Working class, orphaned by the left, starts to veer right

Here’s the bigger picture on the “forgotten man” upsurge in the US, UK, and many other countries, elevating such inexplicable (to polite opinion) disruptive phenomena as Brexit and Donald Trump.

Since the 19th century, the fundamental structure of politics in Europe and America has been the contest between Left and Right, liberal vs. conservative, to shape and reshape the societies in which they operated.  

The historic mission of parties of the left—Socialists in continental Europe, Labour in Britain, Democrats in America—has been to champion and uplift the living conditions of the working classes who were the majority population in every country. 

Today this traditional paradigm has by varying degrees fractured or even collapsed in nearly every Western country.  No one has better described the new reality than the French writer Christophe Guilluy, whose 2016 book Twilight of the Elites has become an epicenter of political and cultural debate on both sides of the Atlantic. 

In the words of James Henly of theGuardian, "Guilluy is the prophet who saw all this coming and like all prophets he has infuriated large elements of the ruling elites whose dangerous behaviors he exposes." (See my previous column on this seminal book.)         

At the heart of Guilluy's indictment is the abandonment of the working class by the political parties of the left, who now have become the enablers of the new economic order we call globalization. As he himself wrote in the Guardian last December: 

"From the 1980's, onward it was clear there was a price to be paid for Western societies adapting to a new economic model and that price was sacrificing the European and American working class.  No one thought the fallout would hit the bedrock of the lower-middle class, too. It's obvious now, however, that the new model not only weakened the fringes of the proletariat but society as a whole."     

The economic condition and security of the working class steadily declined over decades as accelerating trends in the world economy—automation, off-shoring, technological advances particularly digitalization—undermined their well-being and political influence.  

Stagnating wages and disappearing jobs, notably in the manufacturing sector, devastated a traditional way of life.  But as the workers' fortunes declined, corporate interests gained in strength and prosperity through the rapidly growing practice of off -shoring, which evolved into what we now call globalization. 

Jobs and even whole industries in Western nation-states could be relocated to foreign product centers where dramatically lower labor costs, non-unionization, non-existent regulation, and minimal taxation allowed profits and wealth to soar.  

Additionally, the computer revolution and digitalization allowed money to move about the globe largely unhindered by national borders.  In fact nation-states and their onerous tax and regulatory regimes came to be seen by international corporations as positively malignant influences impeding the growth of the new world order.      

Left-wing parties throughout the West found their influence diminished.  Disappearing jobs meant shrinking private-sector union membership and fewer supporters.  The parties’ last bulwark were the politically potent public-sector unions whose security and benefits were shielded from the effects of globalization by the absence of economic competition in their domains.           

Over time, varying by country, the left concluded that the economic forces underlying globalization could not be halted—mitigated perhaps, but not reversed.  Accordingly, accommodations were made; new alliances and understandings developed. If you can’t beat’em, join’em.          

Business interests perceived this attitudinal sea change and worked to nurture it politically and monetarily.  The most graphic evidence of this development—well documented for France by Guilluy—is the growth of monies donated to leftist parties by business interests in general, and corporate interests in particular.   

Clearly, influence was being bought, such that left-wing criticism of globalization was increasingly muted, sometimes to the vanishing point.  In many sectors, business donations to left wing parties equaled or exceeded monies traditionally given to right-wing parties. Case in point: Wall Street and Silicon Valley more and more joined at the hip with Democrats here in the USA.         

This dramatic change of allegiance by the left could not of course be publicly admitted.  In fact it had to be disguised and misrepresented. This occurred in two distinct ways.     

** First, the working class was rhetorically marginalized, and where possible made invisible if not positively reprehensible.  They were declared to be mainly elderly, rural, a gradually disappearing demographic, poorly educated and manifesting retrograde cultural traits i.e. conservatism, nationalism, and as Barack Obama famously put it "clinging to their guns and religion" and prejudiced against "people who didn't look like them.” Hillary Clinton in turn tagged them the “deplorables,” and even the GOP’s Mitt Romney got into the act with his dismissive comment about the unproductive “47 percent.”          

** Secondly, a new clientele had to be found to replace the one being abandoned.  Thus poorly paid and exploited foreign workers of color and migrants fleeing oppression became new causes to be uplifted by free trade, open borders, sanctuary cities, and resentment-laced identity politics.    

Thus the old clients of the left were demonized while the new clients were lionized.  Mass media, celebrities, and academia—themselves largely leftist—rallied behind the new story line and relentlessly marketed it to the public as an unquestioned narrative to be accepted by socially conscious progressives everywhere.

Is it any wonder the newborn Brexit Party has rocketed to the top of the polls in Britain, or that the yellow vests continue pouring into the streets against Macron in France, or that in this country Trump’s numbers keep inching up while Pelosi’s radical/progressive faction increasingly marginalizes itself? In politics as in physics, nature abhors a vacuum. The left’s perfidy is the right’s opportunity.  Buckle up. It’s going to be an interesting 2019 as we careen toward 2020.

Bill Moloney covers national and international politics for the America Blog. His columns have appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Washington Post, Washington Times, Philadelphia Inquirer, Baltimore Sun, Denver Post, and Human Events.

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