. Polling on the cultural issues Deneen so cares about, like same-sex marriage, often finds majority support for liberal positions.”

Opinion | How to Message Against Far-Right Populism

“As a psychological anthropologist, my team and I have conducted new research showing the idea that the “system is rigged” is gaining ground among Americans of all political persuasions. That’s been particularly true post-2020, as Covid-19 shook the world, calls for racial justice became louder and a contentious election ended with a violent insurrection. It’s a dynamic that offers real opportunity for progressives. This rhetoric — if deployed in a way that doesn’t simply fuel despair — offers a blueprint for countering right-wing populism while providing the crucial fixes needed for our society.
Progressives already recognize the role systems play in determining opportunities and outcomes in the United States. Acknowledgment that institutions shape our lives can counter a tendency toward individualism and foster thinking that favors inclusion, justice and community. As an example, “systemic thinking” moves the conversation about poverty from one focused on individual deservingness to one about opportunity. More systemic thinking can also help people understand that environments influence our health outcomes, leading to greater support for safe housing and affordable child care and health care. “Systems” thinking can similarly help us see how racism is embedded in the criminal legal system — from harmful police incentives to over-patrolling of Black neighborhoods to cash bail.”

“Of course, there are also traps and dangers in acknowledging and feeding the narrative that the system is rigged, which is one reason why some progressives have shied away from this approach. Americans across the political spectrum feel the system isn’t working, but they aren’t always sure what the system is, who is rigging it, or how. This leaves system-is-rigged thinking open to manipulation and cooptation. The left may see a chance to critique corporate power and redesign the system for more equitable outcomes. But the right has used this narrative to push the story that government systems are rigged to benefit minority groups at the expense of “ordinary” Americans, leading to the spread of the racist replacement theory and reinforcing the view that government is part of the problem.”

“To channel the public’s thinking in productive directions — and show that the system is rigged while demanding that the system be reformed — progressives must consistently fill in four crucial gaps: What system is being rigged? Who is rigging it and how? What impact does this have on specific groups of people and our country more broadly? And, most importantly, how can we “un-rig” these systems that aren’t working?”

A New History of the Old Right

“The discontent Trump used to propel himself to the White House has always been present on the American right. When Sen. Joseph McCarthy (R–Wis.) began his crusade against “the hidden Communists in America and their liberal Democratic protectors,” for example, he found support in the Republican Party and in the few conservative publications that existed at the time—The American Mercury, Human Events, even the libertarian-leaning Freeman. As McCarthy’s accusations multiplied and “became more outrageous, more galling, and more disconnected from reality,” Continetti writes, conservatives such as William F. Buckley Jr. still backed his crusade. There are similarities in the way Sen. Robert A. Taft (R–Ohio) responded to McCarthy’s conspiracy theories and the way Sen. Mitch McConnell (R–Ky.) has responded to Trump’s. While McCarthy ultimately undermined himself by launching outrageous accusations against President Dwight D. Eisenhower, Continetti demonstrates just how long conservatives have been tempted to follow aggressive demagogues while they lambaste liberals.

Traditionally, conservative elites have tried to channel populist sentiments into a respectable and successful movement. No one had to grapple with this question more than Buckley, the founder of National Review. The usual conservative narrative says that Buckley legitimized conservatism by being a gatekeeper: In keeping the conspiracism of the John Birch Society and the radical individualism of Ayn Rand at arm’s length, he made it less likely that conservatives would be labeled extremists. In the case of the John Birch Society, Buckley wrote a 5,000-word essay, “The Question of Robert Welch,” that condemned the group’s founder, arguing that “the best thing Mr. Welch could do to serve the cause of anticommunism in the United States would be to resign.” Buckley’s purges are often held up as a great success, but the reality is that Welch did not resign and the John Birch Society continued to have influence.

While Buckley initially aligned his magazine with segregationists in the South, a choice that has marred the movement’s reputation ever since, he was resolute in opposing Alabama Gov. George Wallace’s particular brand of populism. Wallace, of course, was a strident proponent of segregation in the 1960s. During his second run for president, on a third-party ticket in 1968, the candidate turned heavily to anti-elitist rhetoric. “As he began to attack the federal government and its know-it-all politicians and bureaucrats,” Continetti writes, “his support among conservatives grew.” Buckley called Wallace “Mr. Evil,” “a dangerous man,” and a “great phony.” He was also taken aback by the “uncouthness that seems to account for his general popularity.”

