Trump, Neoliberalism and the Left

Aditya Chakrabortty points out some mistakes in many analyses of the US vote. Donald Trump’s victory cannot be blamed just on the white working class, because it is a wider phenomenon extending to much of the the American middle class. The latter supported Trump because it has seen its economic conditions worsening in past years. However, rather than globalization, this is due to the neoliberal policies that the US and other western governments have supported for the last four decades. George Monbiot investigates the ideological roots of neoliberalism starting from Hayek’s book The Constitution of Liberty. There, competition is identified as the defining characteristic of human relations, and the market as a means to discover a natural hierarchy of winners and losers. Multimillionaires were eager to lobby for this doctrine as a means of defending themselves against democracy. Following the narrowest possible definition of freedom (“absence of coercion”), democracy was “not an ultimate or absolute value”. In fact, liberty depends on preventing the majority from exercising choices over the direction that politics and society should take. The result is disempowerment,, followed by disenfranchisement. If the dominant ideology stops governments from changing social outcomes, they can no longer respond to the needs of the electorate. The paradoxical result is that the backlash against neoliberalism’s crushing of political choice has elevated to power just the kind of man that Hayek worshipped.

Nick Cohen thinks that liberals must change if they want to stop the right from winning. Emotionally, as well as rationally, the working classes sense that the left is no longer their friend. For too many in the poor neighbourhoods of the west, middle-class liberals have become like their bosses at work. They tell you what you can and cannot think. They warn that you must accept their superiority and you will be in trouble if you do not. Marc Saxer framed Trump’s victory within a wider revolt against globalism, arguing that whoever believes that the people’s rage is only fuelled by irrational fears still has not understood what is going on. The middle and working classes of all Western countries lost out when it comes to status, prosperity and social security, as is shockingly evident by looking at Milanovic’s famous elephant curve. The impact on Europe shall be big, particularly in all elections that can be framed as a revolt against the establishment. Governments of all colours have no choice but to react to the new popular mood and move towards more protectionism.

Trump and the EU

The Economist emphasizes that the Trump’s electoral surprise owed something to the successful Brexit campaign in Britain earlier this year. The Brexit and Trump campaigns appealed to the same sort of voters, namely those who feel they have been marginalised, or even victimised, by the march of globalisation. According to Anand Menon, however, Trump is bad news for leavers, since it makes it clear that the EU now has bigger problems than Brexit. The rising tide of populism in the continent will make governments even more hostile to the idea that the UK should be allowed to benefit from the single market while restricting freedom of movement.

Effie Pedaliu expresses more general worries about the EU’s stability since the Union is already dealing with the deep uncertainties generated by Brexit, its economy is not showing signs of improvement, and many Eurozone countries are suffering under austerity. It is in this climate that the Italian referendum next month and the French and German elections in 2017 will take place. The concern is that Trump’s victory may legitimise narrow horizons, isolationism and protectionism, which many voters deem preferable to altruism, compassion and open-mindedness. Tim King is more cautiously optimistic: while he believes that the Union is the embodiment of top-down decision making and the ideal target of anti-establishment politics, what matters, he argues, is the configuration of the party systems in individual states, on which the Union’s future rests. Robert Cooper maintains that while new presidents are always unknown quantities, Trump takes unknownness to a whole new level. Europe should react politely and calmly, and instead of asking whether Donald Trump is serious, we should ask when we are going to get serious ourselves–collectively–given that the United States’ historical role in encouraging the EU to stick together might be over.

This Ideas Monitor is by Carlo Burelli and Alexander Damiano Ricci

Photo Credits CC Tony Webster

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