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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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This book comes out of a shared sense of bewilderment at the election of Donald Trump in 2016. This led to several public discussions through Simon Fraser University’s Philosopher’s Café and the School of International Studies to try to explain the results to baffled Canadian audiences. Conversations with my Canadian colleagues, particularly Dr. Sanjay Jeram, pushed me to look beyond the headlines of race and xenophobia towards my key discipline, political economy. These conversations (around race vs. economics) enabled me to move beyond examining a singular event to thinking through the reasons behind the current populist zeitgeist. I began to realize that there were much deeper forces at work on the global scale, and started to think about this as a project not just as a diagnosis of this strange and unexpected turn of events but as a vision for the future, one that finally resolves what ails us. I also want to thank Leighton Kerr and Raphael Ochil for their research assistance; funded by Simon Fraser University’s work-study program, Ron Hira, for taking the time to read through and make valuable comments and suggestions; and Patty and Sarita Hira, my best sounding boards, for their help with research and editing that helped to improve the manuscript immensely.

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