What Liberals Can Learn from Donald Trump

Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015
Businessman Donald Trump gives a speech in front of the United States Capitol in Washington DC, September 9, 2015 (Joshua M. Hoover)

Some Republicans in the United States have tried to make the case that Donald Trump, their party’s likely presidential nominee, is somehow the left’s fault.

Bobby Jindal, the former Louisiana governor and a failed presidential candidate, blamed Trump’s popularity on Barack Obama in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal. After eight years of the Democrat’s cool and nuance, it was little wonder, Jindal argued, that voters longed for bluntness and “strength”.

That was followed by an article in The Daily Beast that said “political correctness” had created Trump. Britain’s The Spectator published something similar. At Mother Jones, Kevin Drum rejecting this thesis, but recognized it was not entirely without merit.

Before blaming others, conservatives should take a long, hard look in the mirror. There is more right- than left-wing complicity in Trump’s rise. I argued back in December that mainstream Republicans had for too long ignored or tried to co-opt the crazies among them. Conor Friedersdorf has made a similar argument in The Atlantic. Jonathan Bernstein argued much the same at Bloomberg View not long after Trump launched his presidential bid.

Even so, we can see that Trump is a reaction to liberal pressures in several ways. That’s not to say the left is to blame. But liberals can learn from this. Read more “What Liberals Can Learn from Donald Trump”

Spain Should Seize Opportunity of More Liberal Government

Albert Rivera, leader of the Spanish Citizens party, poses for a photo in Madrid, August 6, 2013
Albert Rivera, leader of the Spanish Citizens party, poses for a photo in Madrid, August 6, 2013 (Ciudadanos/Jordi Esteban)

Polls suggest no party will win an outright majority in Spain’s election this weekend. For the first time since democracy was restored, the country may need a coalition government.

Provided it’s one between Mariano Rajoy’s conservatives and the liberal Ciudadanos (“Citizens”), we think Spain should welcome the prospect.

A political duopoly is unhealthy. For more than thirty years, Rajoy’s People’s Party and the Socialists have alternated in power. Corruption and nepotism, while not at Greek or Latin American levels, are too common. When it comes to economic and social policy, the two main parties, for all their campaign rhetoric, really aren’t that far apart. Read more “Spain Should Seize Opportunity of More Liberal Government”

Britain’s Cameron Shows Liberal Side at Conference

British prime minister David Cameron addresses the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, England, October 30, 2012
British prime minister David Cameron addresses the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, England, October 30, 2012 (Andrew Parsons)

When British prime minister David Cameron was reelected in May, this website urged liberals to rejoice. His centrist platform, we argued, would do more to advance the liberal cause than either Labour or the Liberal Democrats.

The Conservative Party leader’s conference speech on Wednesday vindicated that view.

The prime minister spoke with pride about how “social justice, equality for gay people, tackling climate change and helping the world’s poorest” are now “at the center of the Conservative Party’s mission.” He said he was frustrated that “people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names” — and this comment was met with a standing ovation from a conference that had earlier listened to Home Secretary Theresa May bemoaning high levels of immigration.

There is a reactionary minority in the Conservative Party that still mistrusts Cameron’s “modernizing” effort. But his unexpected triumph in May has silenced the critics (for now) and showed that a liberal agenda, tempered by a dose of English patriotism and a bit of old-fashioned Tory paternalism, can be a winning strategy. Read more “Britain’s Cameron Shows Liberal Side at Conference”

Why Liberals Should Rejoice in David Cameron’s Reelection

Nick Clegg David Cameron
Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom deliver a news conference at 10 Downing Street, London, December 21, 2010 (The Prime Minister’s Office)

Liberals who worry that Prime Minister David Cameron’s reelection on Thursday marks the demise of an internationalist Britain in favor of “Little England” fail to appreciate just how much the Conservative Party leader has done for liberalism.

