Bill Galston at Brookings says the rise of Trump could portend a populist future for America. Excerpts:

Elections are about more than counting votes. They reveal peoples to themselves. They are democracy’s mirror. And what we see is often disconcerting.

In 2015, for the first time in decades, an angry, disaffected U.S. white working class has found its voice. Xenophobia, nationalism and bigotry are the dominant tones, so it is tempting for the rest of us to turn away in dismay. We should resist that temptation, because underlying the harsh words are real problems that extend well beyond our shores.

Whence the new vogue in the West for illiberal populism?

Western democracies may be on different decks, but we are all in the same boat. In a world of mobile capital and global labor markets, we have not figured out how to maintain jobs and incomes for workers with modest education and skills. In Europe the result has been sustained double-digit unemployment and a generation of young adults on the economic margins. The U.S. has made a different choice: large numbers of low-wage jobs that don’t offer the promise of upward mobility.

Galston, who has been advisor to Democrats, cites some recent statistics showing that for some time now, the system has ceased to work for the vast number of Americans in the middle. Galston says that

Donald Trump didn’t create these sentiments. Like demagogues throughout history, he is exploiting them for his own purposes.


Conservative populism in America is a complex phenomenon. Compared with Europeans, Americans have long been less inclined to respect elites. The demographic transformation set in motion by immigration reform half a century ago has reached critical mass, and many white Americans fear that the country in which they grew up is disappearing.

For me, it’s the rapid erosion of Christianity and the moral order based on it, and the spiteful attitude towards Christianity among elites in law, academia, media, and liberal politics. I have no doubt at all that they are working to marginalize and defeat people like me at every turn, and they are using the language of tolerance and equality to legitimize it. They didn’t create the rising hostility to orthodox Christianity in this country, but they are exploiting it for their own purposes.

I also believe that the economic elites who support both parties care more about their own narrow interests than the interests of their countrymen. This year, in Indiana, with the RFRA controversy, conservative voters saw for the first time business elites take a stand against social conservatives (as opposed to staying on the sidelines). They would rather see the nation and its history, its traditions, and its traditional liberties, dissolve than do anything that gets in the way of making money and pushing cultural revolution, both on this country and others.

I hope more and more social and religious conservatives will wake up to the contempt with which the GOP’s money men hold them. But what good will that do? The Democrats are worse on social issues, and not much better on economics.

Trump is not the president we need, to put it mildly. But he’s not going to be the last populist to run for president. I would be lying if I said that did not please me. In some important ways, the Benedict Option is a vote of Christian ‘no confidence’ in the system.

Read the whole thing.