Bret Stephens: How Trump Wins Next Year

Doesn’t it seem that America is losing it?

Losing the country of the Founding Fathers (of the Constitution and the rule of law), of Abraham Lincoln (all men are created equal), of FDR (it’s the role of government, in addition to keeping all of us secure, extending a helping hand to all those who need help)?

Instead, we seem now to be a country of adolescents, people following the example of the president and thinking of no one but themselves, wanting satisfaction now, not wanting to give up anything even, for a better future for their children, not willing to do the hard work and make the sacrifices necessary to bring about a better future, all this being now out of style.

This is why so many Americans are listening to Donald Trump. He promises them satisfaction now, and asks nothing of them in return. This is why Donald Trump, himself, never went to Vietnam, not understanding then or now what it means to sacrifice for the future.

The same selfishness is why Americans are ignoring the world, ignoring the millions seeking asylum from impossible living conditions, ignoring the threat to the earth itself, at risk of dying from their own more and more abusive, exploitive, and irresponsible actions.

Well Bret Stephens tells us in the piece below that the result of all this, of democracy dying, here and elsewhere, in fact as he tells it, of the whole world turning to authoritarian rather than democratic or self rule, … the result being the probable 2020 reelection of Donald Trump, to a second (or third? for what is to stop him?) term. He doesn’t tell us why, just that this is happening.

If he’s right, what can we do? Other than, “Cry, the Beloved Country”.

Bret Stephens: What’s happened in India and Australia is a warning to the left.

 

Credit Eric Thayer for The New York Times
President Trump at a rally in Montoursville, Pa., on Monday.

More than 600 million Indians cast their ballots over the past six weeks in the largest democratic election in the world. Donald Trump won.

A week ago, several million Australians went to the polls in another touchstone election. Trump won.

Citizens of European Union member states are voting in elections for the mostly toothless, but symbolically significant, European Parliament. Here, too, Trumpism will mark its territory.

Legislative elections in the Philippines this month, which further cemented the rule of Rodrigo Duterte, were another win for Trumpism. Ditto for Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election in Israel last month, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil last October, and Italy’s elevation of Matteo Salvini several months before that.

If past is prologue, expect the Trumpiest Tory — Boris Johnson — to succeed Theresa May as prime minister of Britain, too.

 

In 2016, at a campaign rally in Albany, Trump warned: “We’re gonna win so much you may even get tired of winning. And you’ll say, please, please, it’s too much winning, we can’t take it anymore.”

Tell us about it.

Trump’s name, of course, was on none of the ballots in these recent elections. His critics should take no comfort in that fact.

In India, Narendra Modi won his re-election largely on the strength of his appeals to Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment. In Australia, incumbent Scott Morrison ran against the high cost of climate action, including in lost jobs, and won a stunning upset. In the U.K., Trump surrogate Nigel Farage looks like he and his Brexit Party will be the runaway victors in the European elections. In Brazil and the Philippines, the political appeal of Bolsonaro and Duterte seems to be inversely correlated to their respect for human rights and the rule of law, to say nothing of modern ethical pieties.

The common thread here isn’t just right-wing populism. It’s contempt for the ideology of them before us: of the immigrant before the native-born; of the global or transnational interest before the national or local one; of racial or ethnic or sexual minorities before the majority; of the transgressive before the normal. It’s a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It’s hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it.

When protests erupted last year in France over Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise gas prices for the sake of the climate, one gilets jaunes slogan captured the core complaint: “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” it went, while “we are concerned with the end of the month.”

This is a potent form of politics, and it’s why I suspect Trump will be re-elected next year barring an economic meltdown or foreign-policy shock. You may think (as I often do) that the administration is a daily carnival of shame. You may also think that conservatives are even guiltier than liberals and progressives of them-before-us politics: the 1-percenters before the 99 percent; the big corporations before the little guy, and so on.

But the left has the deeper problem. That’s partly because it self-consciously approaches politics as a struggle against selfishness, and partly because it has invested itself so deeply, and increasingly inflexibly, on issues such as climate change or immigration. Whatever else might be said about this, it’s a recipe for nonstop political defeat leavened only by a sensation of moral superiority.

Progressives are now speeding, Thelma and Louise style, toward the same cliff they went over in the 1970s and ’80s. But unlike the ’80s, when conservatives held formidable principles about economic freedom and Western unity, the left is flailing in the face of a new right that is increasingly nativist, illiberal, lawless, and buffoonish. It’s losing to losers.

It needn’t be this way. The most successful left-of-center leaders of the past 30 years were Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. They believed in the benefits of free markets, the importance of law and order, the superiority of Western values, and a healthy respect for the moral reflexes of ordinary people. Within that framework, they were able to achieve important liberal victories.

Political blunders and personal shortcomings? Many. But neither man would ever have been bested by someone like Trump.

Anyone who thinks the most important political task of the next few years is to defeat Trump in the United States and his epigones abroad must give an honest account of their stunning electoral successes. Plenty has been said about the effects of demagoguery and bigotry in driving these Trumpian victories, and the cultural, social, and economic insecurities that fuel populist anxiety. Not so often mentioned is that the secret of success lies also in having opponents who are even less appealing.

In the contest of ugly, the left keeps winning. To repurpose that line from Trump, “Please, please, it’s too much winning.

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