Renzi Resigns, Italy Split Down the Middle, War on the Spanish Right

Matteo Renzi steps down after his center-left is decimated in Italy’s parliamentary elections.

Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy answers questions from reporters in Modena, September 17, 2015
Prime Minister Matteo Renzi of Italy answers questions from reporters in Modena, September 17, 2015 (Palazzo Chigi)

Italy’s center-left leader, Matteo Renzi, has stepped down after his Democratic Party fell from first to fourth place in the election on Sunday.

I argued here in January that Renzi had two challenges: uniting the left and convincing voters he could still deliver reforms.

He failed at both. He watered down labor reforms in an attempt to appease the left wing of his party, but they walked out anyway. He didn’t secure a supermajority for constitutional reforms, necessitating a referendum to which he then foolishly tied his own political career.

Renzi did get important things right, not in the least recognizing that the future of the Democratic Party lies not with old working-class voters but with the young and college graduates. Yet he failed to dissuade them from supporting the Five Star Movement.

Italy split down the middle

The election has split Italy down the middle, the Financial Times reports:

In the north, the League triumphed largely on the back of an anti-immigration and anti-European agenda. In the south, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement was even more successful, gaining a majority of votes in many areas. Its pledge of a basic income for all under the poverty line struck a chord in the impoverished region.

Renzi’s Democrats held their ground in and around Bologna and Florence, but were wiped out in most other places.

We’ve seen similar geographical divides in other countries. Most of the attention goes to the revenge of the left behind: Rust Belt states voting for Donald Trump, the former East Germany voting for the far left and the far right. The League’s success is a reminder not to take wealthier areas for granted. They may at some point decide they have had enough of subsidizing ungrateful provinces.

War on the Spanish right

Politico writes about the war on the Spanish right. I mentioned a few days ago that Mariano Rajoy needs the liberal Citizens for his majority in Congress, but that they also stand the most to gain from the collapse of his People’s Party.

We are living in parallel societies

Quillette has published my essay about polarization in Western democracies and what we can do about it.

I blame populists like Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen for tapping into a toxic combination of discontent and resentment, but I argue liberals may have unwittingly contributed to the radicalization of fearful conservatives.

You don’t convince people to be more relaxed about female power or gay rights by ridiculing old-fashioned gender norms. You don’t defeat jingoists by mocking patriotism or open up people’s eyes to racial injustice by shaming their whiteness.

We need to find a way back to the center. I see two main challenges:

  1. Updating our social norms in such a way that everybody (or at least the vast majority of people) can accept change.
  2. Finding a way to give workers without a university education the chance to make a valuable contribution to society.

I don’t have all the answers, but I have a few suggestions. Click here to read more.