By Thomas S. Axworthy, Secretary General, InterAction Council
“A democratic society and system of government, while among the grandest of human concepts, are among the most difficult to implement … We should never forget that in the long run, democracy is judged by the way that the majority treats the minority.”1
- Pierre Elliott Trudeau
“Let us not abandon the fundamental principal that man is a rational and moral being before he is pent up in this or that language, before he is a member of this or that race, before he adheres to this or that culture.”2
- Ernest Renan
We live in a time of upheaval. The tectonic plates are visibly shifting on many fronts. They are shifting in great power relations as China carefully, but steadily, moves into a preeminent position while the United States elects as President a man who is totally oblivious to the art of government, never having held office at any level - local, state, federal, or international. They are shifting as an economic transformation sees artificial intelligence and high technology make obsolescent old models of work, employment, and productivity. They are shifting in planetary health, as population increases, climate warms, sea level rises, and the Arctic melts. And they are shifting in the movement of peoples, as war and deprivation put millions on the march in the hopes of finding a better life.
Changes of such complexity and rapidity make citizens anxious. They begin to hunger for stability or a return to an idealized past. This, in turn, puts enormous pressure on leaders on how best to respond to both the underlying forces of change and the fears that they arouse in the public. When leaders are perceived not to meet this stiff test, electoral change is added to this powerful mix. In the past year, for example, the incumbent party or elected head of state in five of ten major countries has been defeated, resigned, or deposed. Trust and confidence in the system of government has begun to waiver. In 2017, we are witnessing a tempest bursting.
The Evolution of Inclusion
Today’s current tempest of populism is threatening to bury the slowly constructed edifice of liberal constitutionalism that has been built steadily since the 18th century. The core idea of the American and French revolutions was that the individual has primacy. The concept of citizen sovereignty replaced the ancient organizing idea of the divine right of kings. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant argued that every individual has fundamental value with a claim to the inalienable rights of liberty and equality. Individual members of the state began to see themselves as a community of citizens, unified by a commitment to basic democratic ideals, who share not only membership in a political system, but who also recognize obligations to one another and to the common good.
Therefore, if every individual has moral agency, then the political evolution of the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries is largely about removing barriers to citizens participating in their own self-government. If you accept that the primary political unit of value is the individual and that every human being is possessed of rights, then how can you deny such rights to Catholics, men without property, blacks, and women? These groups finally secured the right to vote in the early years of the 20th century.
Inclusion of all human beings in the political system is the logical corollary of believing that every individual has moral value. The first victory for the ethic of inclusion was formal citizen rights – the incorporation, influence and representation of individuals from all social, ethnic, regional, and socio-economic groups within democratic institutions. Once formal political rights were achieved, the ethic of inclusion was broadened to include actual participation and representation in important decision-making forums and processes. For example, having acquired the formal right to vote, women began to demand that they be represented in parliament in numbers much closer to their share of the population. Inclusion then expanded its criteria to demand that public policy outcomes should treat all fairly and that if the socio-economic status of individuals prevented them from fully participating in decisions that would affect their life, equality of opportunity had to be added to the inclusion agenda.3 In the past two hundred years, the ethic of inclusion has advanced both horizontally to include the full diversity of our societies and vertically, by starting with formal citizens’ rights, expanding to participation and representation, then equality of opportunity and better results in public policy outcomes.
Michael Ignatieff, the Canadian human rights scholar, defines the ideal inclusive state as, “a community of equal rights-bearing citizens united in patriotic attachment to a shared set of political practises and values.”4 Canada is one example of a state that has moved furthest towards inclusion through constitutional innovation like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, giving Canadians an identity based on rights, not ethnicity.
Yet, at the same historical moment that the concept of inclusive citizen rights was born, another, perhaps even more powerful idea emerged: The concept of people as a nation. The French Revolution began with The Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen in 1789, but it soon slipped into the excesses of The Terror and Napoleon’s conquests. Nationalism was born at the same moment as citizen rights. If Kant is the philosopher of individual moral agency, his contemporaries Johann Herder and Joann Fichte are the fathers of German nationalism who extolled the German nation and the supposed continuity of the German language and German virtues going back to the Roman Empire.
The group, defined by ethnicity and language, is given primacy by nationalists. To them, collective rights are more important than individual rights. Inclusion, they believe, denies the moral primacy of nations or any other kind of community or association above the claims of individuals to equal concern and respect. Nationalists, on the other hand, are quite prepared to give primacy to the group and they define which types of individuals are entitled to be members of that group. Inclusion celebrates pluralism, holding the idea that all groups should be celebrated. Nationalism, however, defines which groups are to be celebrated.
