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According to John Feffer the roots of our current political situation lay in the great roll-back of the 1970’s.

“The last time globalization transformed the world so thoroughly, in the early twentieth century, the ensuing backlash led to liberalism’s first catastrophic fail. In those years, liberals consistently failed to understand that the ground had shifted under them. In Russia, Bolsheviks took power from the weak crew of potential democratic reformers that had overthrown the tsar, inspiring a handful of movements in Europe that attempted something similar. In Germany, illiberal politicians took aim at the cosmopolitan values of the Weimar Republic. In Italy and Spain, leaders adopted virulent nationalism, challenging incipient global institutions like the League of Nations. In the wake of the Great Depression, Japanese ultra-militarists easily dispatched the weak Taisho democracy. Meanwhile, in the United States, right-wing demagogues like Father Charles Coughlin built large followings by railing on the radio against communists, Wall Street, and “the international money-changers in the temple,” though they failed to take power in the era of a charismatic liberal president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

Where liberalism survived, it did so largely by absorbing some of the strategies of the illiberal communists and fascists, namely relying on the state to keep the economy afloat, as Roosevelt did with his New Deal policies. This lesson carried over into the post-World War II-era in which American liberals continued to embrace New Deal principles that would culminate in President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs and European liberals embraced the compromises that would eventually produce the European Union. At the global level, nations of various ideological dispositions came together to create a set of institutions — the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund — meant to ensure some degree of permanent stability. Economic globalization resumed, but this time in a regulatory environment that, initially, seemed to spread the benefits more equally.

That all changed in the 1970s when, in one country after another, a new generation of liberals and conservatives began to dismantle those very regulations in hopes that an unfettered market would jump-start growth globally. However, only after China embraced capitalism and the Soviet Union collapsed did economic globalization take a quantum leap to true globalization. With it the world returned to Gilded Age levels of concentrated wealth and inequality. No surprise, then, that the instability and intolerance of that long-gone era has returned as well.

Leaders like Putin, Erdogan, and Trump aren’t just politically savvy, nor have they simply been lucky or unusually ruthless. Instead, they sensed the changing mood of a moment and were able to capitalize on a profound discontent with the status quo that liberals had built, a discontent that won’t disappear simply because right-wing populists are exposed as frauds, incompetents, or cheats. Worse, crafty operators with even more ambitious agendas stand ready to destroy the liberal status quo once and for all.”

The potential danger the populist right poses to the political system we have, cannot be underestimated.

 

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