Our Best Stories of 2018

Brexit, EU reform, the future of the center-left and the spread of illiberal democracy.

As this year draws to a close, so does Britain’s membership of the EU. A “hard” Brexit looks likely, unless politicians belatedly recognize that the deal Theresa May has negotiated is the best on offer.

In continental Europe, Emmanuel Macron is weakened at home and struggling to win support for ambitious EU reforms in Brussels. The migration crisis has gone, but the political center still needs to come up with better policies.

On both sides of the Atlantic, center-left parties must decide whether to woo working-class voters or side with the socially progressive middle class. The lesson from Europe is that either strategy can work — but social democrats need to pick a side.

Brazil has elected its own version of Donald Trump. The fear is that Jair Bolsonaro will face even less resistance from institutions than the American caudillo.

May’s Is the Only Alternative to a No-Deal Brexit

British prime minister Theresa May attends the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017
British prime minister Theresa May attends the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, July 8, 2017 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Jay Allen)

2018 was the year of Brexit. There is now a draft treaty for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU and in my view it is the only alternative to no deal.

But it is attacked from all sides. Labour and the Liberal Democrats argue it would give Britain worse terms than it has now, but that was always going to be the case. The pro-Brexit right argues Britain can do better, but it can’t — and they know it. The EU is not going to give Britain all the sweet of membership without the bitter. What is on the table now is the best deal the island will get.

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Italian Pact Would Deprive Macron of Ally for EU Reform

Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni is received by French president Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace in Paris, September 27, 2017
Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni is received by French president Emmanuel Macron at the Elysée Palace in Paris, September 27, 2017 (Elysée)

The second-biggest development in Europe this year was the formation of a Euroskeptic government in Italy. The left-leaning Five Star Movement and far-right League were able to come to terms, despite having little more in common than a hostility toward the EU.

Alessandro Gagaridis has argued that the pact deprives French president Emmanuel Macron of an ally for EU reform. Italy was the biggest cheerleader of his proposals, which include creating a joint eurozone budget, a European Monetary Fund, harmonized taxation, a common border police and even a shared military force.

Germany has since come around on a number of Macron’s proposals, and Spain, under a new left-wing government, is a partner as well, but without Italian support the French leader has been forced to lower his ambitions.

Click here to read Alessandro’s analysis.

Democrats Should Target College Graduates in Suburbs

Aerial view of a suburb of Austin, Texas
Aerial view of a suburb of Austin, Texas (Shutterstock/Roschetzky Photography)

The debate in America’s Democratic Party is whether to woo working-class voters in Midwestern industrial states who switched to Donald Trump in 2016 or appeal to college graduates in Sun Belt suburbs who left the Republican Party that year to vote for Hillary Clinton.

My view is the latter and I explain why in this article. I worry that appeasing Trump voters would mean deemphasizing social issues, like immigration and transgender rights, which is both wrong on principle and not worth the tradeoff when it depresses Democratic turnout.

But I admit that’s also because I want it to be the better strategy.

With the Republican Party veering so far to the right, I’m desperate for a party that takes liberal (in the old-fashioned, European sense of the worse) positions on the economy and social policy. I’m for free markets, free trade and internationalism and I don’t want the government interfering in people’s personal lives. I once thought Republicans agreed. Now it seems more fruitful for the center-right to ally with Democrats.

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Social Democrats in Iberia and Scandinavia Try Opposite Strategies

Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2
Prime Minister António Costa of Portugal greets his Spanish counterpart, Pedro Sánchez, in Lisbon, July 2 (Governo da República Portuguesa/Clara Azevedo)

Social democrats in Europe face a similar dilemma: Take a harder line on borders, crime and integration in order to win back the working class? Or side with the socially progressive middle class?

The answer: either. Social democrats in Denmark and Sweden have opted for the former strategy. Their counterparts in Portugal and Spain have chosen the latter. Both are doing well.

The takeaway is that social democrats can no longer be all things to all people. They need to pick a side.

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Give America’s Cities the Power They Deserve

View of Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York at night, December 15, 2007
View of Columbus Circle in Manhattan, New York at night, December 15, 2007 (Thomas Hawk)

The red-blue divide in America has to do with education, income levels and views on race. But it is also a rural-urban split.

We’re seeing the same in Europe, but America’s federal system makes the problem worse. Sparsely populated areas have relatively more power than the cities. That wasn’t such a big problem until the rural-urban divide became partisan. Now the largely white countryside and small towns vote overwhelmingly Republican and multicultural cities elect only Democrats. American democracy has been thrown into a crisis of legitimacy and dysfunction as a result.

One solution is to turn cities into large, multi-member congressional districts. Another is to devolve more power to city governments.

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Loss of Control: What Moderates Get Wrong About Migration

Red Cross workers provide first aid to migrants in Hungary, September 4, 2015
Red Cross workers provide first aid to migrants in Hungary, September 4, 2015 (IFRC/Stephen Ryan)

Immigration has been reduced, but it remains one of the most divisive issues in the West.

András Tóth-Czifra argues that policies from the center have too often been either toothless, besides the point, too radical or unconvincing copies of the far right’s. This leaves voters with the impression that only the populist right is willing to fix a broken system. The inhumane policies of Hungary and the United States are the result.

Moderates need to step up their game. They should counter the narrative that there is an invasion of migrants and offer concrete solutions to problems at the border.

Click here to read András’ op-ed.

Is Brazil’s Bolsonaro the Trump of the Tropics?

Brazil's president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, stands while the national anthem plays in the National Congress in Brasília, November 6
Brazil’s president-elect, Jair Bolsonaro, stands while the national anthem plays in the National Congress in Brasília, November 6 (Agência Senado/Pedro França)

Another development that affects the whole of the developed world and that we are paying close attention to is the rise of illiberal strongmen and the return of authoritarianism.

The latest country to fall is Brazil, where the far-right Jair Bolsonaro won the presidential election in October.

Bolsonaro has a lot in common with the American caudillo, Donald Trump, but Christian FitzHugh sees important differences: Bolsonaro’s worldview is stuck in the Cold War and institutions in Brazil are weaker than in the United States.

Click here to read Christian’s analysis.