Nationalism can have the positive impact by giving individuals a sense of belonging. But, too often by attacking “the other” or defining another group as inferior, nationalism degenerates into a negative force. Former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau was correct to point out that, “the tiny portion of history marked by the emergence of the nation-state is also the scene of the most devastating wars, the worst atrocities, and the most degrading collective hatred the world has ever seen.”5
The clash between inclusion and nationalism is about who gets to define “we” and “they.” Robert Reich, the noted analyst from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, writes that these are the two most important of all political words: “Who is within the sphere of mutual responsibility and who is not” [emphasis added].6
The advocates of inclusion believe that “we” includes every citizen regardless of sex, ethnicity, religion, skin colour, or sexual orientation. Nationalists divide society into groups of “we” and “they.” They decide which characteristics are worthy of being included in the “we.”
Much of the current debate in the United States is between those classes as “real Americans” versus “coastal elites.” When conservative American politicians and pundits refer to “real Americans,” according to Nate Silver behind the FiveThirtyEight website, who has examined their speeches and comments, they often mean “white people without college degrees –- the so-called white working class. They usually mean practising Christians. Their examples usually refer to people in the south or mid-west.”7 During the American presidential primary, Donald Trump appealed to this “real American constituency” even declaring at one point, “I love the poorly educated.” Led by leaders like Trump, American populism has now become a tool to destroy the inclusive ideal.
Populism describes a political movement that challenges the incumbent political elite and may even overwhelm it.8 The term originates from the People’s Party of the United States in 1892. But, its origins go even further back in American history to the era of Andrew Jackson. Jackson, from the frontier state of Tennessee, enlisted in the revolution at age 13 and fought duals, could not spell, and won fame as the victor of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815. He was representative of the frontier spirit that was rebelling against the Virginia aristocracy that had ruled the Republic since the Revolution. Jackson declared that, “the planter, the farmer, the mechanic, and the labourer, were in constant danger of losing their fair interest in the government.”9 He swept the election of 1828 and the United States became the first mass-democracy with the removal of all property qualifications on the right to vote.
Ever since, the United States has periodically experienced bursts of populist outrage against the prevailing ruling orthodoxy, always harkening back to Jackson’s original cry of, “equal rights for all, special privileges for none.”10 There is no consistent ideology associated with American populism: It is sometimes opposed to corporate power –- Jackson’s campaign promised to break up the Bank of the United States, which was oppressing American farmers –- but, it could just have quickly turn against immigrants as in the “Know-Nothing Movement” in the 1850s. Richard Hofstadter, the great historian of American reform movements, writes that, “The utopia of the populace was in the past, not the future.”11 They looked backward to an American Eden that had been lost somehow to conspiracy, as well as the neglect of the ruling elite. “There was something about the populist imagination,” Hofstadter writes, “that loved the secret plot and the conspiratorial meeting.”12
Populism was rarely successful on its own. The People’s Party won only 8.5 per cent of the vote in 1892. However, the movement could occasionally influence or even takeover one of the main American parties. William Jennings Bryan, the populist of the 1890s who advised farmers to “raise less corn and more hell” succeeded in infiltrating the Democratic Party. He became the party’s candidate in 1896.
In the 21st century, the Tea Party carried out a similar coup in the Republican Party by first electing members of the Congress and then nominating Trump in 2016, an outsider with no links to the Republican leadership. The Tea Party’s themes were similar to the People’s Party’s themes of 1892: America had once been great, but malignant forces were destroying the American dream. From the opposite ideological perspective, Bernie Sanders also mounted a strong populist challenge to the establishment candidacy of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primaries winning 43 per cent of the vote to Clinton’s 55 per cent. In 2016, American politics saw populist challenges to both of the major parties.
The difference between the populist outbursts of the 1890s and the 2010s is that, in the 19th century, populists lost three presidential elections in a row, while Donald Trump channelled the populist surge to victory. Hillary Clinton gained nearly three million more votes than Trump, so without the peculiarities of the American Electoral College system, most would consider this a healthy victory. ButTrump won the states that were necessary for the minimum winning coalition and took the election.
Who voted for Trump?
