A recent luncheon conversation with old political friends at Boston’s famed Union Oyster House began with lamentations about the demise of another city dining legend, the nearby Durgin Park, then moved on to speculation about the government shutdown, Brexit, and other news items.
But by the time the clam chowder arrived, the discussion had broadened to the larger question of "What's going on with the state of politics across the Western world?"
The focus of our culinary "seminar" was the four leading Western democracies--Germany, France, Britain, and the U.S.
Initially we noted how different were the political dramas unfolding in each nation, but upon reflection what was most striking were the similarities in their circumstances.
All four are led by center-right governments. All have seen their politics turned upside down within the last few years. All have leaders with low approval ratings.
All have been blindsided by the explosiveness of migration as a political issue. All have seen their long dominant political establishments rocked by stunning election reverses.
All have seen the emergence of potent nationalist voices on the right triggered by establishment myopia and missteps regarding immigration and working class economic anxiety. Correspondingly all have seen the emergence of a re-energized Left growing at the expense of the more traditional and less radical parties of the Left.
To test these generalizations let us look at these countries individually.
Angela Merkel's stunning 2015 decision to open her country's border to a million largely Muslim migrants from the Middle East and Africa loosed an avalanche that has transformed German politics and unsettled neighboring countries as well.
Since 2015 her party--the long dominant CDU-- has seen its worst election results since World War II. The rival Social Democrats have seen their vote cut in half. Accordingly millions of largely working class voters have "migrated" either leftward to the Greens or rightward to the AFD (Alternative for Germany) causing a volatile fracturing of Germany's historically stable politics.
The January Bild poll showed 62% of Germans want Merkel to step down as Chancellor this year.
No Western leader has suffered as precipitous a fall from grace as Emmanuel Macron. His Green-inspired fuel tax led to the most massive anti-government protests since 1968.
The "yellow vest" movement, initially supported by two-thirds of French voters, was quickly co-opted by the violence-prone hard core Left which turned Paris into a war zone and effectively paralyzed Macron's program of economic reform.
Successfully stigmatized by the Left and the media as the "President of the Rich" Macron's latest approval rating is 26%.
When the House of Commons resoundingly--432 to 202--rejected the Brexit deal, Theresa May suffered the most humiliating defeat of any Prime Minister in the last century. She survives only because her Conservative Party justifiably fears new elections would install Labour's Jeremy Corbin in No.10 Downing Street.
Mr. Corbyn made history by becoming the first party leader to be chosen not by his party's members of Parliament but by the party's rank and file, who are dominated by the hard-left British trade unions.
With her approval rating at 34%, Mrs. May has pledged to resign prior to the next election.
Hands down the most divisive leader in the West, Donald Trump via personality and policy has driven Democrats--and the national media--into paroxysms of anger and frustration. Improbably, however, he has bridged the gap between Republican traditionalists and the party's emergent "Populists".
Democrats exhibit an almost mirror-image split—yet to be bridged--between traditional liberals and their emergent "Socialist" wing.
With Speaker Nancy Pelosi resurrected as the face of the Democratic Party, both Republicans and Democrats are now led by the one person who drives the other side absolutely crazy.
With an approval rating of just 41% (Real Clear Politics average of polls) Trump is hoping that the "hot button" issue of immigration can wrong-foot Democrats and re-elect him in 202
Throughout history the peoples of these four countries have identified themselves as citizens of Western, Christian nation-states.
Today all three elements of this identity stand discredited in the eyes of the elite advocates of the "New Global Order". These elites have even questioned the value of democracy itself when it allows "ill-informed" voters to produce undesirable election results.
The millions who voted for Brexit or Trump, or against Merkel, or who took to the streets of Paris, saw that globalism worked very well for the rich, but not for them—and thus they fled from the old political structures searching for something better , something more just.
When the elites recently made their annual pilgrimage to Davos to celebrate the "New Order" (and themselves) they were looking nervously over their shoulders fully aware that things aren't going exactly as planned.
Bill Moloney’s columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post and Human Events