Sun, May 29, 2016 - Page 9 News List

Why Trump? We have seen these dynamics before

Backlashes against globalization spawned two world wars, and Trump’s rise has been mirrored by far-right parties across the EU

By Eduardo Porter  /  NY Times News Service

Why Donald Trump? That is the big question the stunned Republican establishment, the US’ worried allies and his frazzled Democratic opponents are asking.

However, here is the better question: Why did it take someone like Trump so long to show up and threaten to upend the nation’s political order?

Look around the advanced market democracies of the industrialized, generally prosperous West. Versions of Trump and the kind of politics he represents have been popping up everywhere.

In Denmark, that haven of social democracy US Senator Bernie Sanders loves, a nativist party that rails against immigration, multiculturalism and the loss of sovereignty to the EU won more than one-fifth of the vote in parliamentary elections last year, three times the share it got in 1998.

From the Finns Party, formerly the True Finns, to the UK Independence Party, populist parties with a nationalist, xenophobic streak are all over Europe’s political stage. Marine Le Pen of France’s National Front got nearly 18 percent of the first-round vote in France’s last presidential elections. In Austria, a far-right party that says immigration must be stopped to protect cultural identity and social peace barely lost an election on Sunday for the largely ceremonial, but symbolically important office of president.

Remarkable though he might seem on the US political scene, Trump perhaps can be best understood as the face of a broader global dynamic: the resistance to policies that encourage global competition and open borders to people who have lived too long on the losing side.

This is not new.

“There is something cyclical here,” said Paul De Grauwe, a professor of European political economy at the London School of Economics. “We must keep in mind that we have seen these dynamics before.”

The world’s “golden age” of globalization around the turn of the 19th century into the 20th was capped by what came to be known as the Great War. The discontent bred of the worldwide economic devastation of the 1930s ended in another war.

“Backlashes against globalization promoted a zero-sum-game thinking: To protect ourselves, we must do so at the expense of somebody else,” said Harold James, an expert on European history at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. “It increases nationalism and the willingness to go to war.”

Anger is built in. Expanded trade and immigration put pressure on the jobs and wages of the working class, but delivered enormous wealth and enhanced power into the hands of a tiny elite. In the absence of actions to mitigate the damage and more broadly share the bounty of globalization, it is no surprise anger against the establishment has opened the door to unorthodox politics.

In his new book Global Inequality, Branko Milanovic, of the City University of New York’s Graduate Center, documents a shrinking middle class around the industrialized world, not just in the US and Britain, but also in more egalitarian nations, like Germany, Sweden and Australia.

“The middle class allows for both democracy and stability,” he wrote. Middle-class people “tend to eschew extremism of both the left and the right.”

Workers who feel themselves losing their perch in the middle class might be the most vulnerable of all to a populist appeal.

Trump might seem unusual to people in the US, because the US did not produce the kind of autocratic populist leaders Europe offered the 20th century, men who built power bases blaming others for their ills: immigrants, Jews, foreigners in general.

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