Thomas S. Ax­wor­thy

We vs. Them: The Pol­i­tics of In­clu­sion Ver­sus the Pol­i­tics of Re­sent­ment

Policy - - In This Issue - Thomas S. Ax­wor­thy

As Western democ­ra­cies cope with the ex­ter­nal chal­lenges of both a ris­ing, un-demo­cratic China and a bel­liger­ent and em­bold­ened Rus­sia, un­cer­tainty and fear fu­elled by rapid change and tech­no­log­i­cal trans­for­ma­tion have im­pacted do­mes­tic pol­i­tics. Vet­eran Lib­eral Party strate­gist Tom Ax­wor­thy warns that in­clu­sive lead­ers will have to pro­pose bet­ter so­lu­tions to stem the threat of populism.

We live in a time of up­heaval. From cli­mate change to glob­al­iza­tion to ar­ti­fi­cial in­tel­li­gence, change is sweep­ing over ev­ery as­pect of life.

Rapid and com­plex changes make cit­i­zens anx­ious. They be­gin to hunger for sta­bil­ity, or a re­turn to an ide­al­ized past. This, in turn, puts enor­mous pres­sure on lead­ers to re­spond the un­der­ly­ing forces of change, and the fears they arouse. Un­less the

pub­lic is as­suaged, elec­toral change of­ten fol­lows. In the past year, the in­cum­bent party or elected head of state in five of ten ma­jor coun­tries has been de­feated, re­signed, or de­posed. In 2017, we are wit­ness­ing a tem­pest bursting—and the name of this tem­pest is populism. To­day’s tem­pest of populism is not only end­ing po­lit­i­cal careers, it is threat­en­ing to de­stroy the in­clu­sive lib­eral con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism that has steadily evolved since the 18th cen­tury. The ideal of in­clu­sion gives each ci­ti­zen rights, pro­tected by in­de­pen­dent courts, an ac­tive me­dia, and gover­nance with checks and bal­ances. To­day’s wave of populism at­tacks these in­sti­tu­tions.

Over the past three cen­turies, the ideal of in­clu­sion has steadily ex­panded: An early vic­tory was for­mal ci­ti­zen rights, which gave in­di­vid­u­als from all so­cial, eth­nic, re­gional, and so­cio-eco­nomic groups rep­re­sen­ta­tion within demo­cratic in­sti­tu­tions. For­mal rights were fol­lowed by de­mands for ac­tual par­tic­i­pa­tion in im­por­tant de­ci­sion-mak­ing. For ex­am­ple, hav­ing ac­quired the for­mal right to vote, women called for gen­der-bal­anced rep­re­sen­ta­tion in par­lia­ment. Next came equal­ity of op­por­tu­nity for those whose so­cio-eco­nomic sta­tus pre­vented them from fully par­tic­i­pat­ing in de­ci­sions that would af­fect their lives.

Yet, along­side the his­tor­i­cal de­vel­op­ment of in­clu­sion, an­other, more pow­er­ful idea emerged: the con­cept of peo­ple as a na­tion, or na­tion­al­ism. The French Revo­lu­tion be­gan with the in­clu­sive Dec­la­ra­tion of Rights of Man and the Ci­ti­zen in 1789, but it soon slipped into the ex­cesses of the ter­ror and Napoleon’s con­quests. Na­tion­al­ism was born at the same mo­ment as in­di­vid­ual ci­ti­zen rights.

Na­tion­al­ists give pri­macy to the group de­fined by eth­nic­ity, lan­guage, or coun­try. The clash be­tween In­clu­sion and na­tion­al­ism is about who gets to de­fine “us” and “them”. The ad­vo­cates of in­clu­sion be­lieve that “us” in­cludes ev­ery ci­ti­zen re­gard­less of sex, eth­nic­ity, re­li­gion, skin colour, or sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Na­tion­al­ists di­vide so­ci­ety into groups of “us” and “them”. They de­cide which char­ac­ter­is­tics are most wor­thy of be­ing in­cluded in the “us”.

