Rudd, May and Boris Daniel Leal-Olivas/Stringer

The New Xenophobia

Democratic governments in the West are increasingly losing their bearings. From the shift toward illiberalism in Poland and Hungary to the Brexit vote in the UK and Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election, a particularly toxic strain of populism is infecting societies – and it is spreading.

OXFORD – Democratic governments in the West are increasingly losing their bearings. From the shift toward illiberalism in Poland and Hungary to the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom and Donald Trump’s victory in the United States’ presidential election, a particularly lethal strain of populism is infecting societies – and it is spreading.

The appeal of populism is straightforward. Faced with stagnant wages and a declining quality of life, people feel frustrated – all the more so when their leaders keep telling them that things are getting better. Then the populist appears and promises to shake things up, to defend the interests of the “people” (though really only some of them), and offers something arguably more attractive than feasible solutions: scapegoats.

At the top of the list of scapegoats are the “elites” – established political parties and corporate leaders. Rather than protecting the “people” from economic pressure and insecurity, this group, the populist declares, thrives on the people’s pain. By advancing globalization – by forcing ever-more openness down the people’s throat – they have accumulated massive wealth, which they then protect through tax avoidance, offshoring, and other schemes.

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