A series of articles in this month’s Foreign Affairs magazine, a publication of the Council on Foreign Relations, reveals how the establishment is desperate to “co-opt” the political populist uprising that has swept the United States and Europe in recent years.
In an introduction to the series of essays, Foreign Affairs editors Gideon Rose and Jonathan Tepperman note how the rise of Tea Party sentiment in the United States and its equivalent in Europe comes as a result of increasing disenfranchisement with the political system.
According to the authors, this necessitates the need for political leaders to “co-opt and channel popular passions, addressing political outsiders’ legitimate grievances while bypassing their simplistic solutions.”
In other words, the threat posed by grass roots populism across the western world represents a major challenge to the existing world order embraced by the CFR and must be hijacked and misdirected in order to have its potency diffused.
The central essay which outlines the CFR’s perspective on the challenges posed by populism is entitled Pitchfork Politics: The Populist Threat to Liberal Democracy. Written by Yascha Mounk, the piece highlights how the rise of populism stems from the “diminished….ability of democratic governments to satisfy their citizens,” namely the “long term stagnation in living standards and deep crises of national identity.”
Mounk emphasizes how populist ideas should be entertained but that voters must be convinced “that the simple solutions offered up by the populists are bound to fail.”
He goes on to acknowledge how, “In countries across Europe, populists of all stripes have transformed domestic politics in recent decades and now threaten the very existence of the EU,” not merely because of economic difficulties in recent years but due to “a decline in living standards from one generation to the next and the perceived threat to national identity posed by immigration and the growth of supranational organizations.”
Noting how median household income in the United States is now lower than it was in 1989, Mounk recognizes how populism has emerged from a sense that the political establishment has failed the middle and lower classes, who are now uncertain about their financial future.
Mounk also identifies a sentiment shared by many Americans that the establishment is conspiring with minority groups in order to undermine and strangle their economic and political livelihoods, favoring policies that benefit minorities over the majority while censoring freedom of speech.
One of the primary groups that has flourished in alignment with the re-emergence of populism is “antistatist populists” who “see the state itself as the greatest threat to their liberty and their lifestyle,” writes Mounk, while wishing “to be as free as possible from its corrupting influence.”
Mounk identifies the likes of Senator Rand Paul, UKIP’s Nigel Farage, and France’s Marine Le Pen as the leaders of “antistatism” who pose the biggest threat to the existing order, which he characterizes as “a system in which a small number of long-standing political parties alternate in government on a semiregular basis, resulting in reasonably moderate changes to public policy,” in other words – the two party monopoly.
In the final part of his essay, Mounk explains how the elite must work to extinguish the populist uprising by harnessing “the passion of the populists to the cause of reinvigorating governance, but without helping them kindle the flames of an antidemocratic revolt.”
This includes rallying populists behind “wealth redistribution” and a “more serious attempt to tax wealth.” Mounk acknowledges that the establishment may have to make some concessions in order to appease populists, including the EU giving up its commitment to “an ever closer union.”
Mounk concludes by warning that the threat to the establishment posed by populism “is here to stay for the foreseeable future.”
The fact that the CFR has devoted a substantial chunk of its publication to addressing the threat posed by populism again underscores how the establishment is in a blind panic about the rise of Tea Party sentiment in the run up to 2016, as well as the burgeoning Euroskeptic revolt that has swept the continent in recent years.
The CFR’s need to “co-opt” such a movement and divert it away from having any kind of genuine impact illustrates how the political elite is resolute in its bid to derail the populist revolt and will resort to underhanded measures to do so.