Nick Clegg, Cameron’s former deputy, was understandably bitter when he stepped down as Liberal Democrat leader on Friday. Having lost all but eight seats in Parliament, the traditional third party in British politics was replaced by the Scottish nationalists who won 56 seats.

“Years of remorseless economic and social hardship following the crash in 2008 and the grinding insecurities of globalization have led for people to reach to new certainties,” Clegg said. “The politics of identity, of nationalism, of us versus them is now on the rise.”

He could have said the same about any Western democracy. The conclusion he drew from this, however, was wrong.

Liberalism, here, as well as across Europe, is not faring well against the politics of fear.

His left-leaning brand of liberalism, no. But former Liberal Democrat voters in England didn’t switch to the United Kingdom Independence Party which represents those politics of fear. They voted for Cameron’s Conservatives instead because he advances a type of liberalism that works.

Clegg isn’t alone in underestimating Cameron’s liberalism. Read more “Why Liberals Should Rejoice in David Cameron’s Reelection”

As Podemos Falls, Spanish Liberals Rise in Polls

Albert Rivera, leader of the Spanish Citizens party, poses for a photo in Madrid, August 6, 2013
Albert Rivera, leader of the Spanish Citizens party, poses for a photo in Madrid, August 6, 2013 (Ciudadanos/Jordi Esteban)

Spanish voters disillusioned about their country’s left- and right-wing parties are moving away from radical leftists who look to Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras’ Syriza for inspiration. The centrist Ciudadanos party is gaining popularity instead as Spain prepares for parliamentary elections later this year.

Only nine years old, Ciudadanos is originally from Catalonia, where it opposes the regional independence movement. Its leader, Albert Rivera, attributes the party’s nationwide appeal to its sensible policy proposals.

In an interview with the Financial Times, Rivera says he shares the radical Podemos party’s diagnosis of what ails Spain. But their solutions are obsolete, he argues.

They stand for a very interventionist model, for more state control. They blame the system. We blame the people who have corrupted the system.

Read more “As Podemos Falls, Spanish Liberals Rise in Polls”

Between Illiberal Democrats and Undemocratic Liberals

A demonstration against Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev, December 2, 2013
A demonstration against Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovich in Kiev, December 2, 2013 (Alexandra Gnatoush)

The political upheavals in Egypt, Thailand, Turkey and Ukraine share a striking commonality which suggests that democracy is not enough to Westernize these countries.

In all four, a liberal minority has agitated against a majoritarian government that, unlike majority governments in Europe, is primarily concerned with advancing the interests of its own supporters.

In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood, freely elected after the fall of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011, was seen as looking only after its own kind, disregarding the mounting concerns of the nation’s Christians, secular Muslims and women. The dissatisfied, and sometimes terrified, minority became a majority last year, giving the military a mandate to topple the Islamists. An overwhelming majority of Egyptians has since approved a constitutional rewrite that could pave the way for the army to return to power.

Opponents of Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra, who was elected in 2009 after her brother Thaksin was exiled, would rather like the same to happen in their country. They intend to boycott an election this year, knowing that the majority of Thai voters, especially in the poorer north of the country, will reelect the Shinawatras.

An army coup is less likely in Turkey where Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is similarly popular in the least developed parts of his country. Minority Alevis and Kurds as well as young and urban voters have grown wary of his increasingly authoritarian style of government yet Erdoğan could very well defy his own party’s rules on term limits and stand for reelection again in 2015 — and win.

Ukraine’s opposition accuses President Viktor Yanukovich of authoritarian behavior in the way he suppresses demonstrations against his government’s deepening of ties with Russia instead of Europe. In the west of the country, many urban, middle-class Ukrainians had hoped their country would sign an association agreement with the European Union last year. Yanukovich reneged on the deal and turned to his former Soviet master for financial support. Yet he still seems to enjoy the backing of the majority of Ukrainians, especially in the east of the country which is home to some eight million ethnic Russians.