Na­tion­al­is­tic, “Make Amer­ica Great Again” populism which asks who is “a real Amer­i­can?” has now be­come a tool to de­stroy the in­clu­sive ideal.

Populism de­scribes a po­lit­i­cal move­ment that chal­lenges the in­cum­bent po­lit­i­cal elite and may even re­place it. The ac­tual term orig­i­nates from the left-wing Peo­ple’s Party U.S. pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 1892, al­though pop­ulist move­ments go back to the found­ing of the Repub­lic. There is no con­sis­tent ide­ol­ogy as­so­ci­ated with Amer­i­can populism: It is some­times op­posed to cor­po­rate power (An­drew Jack­son’s 1828 cam­paign promised to break up the Bank of the United States), other times it is op­posed to im­mi­gra­tion, as in the Know-Noth­ing move­ment in the 1850s. Pop­ulist move­ments have been most in­flu­en­tial when they have in­fil­trated or even taken over one of the main po­lit­i­cal par­ties. In 1896, for ex­am­ple, pop­ulist fol­low­ers of Wil­liam Jen­nings Bryan suc­ceeded in nom­i­nat­ing him as the pres­i­den­tial can­di­date of the Demo­cratic Party.

To­day’s tem­pest of populism is not only end­ing po­lit­i­cal careers, it is threat­en­ing to de­stroy the in­clu­sive lib­eral con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism that has steadily evolved since the 18th cen­tury.

In the 21st cen­tury, the right-wing Tea Party car­ried out a sim­i­lar coup within the Re­pub­li­can Party. The Tea Party move­ment be­gan by win­ning pri­maries to elect friendly Re­pub­li­can mem­bers to Congress, and then used this base to help nom­i­nate Trump in 2016. Like the Peo­ple’s Party in 1892, the theme of the Tea Party was: Amer­ica had once been great, but ma­lig­nant forces were de­stroy­ing the Amer­i­can dream, only in this case propos­ing a small-gov­ern­ment, anti-tax­a­tion plat­form to re­store it.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the pop­ulist Amer­i­can out­bursts of the 1890s and to­day is that Wil­liam Jen­nings Bryan lost, while Don­ald Trump won. Europe is the small­est con­ti­nent; but packed into this rel­a­tively small space is an enor­mous diver­sity of lan­guages and cul­tures. With so many coun­tries, Euro­pean populism has taken many dif­fer­ent forms, but it has had one dra­matic if nar­row pop­ulist suc­cess like the elec­tion of Trump—the 2016 Brexit vote in the United King­dom.

The Bri­tish vote by 52 to 48 per cent to leave the Euro­pean Union in June 2016 had much in com­mon with the Amer­i­can pop­ulist up­surge. In par­tic­u­lar, the de­mo­graphic pro­file of Brexit and Trump votes is re­mark­ably sim­i­lar. Like sup­port­ers of Don­ald Trump, Brexit vot­ers were pre­dom­i­nantly white, male, high­school ed­u­cated, and wor­ried about their fu­ture. Sur­veys show that 73 per cent of the peo­ple who thought Bri­tain had de­clined over the past decade voted for Brexit.

Bri­tish pol­i­tics con­tinue to be buf­feted by pop­ulist waves. Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May called a snap elec­tion for June 2017 to strengthen her po­si­tion in the Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions with the Euro­pean Union. In­stead, in an elec­tion shock, May’s Con­ser­va­tives lost 12 seats, Labour gained 32 seats—and the two ma­jor par­ties were nearly tied in the pop­u­lar vote. Like Bernie San­ders, who chal­lenged the Demo­cratic Party from the left, Jeremy Cor­byn won the lead­er­ship of the Labour Party by sign­ing up many new young sup­port­ers on a plat­form re­ject­ing the cen­trist poli­cies of Tony Blair. Voter turnout in the 2017 elec­tion, in turn, in­creased to nearly 70 per cent with young vot­ers, tra­di­tion­ally ap­a­thetic, dra­mat­i­cally in­creas­ing their sup­port for Labour. Age is now the great di­vide in Bri­tish pol­i­tics.