According to the National Election Pool exit poll (not all figures add up to 100 per cent because not all questions were answered):
- 58 per cent of white voters were for Trump; 37 per cent backed Clinton;
- 53 per cent of males voted for Trump; 41 per cent for Clinton;
- 53 per cent of citizens over 65 were for Trump; 45 per cent for Clinton;
- 62 per cent of the rural vote for Trump; 34 per cent for Clinton; and
- 80 per cent of evangelical votes for Trump; 16 per cent for Clinton.13
So powerful was the anti-establishment feeling (and Mrs. Clinton was the establishment candidate personified) that 18 per cent of the respondents of the exit poll felt that while Mr. Trump was not qualified to be President, they nevertheless voted for him. Anger trumped competence.14
The British vote to leave the European Union in the referendum of June 2016 (which foreshadowed the election of Donald Trump in the United States in November 2016), had much in common with the American populist upsurge. 51 per cent of white British voters elected to leave Europe compared to 32 per cent of Asians and 29 per cent of Blacks. Men voted to leave; British women voted to remain. Voters whose highest education qualification GCSE or O-level, voted to leave by 61 per cent compared to 26 per cent with an education degree. Higher income voters earning over £44,000 voted to remain, while 66 per cent of low income people voted to leave. Sixty-one per cent of those aged 65 or over supported leaving, while young people 18-34 voted overwhelmingly at 74 per cent to remain. The people who thought Britain had gotten worse over the past decade voted heavily for Brexit (73 per cent) and the effect was even higher for those who felt that they had lost out personally (76 per cent). The demographic profile of Brexit and Trump votes is remarkably similar.15
Europe, of course, is not the United States. Europe is the smallest continent, with the whole of Europe being 5.5 million square kilometres, less than half the size of the United States or China, and dwarfed by Russia’s 17 million square kilometres. But packed into this relatively small space is an enormous diversity of languages and culture. Tony Judt in his excellent history, Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, writes, “in the intensity of its internal differences and contrasts, Europe is unique.”16 Populism in Europe and the United States takes different forms, and so far in continental Europe, there has not been a culminating success like the election of Trump or the leave vote in Britain.
Right-wing populism, however, has been on the rise. Marie Le Pen was beaten handily by Emanuel Macron in France’s recent Presidential election, but still she received 34 per cent of the vote: double the amount achieved by her father in 2002.17 In Hungary, the governing party Fidesz began moving towards illiberal authoritarianism under Prime Minister Orbán in 2010. In Poland, the Law and Justice Party has neutralized the Constitutional Tribunal, the nation’s highest court, leading the European Union to rebuke Law and Justice for undermining the rule of law.18 It should come as no surprise that Trump chose to visit Poland before the July 2017 G20 meeting in Hamburg, asking a cheering crowd in a Warsaw square, “Do we have the desire and courage to preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it?”19
European populism’s main narrative is that a corrupt political class or elite governs only for itself and that this elite enriches itself through globalization, while the people of Europe suffer. The elite also allow immigrants to enter with large numbers, changing the cultures and traditions of Europe. Self-absorption of the elite, anti-immigration, and fear of globalisation are all drivers of both European and American populism.
Perhaps the clearest indicator of the fertile ground in which populism can grow is the decline of trust. For seventeen years, the Edelman Trust Barometer has tested whether people believe institutions will do the right thing. In 2017, Edelman reports an implosion of trust around the world. The general population’s trust in four key institutions –- business, government, NGOs, and media – has declined so broadly that Edelman concludes that, “trust is in crisis around the world.”20 Without trust, people’s reaction to change turns into fear and it is fear that populist leaders and parties exploit.
In Great Britain, people feel let down by the system. Trust in media was only 24 per cent, government 26 per cent, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) 32 per cent, and business 33 per cent. Trust has fallen since 2015: In NGOs, for example, from 50 per cent to 32 per cent, and in government from 36 per cent to 26 per cent.21 There are similar figures in the United States: In 2017, trust in the media was 35 per cent, government 37 per cent, business 51 per cent, and NGOs 54 per cent. A clear majority of those polled at 57 per cent said, “the system is failing them.” Forty per cent were fearful about globalization and immigration. Thirty-six per cent feared eroding social value and 31 per cent feared the pace of technological innovation. Among the 30 per cent to 40 per cent of Americans who were fearful about the future, 67 per cent voted in favour of Donald Trump!22
British politics continue to be buffeted by the populist wave. Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election for June 2017 (when she could have governed until 2020) expecting the Conservative Party to gain up to a hundred seats which, in turn, would have strengthened her hand in the Brexit negotiations with the European Union. Instead, in an election shock, May’s Conservatives lost 12 seats, Labour gained 32 seats from the 2015 result and the two major parties were nearly tied in the popular vote. Like Bernie Sanders, who challenged the Democratic Party from the left, Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership of the Labour Party by signing up many new young supporters on a platform rejecting the centrist policies of Tony Blair. Voting turnout in the 2017 election, in turn, increased to nearly 70 per cent with young voters, traditionally apathetic, dramatically increasing the support for Labour. According to the YouGov analysis of the 2017 election, age is now the great divide in British politics: first time voters supported Labour by 66 per cent compared to 19 per cent for the Conservatives, while with voters over 70, it was exactly the reverse with support for the Conservatives at 69 per cent and Labour 19 per cent. Britain now has a Parliament of minorities as it approaches the crucial Brexit negotiations.23
Canada's Nascent Populism
Like both the United States and Britain, Canada has a history of populism. The centrist Liberal Party began as a populist movement in the 1850s with the “Clear Grit” farmers rebelling against the establishment. The modern Conservative party is a result of a merger in 2003 between the populist Reform Party and the long established Progressive Conservatives. The current Liberal government led by Justin Trudeau is strongly pro immigration and in favour of free trade and globalization, the antithesis of the forces driving the Trump coalition in the United States. But even in Canada, one can detect the potential of a populist uprising. However, it would likely be centred on the themes of economic fairness championed by Corbyn and Sanders rather than the anti-immigration and trade stance of Trump.
