Paul Krugman may call it “ugliness”, but he nevertheless does a better job of explaining the massive shift in American and European politics to frightened American left-liberals than one might have expected. Unfortunately, he omitted the most important element, which is to say, immigration:
My European friends will no doubt say that I’m oversimplifying, but from an American perspective it looks as if Europe’s establishment has tried to freeze the xenophobic right, not just out of political power, but out of any role in acceptable discourse. To be a respectable European politician, whether of the left or of the right, you have had to accept the European project of ever-closer union, of free movement of people, open borders, and harmonized regulations. This leaves no room for right-wing nationalists, even though right-wing nationalism has always had substantial popular support.
What the European establishment may not have realized, however, is that its ability to define the limits of discourse rests on the perception that it knows what it is doing. Even admirers and supporters of the European project (like me) have to admit that it has never had deep popular support or a lot of democratic legitimacy. It is, instead, an elite project sold largely on the claim that there is no alternative, that it is the path of wisdom.
And there’s nothing quite like sustained poor economic performance – the kind of poor performance brought on by Europe’s austerity and hard-money obsessions — to undermine the elite’s reputation for competence. That’s probably why one recent study found a consistent historical relationship between financial crises and the rise of right-wing extremism. And history is repeating itself.
The story is quite different in America, because the Republican Party hasn’t tried to freeze out the kind of people who vote National Front in France. Instead, it has tried to exploit them, mobilizing their resentment via dog whistles to win elections. This was the essence of Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” and explains why the G.O.P. gets the overwhelming majority of Southern white votes.
But there is a strong element of bait-and-switch to this strategy. Whatever dog whistles get sent during the campaign, once in power the G.O.P. has made serving the interests of a small, wealthy economic elite, especially through big tax cuts, its main priority — a priority that remains intact, as you can see if you look at the tax plans of the establishment presidential candidates this cycle.
Sooner or later the angry whites who make up a large fraction, maybe even a majority, of the G.O.P. base were bound to rebel — especially because these days much of the party’s leadership seems inbred and out of touch.
What the liberal-left elite tends to forget is that a lot of liberals and left-wingers are still nationalists at heart. They may want a liberal, or a left-wing France, or America, or Britain, but they still want it to be identifiably France, America, or Britain. That’s why Front National, Trump, and UKIP, among others, are actually drawing more heavily from the Socialists, the Democrats, and Labour than they are from the center-right parties.
Immigration is a cross-spectrum issue, and until you realize that, you cannot understand that it is the only issue that matters in Western politics now. Everything else is akin to worrying about the details of French pension payments when the Wehrmacht is blitzkrieging past the Maginot Line.