Shouldn’t the anti-populists have started to rally by now?
If the responsible liberal technocrats are right about populism, and it is led by dim bulbs, or the corrupt, or the compromised, we should see signs of it falling on its face. Shouldn’t we?
The year 2015 was the year that shocked the system. It was the year when the very unserious Donald Trump came down the escalator and became a serious candidate for president. It was the year of Angela Merkel’s statement “Wir schaffen das” — “We can do it” — in response to the migration crisis that was roiling her country. In France it was the year of the massacres in the Charlie Hebdo offices and the Bataclan. It was the year Law and Justice won a major victory in Poland. The year that Viktor Orban gave his Fidesz party a new shot of life by building a wall on Hungary’s border with Serbia and Croatia. It was the year that ended with attacks on New Year’s revelers in Cologne. You know what comes next: Brexit and Trump’s victory.
There are several ways to defeat populism. You can allow it to fall on its face. You can bend before it, co-opting its most popular causes. Or you can try to shore up liberalism with a bit of authoritarianism and political brinksmanship of your own. Liberal European figures have tried mixtures of all these strategies, and they continue to fail. Since 2015, migration rates have collapsed, and the wave of terror attacks has subsided as well. But populists keep gaining more power, and liberals keep losing the ability to maneuver.