On the con­ti­nent, right-wing populism, has been on the rise. Al­though Marie Le Pen lost to Emanuel Macron in France’s re­cent Pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, she still re­ceived 34 per cent of the vote. Rep­re­sent­ing the Na­tional Front, Le Pen dou­bled the votes gar­nered by her fa­ther when he ran in 2002. In Hun­gary, and Poland, anti-im­mi­gra­tion na­tion­al­ist par­ties have won re­cent elec­tions. The re­sult­ing at­tacks on con­sti­tu­tional lib­eral norms, has led the Euro­pean Union to con­sider re­mov­ing both coun­tries’ vot­ing power in the Union.

Euro­pean populism’s main nar­ra­tive is that a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal class gov­erns only for it­self and en­riches it­self through glob­al­iza­tion, while the peo­ple of Europe suf­fer. The elite are also blamed for al­low­ing im­mi­grants to en­ter in large num­bers, chang­ing the cul­tures and tra­di­tions of Europe. Self-ab­sorp­tion of the elite, anti-im­mi­gra­tion, and fear of glob­al­iza­tion are all driv­ers of both Euro­pean and Amer­i­can populism.

With so many coun­tries, Euro­pean populism has taken many dif­fer­ent forms, but it has had one dra­matic if nar­row pop­ulist suc­cess like the elec­tion of Trump—the 2016 Brexit vote in the United King­dom.

The dif­fer­ence be­tween the pop­ulist Amer­i­can out­bursts of the 1890s and to­day is that Wil­liam Jen­nings Bryan lost, while Don­ald Trump won.

Euro­pean populism’s main nar­ra­tive is that a cor­rupt po­lit­i­cal class gov­erns only for it­self and en­riches it­self through glob­al­iza­tion, while the peo­ple of Europe suf­fer.

Per­haps the clear­est in­di­ca­tor of the fer­tile ground in which populism can grow is the de­cline of trust. For 17 years, the Edel­man Trust Barom­e­ter has tested whether peo­ple be­lieve in­sti­tu­tions will do the right thing. In 2017, Edel­man re­ports an im­plo­sion of trust around the world. The gen­eral pop­u­la­tion’s trust in four key in­sti­tu­tions—busi­ness, gov­ern­ment, NGOs, and me­dia—has de­clined so broadly that Edel­man con­cludes that, “trust is in cri­sis around the world.” With­out trust, peo­ple’s re­ac­tion to change turns into fear and it is fear that pop­ulist lead­ers ex­ploit. In 2017 in the United States, for ex­am­ple, trust in the me­dia was only 35 per cent, and gov­ern­ment 37 per cent. Near 60 per cent of those polled said the sys­tem is fail­ing them; 40 per cent were fear­ful about glob­al­iza­tion and im­mi­gra­tion; 36 per cent feared erod­ing so­cial

val­ues and 31 per cent feared the pace of tech­no­log­i­cal in­no­va­tion. Among the 30 to 40 per cent of Amer­i­cans who were fear­ful about the fu­ture, 67 per cent voted in favour of Don­ald Trump.

Like the United States, Canada has a long his­tory of populism. The cen­trist Lib­eral Party be­gan as a pop­ulist move­ment in the 1850’s, with the “Clear Grit” farm­ers re­belling against the es­tab­lish­ment. The mod­ern Con­ser­va­tive Party was formed in a 2003 merger be­tween the pop­ulist Re­form Party and the long- es­tab­lished Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives. The cur­rent Lib­eral gov­ern­ment, led by Justin Trudeau, how­ever, is un­abashedly in­clu­sive, strongly pro-im­mi­gra­tion and in favour of free-trade and glob­al­iza­tion—the very an­tithe­sis of the ideas driv­ing the Trump/Le Pen pop­ulist move­ments.

