We analyzed the Arab Spring…Now let’s talk about the next revolution we all have courtside seats for…. The Western Fall.
Here in the US, we’ve had an unprecedented presidential primary season. We’ve had two anti- establishment candidates, one from each of the major political parties, rise to national acclaim. One of them is the presumptive republican nominee
Political pundits, historians, statisticians, failed in their predictions. Most are blaming miscalculations on changes in the media technology and how celebrities push forecasters further from accuracy.
They’ve brought out segments of the US population that feel disenfranchised, slighted, and that traditional political allegiances have not served their needs. Anti-establishment voter sentiment is not just exclusive to the United States.
Meet Norbert Hofer, former presidential candidate, of the far-right Freedom Party of Austria. The party wanted to provide more referendums, directly elect the federal president, significantly reduce the number of ministries, and devolve power to the federal states and local councils. While Hofer eventually ended up losing, he managed to get 49% of votes during the election.
The far left also has its share of rising political figures. In Greece, for example, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’ left-wing Syriza party is leading an unlikely coalition government with the right-wing populist Independent Greek party.
Across the West, we see a rise in conversations around immigration, economic integration, austerity measures , size of government, and a move away from “centrist” candidates and platforms. Why now and most importantly, what are the implications of a more populist West? Are we in a new normal?
There are a couple of major trends play a key role in the Western Fall. I believe the social liberalization is a major driver.
The World Values Survey shows that Western societies have been getting gradually more liberal on many social issues, especially among the younger generation and well-educated middle class. That includes egalitarian attitudes toward sex roles, tolerance of fluid gender identities and LGBT rights, support for same-sex marriage, tolerance of diversity, and more secular values, as well as what political scientists call emancipative values, engagement in directly assertive forms of democratic participation, and cosmopolitan support for agencies of global governance.
This long-term generational shift threatens many traditionalists’ cultural values. Less educated and older citizens fear becoming marginalized and left behind within their own countries.
Another key driver is the rise in income inequality. Western countries, who were greatly impacted by the global financial crisis, have rebounded for the most part, but inequality between the wealthy and the poor has continued to increase. While income inequality has increased amongst populations, there is also a larger discrepancy between richer and poorer countries in the EU.
Globalization and the advent of technology replacing low wage jobs creates some context as well. From retail to finance to healthcare and education, the jobs available particularly for low-skilled workers, are diminishing. One study from the Oxford Martin School published in 2014, estimates the 49% of all jobs are in jeopardy of technological disruption over the next 20 years. Low wage workers are feeling the bern already and it’s translating to isolationist rhetoric.
What are the implications?
What we’ve already started to see is a large shift toward isolationism. #Brexit is a great example of what is to come. Citizens who feel immigration is the cause of their country’s woes will close their borders and make it more difficult for immigrants to visit and and gain residency. They’ll want to block themselves off from their neighbors and go it alone. This is especially worrisome for the European Union as we’ll start to see more right and left leaning parties bring similar referendums to the people.
I also believe we’ll see the demise of the two party System in the United States. At this time, the Democratic and GOP platforms are too centrist for the ultra conservatives and the left liberals. It may not happen this election cycle, but we’ll see a fragmentation of the major parties in the next 5 years.
* I’d be interested in hearing more implications in the comments section. I’m just going to wrap up because I have to start making dinner.
To conclude, I do believe we are in a new normal. We’ve seen this coming for a long time. On the US side, the Tea Party was the predecessor of what we see now. The big question is how political systems will operate as a result of the new norm. I have a feeling that the process will sort itself out but it will take some deliberate steering. We are in an era where we have to deal with global problems collectively. Isolationism will serve as a hinderance to major challenges like climate change, water and food shortages to come. I haven’t even asked what this means for China on the worlds stage. What about emerging countries? Is this a chance for others to step up where other countries will attempt to focus more on internal development?