It's not "populism"; it's racism
John Legend wrote a great tweet:
In a few words he makes a very telling point.
As we've seen a wave of "populism" sweep the West, one thing we haven't seen is large numbers of people of color join this great wave. One would think that a truly populist movement would incorporate exactly those people most harmed by "neo-liberal" economics and a "global elite" which favors it. However, we don't see that.
People of color, by and large, are excluded from these populist movements. (One can argue that Bernie Sanders brings some in, but even there they are exceptions.) What we've seen with Brexit, Donald Trump, Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders, and so on, is that these populist movements are comprised almost entirely of people of European descent. In other words, these movements are movements of white grievance.
Sure, you'll have your tokens: Killer Mike, Ben Carson, the black politician which the Front Nationale trotted out for the media this past Sunday. But their presence just reinforces the fact that this is a movement of whites for whites, and any people of color present are just window dressing to obscure that fact.
What "economic anxiety" is being displayed by the Klansmen and Neo-Nazis "defending" Civil War monuments in New Orleans from being removed? What "economic anxiety" weighed on the mind of English and Welsh voters as they voted to exit a bloc which had brought them peace and prosperity?
Here are the cold facts: White Europeans had a good run of global dominance. Of course, Europeans were always a minority in the world population; but through superior technology, they were able to dominate a brown and black world. That's changing at a rapid clip. China is the new superpower. The United States will have a minority white population by 2050. Europe can't maintain its generous social welfare programs without more immigration. These changes are unstoppable, short of war or police state tactics. Jean-Claude's cushy retirement in Provence will be supported by the labor of Ahmed. Biff's Medicare will be kept solvent by taxes paid by Juana. These are just irrefutable facts.
And even though it's the brown and black immigrants who will strengthen and keep solvent these economies, their presence threatens long-held social hierarchies. When you depend on a newcomer to maintain your lifestyle, you cede a great amount of power to her. You either acknowledge her—and the "minorities" already in your country—as fully human, or you run away in fear and loathing. We're seeing much of the latter in these populist movements. And no amount of explaining the economics of the situation will affect that person. Populism won't die until its promises are seen to be as dust. When trade wars bloom and imports are priced out of the reach of most populists, then we'll see a turn against this false ideology.
Do we have to wait for that to happen to right the ship? Of course not. France voted decisively against racist populism. Donald Trump is a minority president. The human material exists to combat the racist turn of our politics. It just has to be energized and gotten to the polls. Things are dire, but not hopeless. "The Handmaid's Tale" makes for good reading, but it's still fiction. Real life is much more complicated.
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