In Australia a week ago, the party of the left lost an election it was supposed to win, to a conservative government headed by an evangelical Christian who won working-class votes by opposing liberal climate policies. In India last week, the Hindu-nationalist prime minister, Narendra Modi, won an overwhelming electoral victory. And as of this writing, Europeans are electing a Parliament that promises to have more populist representation than before.
The global fade of liberalism, in other words, appears to be continuing. Right-wing populism struggles to govern effectively, but it clearly has a durable political appeal — which, as Tyler Cowen points out in a Bloomberg column, has not yet been counteracted by the new socialism, the new new left.
The global context is useful for thinking about how American liberals understand their own situation. Since the shock of Donald Trump’s election, many liberals have decided that their own coalition is the real American majority, victimized by un-democratic institutions and an anti-democratic G.O.P. . . .
If you want to put climate change at the center of liberal politics, for instance, then you’ll keep losing voters in the Rust Belt, just as liberal parties have lost similar voters in Europe and Australia. In which case you would need to reassure some other group, be it suburban evangelicals or libertarians, that you’re willing to compromise on the issues that keep them from voting Democratic.
Alternatively, if you want to make crushing religious conservatives your mission, then you need to woo secular populists on guns or immigration, or peel off more of the tax-sensitive upper middle class by not going full socialist.
But the liberal impulse at the moment, Buttigiegian as well as Ocasio-Cortezan, is to insist that liberalism is a seamless garment, an indivisible agenda that need not be compromised on any front. And instead of recognizing populism as a motley coalition united primarily by opposition to liberalism’s rule, liberals want to believe they’re facing a unitary enemy — a revanchist patriarchal white supremacy, infecting every branch and tributary of the right.
They’d rather feel like heroes than win people over. That’s because . . . well, it’s because they’re children.