The Egyptians who opposed the Muslim Brotherhood, the Thais who oppose the Shinawatras, the Turks who oppose Erdoğan and the Ukrainians who oppose Yanukovich tend to be urban, better paid and altogether more worldly than the majority of their compatriots. Their values are relatively more liberal, more Western, and can be more important to them than democracy — exposing a distinction between the two that many Westerners don’t have to make. Indeed, the political divide in these countries risks being one between illiberal democrats and undemocratic liberals. Between the two, who should the West support?

The European Union and the United States promote democracy abroad, assuming that democratic regimes are inherently more stable and likely to cooperate with each other on multilateral issues. In the four countries discussed here at least, that has proven to be not the case.

Democracy in Egypt brought to power a movement that not only had fundamentally different values from the West but was less of a stalwart ally than Mubarak had been.

When Turkey’s generals ruled the country, they were similarly more likely to line up behind the United States than Erdoğan has done. He also soured relations with Israel, the only democracy in the proper Western sense in the Middle East, calling into question the notion that democracies are always natural allies.

In Thailand and Ukraine, democracy has privileged one group over another — conservative and mostly rural voters from the north and east of the two countries respectively against middle and upper class voters from the cities in the south and west. It has not fostered a culture of consensus, as exists in Western Europe. It has caused confrontation instead.

Whichever group happens to be in power in Bangkok matters little to the West. Thailand is likely to ally with the United States in East Asia in either case. But the outcome of the power struggles in Egypt and Ukraine are relevant to Europe and the United States.

Had the Muslim Brotherhood remained in control of Egypt, the country could have gone on to pursue a less vigorous anti-terrorist policy and broken the axis of American allies in the region. The army, by contrast, seeks to undermine Hamas’ legitimacy in Gaza and is backed Saudi Arabia an the other Arab Gulf states. The United States should have no desire whatsoever to encourage an Islamist resurgence in Egypt.

Even if Ukraine’s association with the European Union could have cost the bloc whereas now Russia has had to throw the country a lifeline with $15 billion in credits, its longer term goal of expanding the European sphere of influence and decreasing its dependence on Russian natural gas has been damaged by Yanukovich’s snub. Why should European countries still support democracy in Ukraine when it produces a government that is hostile to them? Certainly Russia wouldn’t if it were the other way around.

The focus on democracy can thus harm the Western interest. European countries and the United States should care a little less about helping organize elections wherever they can and pay more attention to people who share their values — who are more likely to share their interests as well.

Young Britons’ Liberalism Echoes Across Atlantic

Young Britons are far more likely than their elders to be economically and socially liberal. But they are not alone. Young Americans, too, are skeptical of big government.

The Economist points out this week that Britons in their twenties and thirteen “are relaxed, almost to the point of ennui, about other people’s sexual preferences, drug habits and skin color.” And while, like older Britons, they not care much for high immigration, they are also “tired of politicians banging on about it.”

Their social liberalism corresponds with an economic liberalism. Almost 70 percent of those who were born before the Second World War considers Britain’s welfare state to be one of its proudest achievements. Of those born after 1979, the year Conservative prime minister Margaret Thatcher came to power and successfully challenged the collectivist consensus in British politics, less than one in three agree. Read more “Young Britons’ Liberalism Echoes Across Atlantic”

Canada’s New Liberal Leader Boosts Party’s Popularity

Canada’s new Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau, might lead the centrists to return to power in 2015 when the Conservatives will have governed almost a decade. A Forum Research poll released on Tuesday suggested that Trudeau could win 43 percent of the votes in a national election compared to 30 percent for the ruling party, enough to give him a parliamentary majority.

The son of Pierre Elliott Trudeau, who was prime minister for fifteen years, was announced the winner in a party leadership vote on Sunday. He got almost 80 percent support.

Other polls have been less encouraging for the Liberals. An Ekos survey published on Sunday had them virtually tied with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservatives. But they lagged 26 to 34 percent if only likely voters were included. A Nanos poll released on Friday gave the Liberals 35 percent of the votes. Read more “Canada’s New Liberal Leader Boosts Party’s Popularity”