9.8.16

TAKE YOUR EXPERTISE AND CATCH THE NEXT TRAIN OUT OF TOWN.

"Rebellion is stirring in the West, and maybe that's not a bad thing," according to The American Interest's Andrew A. Michta.
The experience of open borders, mass migration, and top-down regulation has undercut the people’s sense of their own sovereignty in Western societies, leaving many to grapple not only with economic hardship but also, and perhaps even more importantly, with a growing sense of cultural marginalization in their own states. The backlash against immigration has been the key driver of the revolt. This backlash, however, is less against the principle as such; the West has been historically welcoming of immigrants. Rather, opposition has swelled against the speed and manner in which immigrants are brought into the national culture, as well as the official policies that exert little pressure on new arrivals to acculturate. Multiculturalism, with its anti-Western bent, in combination with the ascendency of the liberal left across national media and in culture debates, has convinced more and more people that their communities are being transformed with minimal elite concern for their aspirations and priorities.
Did those geniuses really think they could forever intimidate regular folk with a lot of wordnoise to make it sound like every sort of aberrant behavior was something to be affirmed, when the corrosive presence of excessive authenticity and jarring transgressiveness was everywhere in plain sight?  Mr Michta, writing in a journal dealing with international relations, understandably focuses on the geopolitics, and yet something simpler is at work.
And yet there has been precious little introspection on the part of the intelligentsia on either side of the Atlantic as to what policies and factors of the past three decades have generated this surge of popular anger. The visceral response of our academic and professional classes to this rising tide of popular resistance in Europe and America has been initially to dismiss it as either another familiar populist spasm mixed with the fallout from the 2008 recession or as the inevitable aftershock of our transition to a post-industrial West. It has been called a manifestation of anger from those who lack the skills to adapt to a new economy—sore losers, unwilling or unable to retrain for new jobs, and therefore apt to fall through the cracks in the floor of our global edifice, which is otherwise seen as continuing to support unprecedented prosperity. This of course leaves aside the question of how one transforms a 55-year-old laid off automobile worker into a computer programmer, but such objections rarely figure prominently in academic debates on globalization.

The nationalist rebellions that are stirring across the West have thus far generated almost uniform elite condemnation on the grounds that such movements and the parties they have spawned are fed and driven by prejudice and intolerance, racism, discrimination, and—to quote one university discussion—a “desperate attempt to preserve white privilege.” And yet the vision of a globalized post-Westphalian, postmodern, and ultimately post-national future, which only a decade ago seemed well on its way to dominating political discourse as the new consensus in classrooms and boardrooms, is today shaky at best.
The people who play by the rules get dismissed as rubes or racists or bitter clingers, while the fashionably authentic or avant-garde or just plain ill-behaved get to behave badly.


Here's Mr Michta, proposing the corrective.
However, thus far the narrative of this surge of public anger aimed at Western elites has been confined to the simple, safe, and ultimately maddeningly imprecise concept of “populism,” with its implicitly negative connotation. After all, populists are by definition unsophisticated rubes who pitch the public simplistic solutions to the increasingly inscrutable complexities of the modern world. But this dismissal does nothing to help us understand what these movements are about. Were it all that simple, we could double down on the narrative of the forces of enlightened progress under assault by those of retrograde parochialism, and in this modern tale of cosmopolitanism betrayed by nativism keep on shaking our heads at the lack of judgement that surprisingly ever larger segments of the general public across Europe and the United States are displaying.

