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A Strategy for Liberals

The recent wave of populist victories in Europe and the United States should not lead the world’s progressives to concede defeat. Liberal values can still prevail if its advocates start emphasizing five central themes.

PARIS – Has populism won? It would be easy to conclude that it has, especially in light of what is happening in the heart of Europe. Italy, one of the earliest supporters of European integration, is now led by a populist coalition with a 61% approval rating, while France’s President Emmanuel Macron, once considered to be populism’s antidote, has watched his popularity fall to 29% – the lowest since he took office in 2017.

And yet, the battle between the “party of reason” and the “party of emotion” – progressives versus populists – is far from over. Populism can still be defeated, but only if its opponents concede the obvious: they need a new strategy.

Five themes should guide any strategic overhaul. The first is accountability. So-called elites who care about the preservation of democracy and the rule of law must come to grips with the anger, fear, and despair that have plagued voters since the financial crisis of 2008-2009. It has been a decade since the onset of the Great Recession, and yet its causes have not been properly addressed.

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