Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Thomas Piketty On Trumpism And Similar Trends In Europe

Thomas Piketty, whose book, Capital in the 21st Century, was one of the most popular books ever written on economics, describes his concerns about Trumpism and recent events in Europe. He understands that Trump is a unique personality but he also understands American history. Trump's policy proposals are consistent with a trend that began with Reagan in the 1980's.  Reagan made the tax system much less progressive and he tainted social welfare programs with racism with his famous description of the "welfare queen" who drove a Cadillac.  Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" was also based upon racism.  Lyndon Johnson's civil rights bill and his "Great Society" programs were skillfully exploited by Nixon.  The Democratic South was transformed into the Republican South.  The only thing new about Trumpism is that he added illegal Mexican's and concerns about Islamic terrorism to his bag of tricks.  He also exploited concerns about globalization but Piketty argues that Trumpism can't be explained by globalization.  Trump is merely an extension of Reagan and Nixon with a few frills.

The main question remains: how does a programme which is so clearly pro-rich and anti-social succeed in appealing to a majority of Americans as it did in 1980 and again in 2016? The classical answer is that globalisation and cut-throat competition between countries leads to the reign of each man for himself. But that is not sufficient: we have to add the skill of the Republicans in using nationalist rhetoric, in cultivating a degree of anti-intellectualism and, above all, in dividing the working classes by exacerbating ethnic, cultural and religious divisions.
In the meantime, the Democrat electorate focussed increasingly on the most highly educated and the minorities, and in the end, in some ways resembled the Republican electorate at the end of the 19th century (upscale Whites and Blacks emancipated), as if the wheel had turned full circle and the Roosevelt coalition uniting the working classes over and above racial differences had ultimately only been a parenthesis.
Let’s hope that Europe, which in some ways is threatened by a similar development with the working classes having greater faith for their defence in the anti-immigrant forces, than in those who describe themselves as progressive – will be capable of learning the lessons of history. And that the inevitable social failure of Trumpism will not lead our “Donald” into a headlong nationalist and military rush, as it has done others before him

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