How the de­bate be­tween na­tion­al­ist populism and pro­po­nents of in­clu­sion will play it­self out is un­clear. Europe’s risk pro­file on populism dropped a notch or two af­ter Em­manuel Macron’s cen­trist vic­tory, but it did not dis­ap­pear. The 2018 con­gres­sional elec­tion in the United States will show how suc­cess­ful Trump will be in hold­ing on to the pres­i­dency in 2020.

Yet even in Canada, one can de­tect the po­ten­tial of a pop­ulist up­ris­ing, though it would likely be cen­tered on the themes of eco­nomic fair­ness cham­pi­oned by Cor­byn and San­ders rather than the anti-im­mi­gra­tion and trade poli­cies of Trump. Re­cent sur­veys show that 81 per cent of Cana­di­ans sup­port the North Amer­i­can Free Trade Agree­ment, and a clear plu­ral­ity of Cana­di­ans sup­port high lev­els of im­mi­gra­tion. But, there is sig­nif­i­cant worry in Canada about the eco­nomic fu­ture, and fear is the mo­ti­va­tion that drives populism. Ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Ekos study on the mid­dle class, 74 per cent of Cana­di­ans be­lieve the mid­dle class is shrink­ing and only 27 per cent of Cana­di­ans say their chil­dren will be bet­ter off when they grow up.

In short, there is the po­ten­tial in Canada for a pop­ulist erup­tion based on con­cerns about the eco­nomic fu­ture and anger over in­equal­ity and fair­ness: 71 per cent of Cana­di­ans, for ex­am­ple, be­lieve the ben­e­fits of re­cent growth have ended up in the hands of the up­per 1 per cent. There is tur­bu­lence swirling just be­low the sur­face of what ap­pears to be a for­ward look­ing and con­fi­dent Canada.

How the de­bate be­tween na­tion­al­ist populism and pro­po­nents of in­clu­sion will play it­self out is un­clear. Europe’s risk pro­file on populism dropped a notch or two af­ter Em­manuel Macron’s cen­trist vic­tory, but it did not dis­ap­pear. The 2018 con­gres­sional elec­tion in the United States will show how suc­cess­ful Trump will be in hold­ing on to the pres­i­dency in 2020.

For those who favour an open so­ci­ety and in­clu­sion, the strat­egy should be to reach out to those who have been hurt by glob­al­iza­tion and em­ploy mea­sures to bet­ter dis­trib­ute its ben­e­fits. Bring the fol­low­ers of Macron/Trudeau into an al­liance with the vot­ers of San­ders/Cor­byn, and poach some of the mod­er­ate Tories who sup­port glob­al­iza­tion. Re­spect the vot­ers who feel badly done by the sys­tem and ac­knowl­edge their con­cerns, but come up with bet­ter so­lu­tions. Iso­late the Trump/Le Pen camp by en­cour­ag­ing a se­ri­ous ef­fort to help those most af­fected by glob­al­iza­tion. Pro­tect­ing the so­cial safety net and fair labour reg­u­la­tions, while pro­mot­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal sus­tain­abil­ity is more im­por­tant than squeez­ing the last bit of ef­fi­ciency gains from trade. In­clu­sion must in­clude those who have been left be­hind. An in­clu­sive so­ci­ety is one where ev­ery­one has a chance.

The “we” must grow and the “them” di­min­ish.

Thomas S. Ax­wor­thy is Chair of Pub­lic Pol­icy at Massey Col­lege at Univer­sity of Toronto and was Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary to For­mer Prime Min­is­ter Pierre Trudeau. tax­wor­thy@rogers.com

Adam Scotti photo

Prime Min­is­ter Trudeau meets with Em­manuel Macron, Pres­i­dent of the French Repub­lic, dur­ing the G7 in Taormina, Si­cily on May 26.

Jay Allen Flickr photo

Pop­ulist voices—Amer­ica First and Brexit: Don­ald Trump and Theresa May dur­ing the Bri­tish PM’s White House visit in Jan­uary.

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