Paul Krugman is right: the recent successes of the Far Right in the United States and Europe—for example, Trump and Le Pen—represents a failure of the establishment.*
But Krugman doesn’t go far enough, especially in identifying which elites are responsible for the current dangerous situation.
Krugman’s liberal conscience only allows him to pinpoint, in America, the Republican Party, and, on the other side of the pond, the designers of the European project and the post-crash austerity measures. He therefore exonerates two other important sectors of the establishment: the economic elite that made and benefited from the decisions that culminated in the crash of 2007-08, and the liberal wing of mainstream politicians that pushed the neoliberal reconfiguration of the public debate.
To let those elites off the hook is to misunderstand how we ended up in the current mess, with the no-longer-laughable success of Donald Trump in the primary polls and the resounding first-found victory of France’s National Front.
As I see it, much of the support for both Trump and Le Pen comes from sectors of the population who have been victims of the ongoing economic crises (not to mention the longer term trend of rising inequality and precarious livelihoods) and who, at the same time, have been pushed away from what at one time would have been their affinity for more left-wing political programs. But, in recent years, they have looked elsewhere, beyond the solutions sanctioned by the establishment, and thus have turned to the nationalist, xenophobic liberalism of the likes of Trump and Le Pen.**
Now, to be clear, that’s not to say that Trump and Le Pen are identical. The National Front appears to be a serious ideological innovation—left welfarism for former industrial workers allied to anti-migrants and nationalism, with a dose of serious critique of the euro and the European community thrown in. Trump, from what I can tell, appeals to white working-class voters but he has nothing positive to say economically to them, so he has to run on pure charisma/strongmanism.
Their supporters have been mostly excluded from both the lopsided elite-supervised recovery and from the neoliberal reorientation of political debate which has been going on since the 1990s in the U.S. Democratic Party and France’s Socialist Party.
American and French workers are refusing to follow their old leaders and have, at least for the moment, glommed on to new ones.
The existing economic and political elites may be surprised but we shouldn’t be. They’re the ones who are responsible for the spectacular rise of Trump and the resurgence of Le Pen in the first place.
*My analysis here has benefited from conversations with a close friend and colleague in political science [ht: sw].
**And, according to Henry Olsen, the polls probably understate the support for Trump (and, in my view, the National Front and other Far Right parties in Europe)