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However conceited it sounds, it really is time – again – 🙂 to pat myself on the back. This morning’s New York Times featured a long analysis by contributor Thomas Edsall titled “The End of Left and Right as We Knew Them.” The main thesis (as per a quote from the director of the “International Institutions and Global Governance Program” at the Council on Foreign Relations):

The most salient political division today is not between conservatives and liberals in the United States or social democrats in the United Kingdom and France, but between nationalists and globalists.”

Edsall himself elaborates:

By now it has become quite clear that conservative parties in Europe and the United States have been gaining strength from white voters who have been mobilized around issues related to nationalism — resistance to open borders and to third-world immigration. … On the liberal side, the Democratic Party and the center-left European parties have been allied in favor of globalization, if we define globalization as receptivity to open borders, the expansion of local and nationalistic perspectives and support for a less rigid social order and for liberal cultural, immigration and trade policies.”

Moreover, at the heart of these new divisions are class distinctions: The nationalists on both sides of the Atlantic are likeliest to be relatively poor and relatively uneducated – although Edsall does present research findings showing – unconvincingly in my view – that classic “racial resentment, more than economic anxiety, influenced the [U.S.} presidential election.”

Yet the author also unmistakably believes that the left “In recent decades…both in Europe and in the United States [has] begun to include and reflect the views of large numbers of well-educated elites — relatively affluent knowledge or creative class workers….” Indeed, he coins a nice phrase: “The rise of the affluent left.”

So what does this have to do with yours truly? Plenty. Because nearly 25 years ago, I predicted the development of exactly the same trend. My forecast came in an article for the journal The National Interest that was called (wait for it) “Beyond Left and Right” – and it got a fair amount of media attention from both liberals and conservatives. (The National Interest itself is on the right end of the spectrum.) 

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find versions on-line that aren’t behind pay walls, but here are a few excerpts from a dog-eared xerox:

…a new underlying fault line [replacing the old left-right divisions] is already emerging in American foreign policy, dividing what might best be called nationalists and internationalists. In terms of American diplomacy, this new alignment will pit a generic model of foreign policy-making that long predates the Cold War – one based at bottom…on the belief that international activism itself is the key to American security and prosperity – against a rival approach…whose supreme goal is consolidating American military and economic strength, and enhancing America’s freedom of action. In the realm of economic policy, those who argue that the nation-state, as an economic player, is obsolete or dangerous will vie with those convinced of its continuing relevance and legitimacy. In electoral politics, sharp differences in economic interests and cultural outlooks will produce a widening rift between business, professional,and government elites on the one hand, and wage-earners on the other. The issue of class, in other words, is re-emerging in American politics.”

I added that these divisions were arising from “the different impact of world economic trends on different classes” and were producing “a foreign policy debate [that] increasingly pits social and economic classes against each other, focusing on the questions of who pays the costs and who incurs most of the risks involved in competing economic and security policies.

Polls repeatedly show that the best educated and wealthiest Americans are the staunchest internationalists on both security and economic issues. The surveys also show strong support for internationalist policies to be lacking nearly everywhere else on the social spectrum. “

And there’s more. I wrote that “At the mass public level,” the nationalist faction would be comprised of “blue collar union members, white collar middle managers and small businessmen from the Perotista ranks; family- and community-oriented immigrants; and grassroots environmental activists.”

As for their rivals, “The social base of internationalism would include many big multinational businesses and their upper level managers, financiers, professionals, and retailers. Journalists and the rest of the mass media, as well as academics, also tend to support an idealistic globalism. Other members of a new internationalist coalition might include minorities whose fear of cultural conservative nationalists outweighs their qualms about job-destroying internationalist free-trade economics, and affluent, mainstream environmentalists.”

And there was more on the role of the media: “Much of what they lack in numbers, the internationalists would make up for in money, influence, and the aura of respectability that their media allies will continue to provide.”

What would happen to liberal and conservative internationalists in the process? The former

may wind up permanently alienating labor, minorities, and the white-collar middle class whether they intend to or not – and lose their identity as champions of the underdog and as agents of progressive change in the process. Internationalists of the Right will face similar problems. Without offering their voters something more than NAFTA, the continuing “creative destruction” of their jobs, endless foreign interventions, and Marilyn Quayle’s definition of family values, it is difficult to see them avoiding George [H.W.] Bush’s political fate.”

For good measure, I added that if they do crystallize, the resulting new coalitions are likely to be “less inclined to compromise than their predecessors….”

Clearly, I didn’t get everything right. But I’m kind of amazed at how many developments I absolutely nailed. Further, we’re only a few months into the Trump era. In other words, the American political realignment I anticipated still probably has a long ways to go.

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