Recent surveys show that 81 per cent of Canadians support the North American Free Trade Agreement and a clear plurality of Canadians support high levels of immigration and accepting refugees. Indeed with foreign born Canadians making up a fifth of the electorate, (one of the highest percentages in the world) and concentrated in the key cities of Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, an anti-immigration stance would be a perilous election strategy for any party that adopted it. Yet, there is significant worry in Canada about the economic future, and fear is the motivation which drives populism. According to a recent EKOS study on the middle class, 74 per cent of Canadians believe the middle class is shrinking and downward mobility is a reality for many: 40 per cent of those who self identify as “working class” say they were middle class a decade ago. Confidence is also waning: only 27 per cent of Canadians say their children will be better off when they grow up (compared to 88 per cent in China) and 61 per cent believe the next generation will be worse off than their own. In 2006, 76 per cent of Canadians were confident they had the skills to cope in the world: that figure has fallen to 46 per cent today. In short there is the potential in Canada for a populist eruption based on concerns about the economic future and anger over inequality and fairness: 71 per cent of Canadians, for example, believe the benefits of recent growth have ended up in the hands of the upper one per cent.24 Indeed, the average pay of CEOs in Canada is 193 times what the average person is paid.25 Not surprisingly, given these findings, another EKOS poll in June 2017 revealed that 70 per cent of Canadians thought populism was on the rise.26 These figures demonstrate that many Canadians think the economic contract has been broken, with 80 per cent believing there must be a new economic blueprint. There is turbulence swirling just below the surface of what appears to be a forward- looking and confident Canada.
In the debate between those who favour open, rather than closed societies, immigration and globalization are key issues. On globalization, there are those who believe that it has mostly positive impacts on humanity, such as lifting 800 million Chinese from poverty. Others believe that the system brings high unemployment and increases inequality.
The second highly divisive issue is about immigration. Those who favour inclusion stand for equality of citizen’s rights, others are fearful of Muslims, in particular, and extol old-fashioned nationalism. Thomas Guénolé of the Paris Institute of Political Studies uses the matrix of open/closed globalization/immigration to suggest four political blocks:
- pro-minorities and pro-globalization: Emmanuel Macron in France, Angela Merkel in Germany, Justin Trudeau in Canada, and Hillary Clinton in the United States;
- pro-minorities, but anti-globalization: Jeremy Corbyn in Britain, Bernie Sanders in the United States, and Jean-Luc Mélenchon in France;
- pro-globalization and anti-minorities: Nicholas Sarkozy Les Républicans, establishment Republicans in the United States, and many traditional Conservatives in Britain; and
- anti-globalization and anti-minorities: Donald Trump in the US, UKIP in Britain, and Ms. Le Pen in France.27
How this will play itself out in the rest of 2017 is unclear. Angela Merkel faces an election in the fall of 2017 and Italy may soon see an election where the anti-Euro Five-star party is currently ahead in the polls. Europe’s risk profile on populism dropped a notch or two after the Macron win, but it did not disappear. The 2018 congressional election in the United States will show how successful Trump will be in holding on to the presidency in 2020.
