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The Great Disruption

Understanding the Populist Forces Behind Trump, Brexit, and LePen

Anil Hira

The Great Disruption: Understanding the Populist Forces Behind Trump, Brexit, and LePen aims to put the shocking events of 2016–17 into a long-term, historical perspective. The seemingly disparate and separately discussed election of Donald Trump, Brexit vote, success of Marine LePen’s National Front Party, and the wider spread of populism have an overlooked commonality: They all start with a similar core constituency of disaffected older blue collar workers. Using a data-driven analysis, author Anil Hira shows that racism and xenophobia are linked to economic populism—xenophobia becoming widespread under conditions of economic stress. Hira shows further that since economic stress is felt very deeply, conventional solutions are inadequate. There is a perception among the affected group that politicians can not offer "normal" solutions and thus turn to populism. The Great Disruption traces long-term and largely un-linked shifts in the economy from globalization to automation to uncover the deeper sources of populist outbreaks. This book demonstrates that racial and immigrant attitudes have not changed, rather any backlash is a scapegoating effect of economic loss and dislocation. Populism not only misdiagnoses the situation but also misses the wider long-term threats of climate change, demographic shifts, and the rise of China. Recognizing the transformational nature of such threats depends on the maturation of the Millennial generation and its willingness to evolve towards a more global style of governance, in the process rejecting the shallow promises of populism.

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Chapter 5. Underlying Force Number 1: “American Carnage”—A Codeword for Long-term Economic Decline in the West and the Shrinking Middle Class


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“American Carnage”—A Codeword for Long-term Economic Decline in the West and the Shrinking Middle Class

Populist Recognition of the Relative Decline of the West

Donald J. Trump, in his inaugural address, famously said “this American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” No one, perhaps not even he, really understood what he meant by this phrase. Nor could pundits understand the origins or exact meaning of his signature phrase, “Make America Great Again.” It left the majority of the audience in Washington and all of the pundits who critically analyze his speeches aghast and claiming racist undertones, but to his core constituency, they resonate perfectly. In this chapter on economic trends, we explain exactly what he meant by that phrase, which reflects, but does not explain, long-term developments in the world economy.

We should start by saying what we mean by decline. When we say there is a sense of decline, we do not just mean in international relations terms, that the pecking order has changed, though that in and of itself is quite important to psychological well-being. As I argue in Three Perspectives on Human Irrationality, status is fundamental to human identity and a sense of well-being. What we are talking about here goes well beyond perceptions, to a palpable sense of slipping living standards and prospects, as we reveal later in this chapter. ← 75 | 76 →


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