The Flinchum File
Thoughtful Economic Analysis and Existential Opinions

Rise of Populism?

06/18/2019

You’ll recall the President’s famous boast that he could shoot somebody in the middle of Fifth Avenue and not lose a single member of his “base.”  That was an interesting comment, and I started thinking about the origin of his base.  At first, as a student of Hillbilly Elegy, I thought it was logical that the millions of people who were victimized by globalization and then denied re-training by the government were angry enough to “bust-up” Washington and saw Trump as the best hope to do just that.  Those abused people were joined by the NRA to form a loyal and powerful base.

Jared Diamond’s new book is Upheaval, where he studies the rise of nationalism/populism in both Europe and America.    He believes four conditions creates a “witches brew” for the growth of populism.  The first is DISTRUST, which sees the increasing divide between college-educated and non-college-educated creates a “diploma democracy”, where a person’s vote can often be predicted by his/her education.  Has distrust of the educated ever been higher?  The second is DESTRUCTION, which is an apparent loss of national identity, largely from an influx of immigrants.  What does it mean to be an American, when the Hispanic population is increasing faster than the Anglo population?  Surprisingly, young people are more sensitive to this than I expected.  It is not just angry, old, white men who worry about this.  (Diamond made me realize I have a “blind-spot” to this problem.)

DEPRIVATION reflects the widening inequality of both wealth and income, which feeds a paranoia that people and their ethnic groups are under attack.  This is a “bridge between culture and economics.”  For example, the rich are getting richer because they’re taking money and power from Christians, right?  Lastly, DEALIGNMENT suggests, while there are good Republicans, the Republican Party is just another pack of sleazy liars.  The same for Democrats and the Democratic Party.  Past party alignment means less than ever before, especially among young voters.  Being very different from all other Republican leaders did not disqualify Donald Trump for the Republican nomination, because voters are increasingly “de-aligned” with the Republican Party, as well as the Democratic Party.

As usual, Diamond’s ability to deconstruct big trends is a huge step forward intellectually, but I still prefer my own analysis.

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