NEW YORK – The likely victory of Emmanuel Macron in the French presidential election has elicited a global sigh of relief. At least Europe is not going down the protectionist path that President Donald Trump is forcing the United States to take.
But advocates of globalization should keep the champagne on ice: protectionists and advocates of “illiberal democracy” are on the rise in many other countries. And the fact that an open bigot and habitual liar could get as many votes as Trump did in the US, and that the far-right Marine Le Pen will be in the run-off vote with Macron on May 7, should be deeply worrying.
Some assume that Trump’s poor management and obvious incompetence should be enough to dent enthusiasm for populist nostrums elsewhere. Likewise, the US Rust Belt voters who supported Trump will almost certainly be worse off in four years, and rational voters surely will understand this.
But it would be a mistake to conclude that discontent with the global economy – at least how it treats large numbers of those in (or formerly in) the middle class – has crested. If the developed liberal democracies maintain status quo policies, displaced workers will continue to be alienated. Many will feel that at least Trump, Le Pen, and their ilk profess to feel their pain. The idea that voters will turn against protectionism and populism of their own accord may be no more than cosmopolitan wishful thinking.