Other conservatives joined the denunciations. Wallace’s conservative fans, National Review founding senior editor Frank Meyer wrote, need to recognize that “there are other dangers to conservatism and to the civilization conservatives are defending than the liberal Establishment, and that to fight liberalism without guarding against these dangers runs the risk of ending in a situation as bad as or worse as our present one.” In modern parlance: Don’t back a man like Wallace to own the libs.”‘

Opinion | The French Election Is a Glimpse at the Volatile Future of Western Politics

“whether Emmanuel Macron or Marine Le Pen is victorious, the election already offers more evidence of the challenges facing mainstream politics, with the collapse of the traditionally dominant parties and populist forces still rising across the West.”

“Whether this broad rejection of the status quo means we are headed toward a world dominated by illiberal politics or merely one of extreme and permanent volatility isn’t yet clear. And new crises, notably the consequences of climate change, may well fashion some hybrid version of our politics.
But ultimately, populism is probably a transition, not an end-state. The politics of the center are far from irrelevant, but our institutions — overwhelmed by the politics of accusation and resentment — no longer know how to provide voters with reasonable and legitimate means to address their grievances from a centrist vantage point. So populism, however destructive, may yet force Western politicians to craft new institutional paths to representation and to compromise — more in sync with what people experience in their everyday lives, and with what they value. More reactive, more local, and more flexible. But a painful and treacherous transition it is, something made quite clear in the French election.”

“Macron is no longer the exciting young maverick who stormed the Elysée, having siphoned support from a frustrated center-left and scandal-plagued center-right. He’s struggled to govern through crises like the Yellow Vests protests and pension reform strikes, while his “Jupiterian” approach and occasional sarcasm have all led to a deep resentment of his persona and some outright loathing in many quarters.

Post-pandemic, most French voters might have grudgingly agreed that Macron’s government has “done OK,” and as a result, Macron entered this election well ahead of other candidates in the polls, and slightly boosted by the Ukraine crisis. But a majority of voters are at best disillusioned and most often angry.

Meanwhile, in five short years, Le Pen has furthered her mission to appear more mainstream. Gone are the days when 80 percent of French voters thought she and her far-right party were a menace to democracy. Today, the number is barely 50 percent.

Le Pen’s strategy (since she took over the party from her Holocaust-denying father in 2011) has been to focus on lower income voters. Rather than simply woo those susceptible to a traditional populist right agenda on immigration and integration as her father had done, she made a play for working class voters who increasingly felt that the traditional left had deserted them and their interests. This story is a familiar one in advanced democracies where progressive or social democratic parties have struggled to reconcile representing the economically vulnerable while supporting inclusive visions of societies that lower income voters feel disproportionately benefit an (urban, cultural) elite. We saw this play out in the Brexit vote, but also in the Trump vote.”

“In 2017, Macron was elected by reducing the Socialists to rubble and putting the center-right on life support. This year, that trend accelerated, as the Socialists’ candidate came in below 2 percent (after holding the presidency a mere five years ago) and the leading candidate of the center-right came in under 5 percent. The result is that Macron aside, the candidates from the main institutional parties have been wiped out in this election.

Of the three candidates who came in over 20 percent, one is of the populist right (Le Pen) and one is of the populist left (Mélenchon); both advocate a distanced relationship with the EU and with the U.S., governance by popular referendum and pulling out of NATO or NATO’s integrated command. Add to this the 7 percent for extreme right Éric Zemmour and the 26 percent of voters who stayed home, and it shows the vast majority of French voters are refusing to engage with mainstream politics.”

“Part of the attraction of illiberal ideologies (sometimes imported from places such as Russia and China that have gone through more recent political and economic upheavals) is their rejection of the status quo. What is coming into focus is the fact that voters have a bone to pick not just with the choices they are being offered, but with the way they are being asked to choose.”

Everyone loves Biden — even Europe’s conservatives

“Forty-eight hours after Joe Biden emerged as the winner of the U.S. presidential election, Europe was still basking in the afterglow.

Not even Angela Merkel could resist a victory lap, delivering a live statement on German television to congratulate Biden and Kamala Harris. Legend has it that Merkel only agreed to seek another term as chancellor in 2017 because of her dislike of Donald Trump, whose name was conspicuously absent from her remarks on Monday.)

For many European leaders, Biden’s win represented more than just the prayed-for end of Trump’s presidency — it was a welcome shot in the arm for Europe’s battered brand of centrist politics as it battles its own populist demons, a glimmer of hope that the “good guys” can win.”

“It doesn’t help that the European politicians who have aligned themselves with Trump are on the political fringe.”