For those who favour an open society and inclusion, the strategy should be to reach out to those who have been hurt by globalization and employ measures to better distribute its benefits. Bring the followers of Macron/Trudeau into an alliance with the voters of Sanders/Corbyn, and poach some of the moderate Tories who support globalization. Respect the voters who feel badly done by the system and acknowledge their concerns, but come up with better solutions. Isolate the Trump/Le Pen camp by encouraging a serious effort to help those most affected by globalization. As the economist Dani Rodrik advises, “Deep globalization can be too much of a good thing.”28 Protecting the social safety net and fair labour regulations, while promoting environmental sustainability is more important than squeezing the last bit of efficiency gains from the trades. Inclusion must include those who inclusion has been left behind. An inclusive society is one where everyone has a chance.
The “we” must grow and the “them” diminish.
1 Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Against the Current. Toronto: McLellan and Stewart, 1996. P. 297.
3 See Christina Welbrecht and Rodney E Hero. Politics of Democratic Inclusion. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2005.
4 Michael Ignatieff. Blood and Belonging. Toronto: Viking Press, 1994. P. 3-4.
5 Trudeau, p. 56.
6 Robert Reich. “Inequality has warped the minds of America’s rich,” Salon. February 2014, http://www.salon.com/2014/02/15/robert_reich_inequality_has_warped_the_minds_of_americas_rich_partner/. (Accessed: 28 May 2017).
7 Nate Silver. “Only 20 percent of voters are ‘Real Americans’,”FiveThirtyEight. July 2016, https://fivethirtyeight.com/features/only-20-percent-of-voters-are-real-americans/. (Accessed: 28 May 2017).
8 Conrad Black. “Populism, IX: Avenue to renovation,” The New Criterion, Vol. 35, No. 9. May 2017http://www.newcriterion.com/articles.cfm/Populism--IX--Avenue-to-renovation-8672. (Accessed: 28 May 2017).
9 As quoted in Richard Hofstadter, The American Political Tradition. New York: Random House, 1948. P. 59.
10 As quoted in Richard Hofstadter, The Age of Reform. New York: Random House, 1955. P. 63.
11 Ibid, p. 62.
12 Ibid, p. 70.
13 BBC News. “Reality Check: Who voted for Donald Trump?” November 2016, http://www.bbc.com/news/election-us-2016-37922587. (Accessed: 28 May 2017).
15 Kirby Swales. “Understanding the Leave Vote,”NatCen. http://whatukthinks.org/eu/wp-content/uploads/2016/12/NatCen_Brexplanations-report-FINAL-WEB2.pdf (Accessed: 28 May 2017).
16 Tony Judt. Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945. New York: Penguin Books, 2005.p. XIII.
17 John Burn Murdoch et al. “French election results: Macron’s Victory in Charts,” Financial Times. May 2017, https://www.ft.com/content/62d782d6-31a7-11e7-9555-23ef563ecf9a. (Accessed: 28 May 2017). Macron’s centrist party subsequently won a majority of seats in the National Assembly in the June 2017 election.
18 Thomas Green. "The Rise of Right-Wing Populism in Europe and the United States: a Comparative Perspective", Friedrich Ebert Drifting, May 2016
19 Donald Trump. “Trump's speech in Warsaw (full transcript, video),” CNN, 6 July 2017.
20 Edelman. “Trust Barometer” January 2017, http://www.edelman.com/trust2017/ (Accessed: 28 May 2017).
21 Edelman. “Trust Barometer 2017 – UK Findings” January 2017, https://www.edelman.co.uk/magazine/posts/edelman-trust-barometer-2017-uk-findings/ (Accessed: 11 July 2017).
22 Edelman. “Trust Barometer 2017 – Global Results” January 2017, http://www.edelman.com/global-results/ (Accessed: 11 July 2017).
23 YouGov, “How Britain voted at the 2017 general election.” June 2017, https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/06/13/how-britain-voted-2017-general-election/ (Accessed: 11 July 2017)
24 Frank Graves. Understanding the Shifting Meaning of the Middle Class. EKOS, March 2017, http://www.ekos.com/studies/MiddleClass.pdf (accessed 11 July 2017).
25 Jacqueline Hansen, “Canada's top CEOs earn 193 times average worker's salary,” CBC News. January 2017, http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/top-ceo-pay-1.3907662 (accessed 11 July 2017).
26 EKOS, The National Mood and the New Populism. June 2017, http://www.ekospolitics.com/index.php/2017/06/canada-150-the-national-mood-and-the-new-populism/ (accessed 11 July 2017).
27 Thomas Guénolé. “After Macron’s win, France is divided in four” in The Globe and Mail. May 8, 2017. A11.
28 Robert Kuttner. “Balance of Trade” in Harvard Kennedy School Magazine. Winter 2017.