The reality is quite different. The West is experiencing a nationalist awakening of a magnitude not seen in decades because the policies of those decades have run their course and are no longer accepted. It is time we stopped and took it seriously, instead of dismissing it out of hand as an aberration defying explanation and unworthy of consideration. Like all incipient movements, this new nationalist awakening has its low points, and its spokesmen and spokeswomen can be clumsy, clownish, and downright rude; however, the public sentiment behind it deserves a hearing not because we like it or dislike it, but because it is reshaping our societies. And most of all, the latter-day peasants have shown that they will not stand for being ignored.
Let's try something simpler. The current day elites messed up.  Thus Michael Barone.
The common thread [among the British EU referendum and the national-populist strains of electoral politics, and the financial collapse] is the dysfunction of political, economic, media and academic elites. They persist in the belief that they understand what is best for ordinary people better than those people do themselves. In their persistence one sees complacency about actual results. Ordinary voters seem to be responding as Queen Elizabeth II reportedly did when, just after the 2008 financial meltdown, she asked a group of experts, "How come nobody could foresee it?"
Perhaps, as Mr Barone suggests, because the Wise Experts got it right. Until they stopped getting it right. Oops.

Thus we find ourselves in the strange situation, as Salon's Andrew O'Hehir notes, where the so-called progressive political party becomes the conservative party.
They were normal. They were pleasant. They were Democrats.

That was the idea, of course. Faced with an opposition party that has visibly gone insane and turned itself into a Gathering of the Juggalos, nominating not just the stupidest and least qualified candidate in political history but pretty nearly the worst person of all time, the Democrats have doubled down on normal. They have defeated or absorbed the defiantly non-normal left-wing opposition, at least for the moment, and driven the renegades out of the tent. Now they are ready to stand together, in nice pants, and save whatever can be saved of the American republic. They have built the last fortress of what Jeb Bush plaintively described last winter as “regular-order democracy,” a Minas Tirith of whole-grain wholesomeness, standing alone against the Dark Lord.

If Hillary Clinton herself has spent too long in the enclaves of power and privilege to qualify as fully normal, she remains normal-ish, a convincing simulacrum of the normal person she used to be. Clinton is not an orator in the Barack Obama class or a master showman like Donald Trump, but her speech on Thursday was well-crafted and well-modulated. She used the gendered perception that she is shrill or harsh or unlikable to her advantage, presenting herself as the unflappable adult administrator — the high school principal, writ large — prepared to make tough decisions while other people yell and lose their minds.

As the onslaught of Dad jokes on Twitter established, a person cannot be more egregiously normal than Tim Kaine, who seems deeply torn at every moment between a desire to take the Cub Scouts camping and a desire to take his wife to brunch. (At someplace, y’know, nice.)  Kaine’s primary role on the ticket is to soften and humanize it and lend it a snuggly fleece lining on cool fall evenings, which at the very least is a new role for a male politician to play. I don’t think the full historical force of the moment hit me until I saw Clinton and Kaine on stage together, clasping hands as running mates, and realized that the shorter one in the white pantsuit was at the top of the ticket.
I saw that same speech, and that same closing scene, and my reaction was "the harridan and the beta." Maybe that's going to be our new normal.  But Mr O'Hehir appears to be clinging to the old version of normal after all.
But I have questions about what normal means in 2016, and whether there is any such thing. There’s also the question of whether normal will work as an electoral strategy against the nuttiest political amalgamation of recent history, a Republican Party that has sold itself to a billionaire con man, emptied itself of its so-called core principles and imbibed massive doses of Alex Jones-style paranoia and conspiracy theory.

This is an obvious and unoriginal insight, but looking around me at the crowd of normals streaming toward the SEPTA station, I reflected that they (or, however reluctantly, we) do not know the Trump electorate, cannot understand what they believe or what they want, and have no effective way to communicate with them. While the assumption that “nice and normal” will outnumber and outvote “crazy and delusional” sounds reasonable to me — setting aside any interrogation of those terms for the moment — how the hell would I actually know? Ask Jeb Bush how his “regular-order democracy” is going. Ask David Cameron. Are “we” just playing the role of Charlie Brown, convincing ourselves that this time the collective Lucy of the disgruntled electorate won’t yank the ball away?
Put another way, we have the palace guard media preemptively framing a Trump victory as yet another temper tantrum by the people it's OK to sneer at.

No comments: