December 13, 2015

THE ECONOMIST: Playing with fear: In America and Europe, right-wing populist politicians are on the march. The threat is real.

Populists differ, but the bedrock for them all is economic and cultural insecurity. Unemployment in Europe and stagnant wages in America hurt a cohort of older working-class white men, whose jobs are threatened by globalisation and technology. Beneath them, they complain, are immigrants and scroungers who grab benefits, commit crimes and flout local customs. Above them, overseeing the financial crisis and Europe’s stagnation, are the impotent self-serving elites in Washington and Brussels who never seem to pay for their mistakes.

Jihadist terrorism pours petrol on this resentment—and may even extend populism’s appeal. Whenever IS inspires or organises murderous attacks, the fear of immigrants and foreigners grows. When the terrorists get through, as they sometimes inevitably will, it highlights the ruling elite’s inadequacy. When leaders, in response, warn against slandering Islam and focus on gun control, as Barack Obama did in a speech from the Oval Office on December 6th, populists dismiss it as yet more political correctness.

When elites are weak, ineffectual, and dishonest — not to mention staggeringly corrupt — you get populism. If those, like The Economist, who purport to police the elites had done a better job over the past decade, maybe we wouldn’t have come to such a pass.

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