Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

The challenge to elites: Giving the majority of Americans a better deal in life

A large part of the masses in the Western world are saying that liberal globalism isn’t working for them.

Rembrandt-Belsazar
Rembrandt-Belsazar

Looking at recent elections in England, the United States, and France, it seems to me that a large part of the masses in the Western world are saying that liberal globalism isn’t working for them.

I think they are right. It is easy to lose that message amongst the hatred, racism, and general crudeness being tossed around. But it is important to remember that income inequality has been steadily increasing. And that over the last 40 years, the top one percent of Americans (in income, not in value) has been retreating into a privatized, gated world. That leaves the rest of us with the frustrations of a deteriorating common good — in education, in transportation, in infrastructure. Schools, roads, bridges, airports, public safety, a decent income for hard work — these are things that most people worry about.

How do you change the minds of the disaffected? You can try to persuade them that despite the evidence of their senses, everything is going pretty well for them. That is the route I think Hillary Clinton took.

Looking at recent elections in England, the United States, and France, it seems to me that a large part of the masses in the Western world are saying that liberal globalism isn’t working for them.

I think they are right. It is easy to lose that message amongst the hatred, racism, and general crudeness being tossed around. But it is important to remember that income inequality has been steadily increasing. And that over the last 40 years, the top one percent of Americans (in income, not in value) has been retreating into a privatized, gated world. That leaves the rest of us with the frustrations of a deteriorating common good — in education, in transportation, in infrastructure. Schools, roads, bridges, airports, public safety, a decent income for hard work — these are things that most people worry about.

How do you change the minds of the disaffected? You can try to persuade them that despite the evidence of their senses, everything is going pretty well for them. That is the route I think Hillary Clinton took.

Or you can try better to make it work for them. How?

Trumpism isn’t going to do it. Voting for him was just a way of giving elites the finger. It was the political equivalent of using methamphetamines, getting some short-term jolts but some long-term problems. It doesn’t address the fundamental, structural problems. For example, the American coal mining industry isn’t going to come back. More broadly, robots have been taking over working class jobs for 20 years, and soon will be feasting on more lucrative work, such as some branches of medicine.

I would like to see some Democrats address this. Is there someone out there doing that?

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

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