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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 is written for a general audience interested in politics, coming out of several public discussions and numerous interviews in the wake of the events of 2016, and particularly the election of Donald Trump. Observers everywhere seemed shocked and befuddled not only by his election but also the rise of right wing and left wing extremes throughout the West, and nationalistic reactions to globalization capped by the Brexit (the UK leaving the European Union). Is all of this a temporary blip, a hiccup of madness, or can we reach a wider conclusion that Western society is going through a sea change? A flood of social science analyses is emerging to examine these events, teasing out demographic “swing” voters, looking at political party formation, and trying in general to gauge citizen sentiment. The research for the most part focuses on each event separately, seeking to explain election/referendum results through two main variables- latent racism and anger over lingering economic conditions of recession. The events are separated in the analysis as they occur in different electoral systems.

While I see the merit of the “trees” view, I believe that a wider, “forest” view is necessary to truly understand and link these events. What has come from much of the public discourse is the usual kind of global schadenfreude on events in the U.S. as kind of inevitable racial paroxysm and the events in Europe as a kind of faint hiccup. Having grown up and worked in ← xiii...

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