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Trump, Macron, and the Poverty of Liberalism

If liberals want to defeat populists, there is only one route: regain the trust of the voters that form much of their base. The choice for liberals is clear: they can feel good by condemning their opponents, or they can do good by attacking the elite interests that have contributed to their opponents' success.

DAVOS – No Western liberal would disagree that Donald Trump’s election was a disaster for American society, while that of Emmanuel Macron was a triumph for French society. In fact, the opposite may well be true, as heretical as that sounds.

The first question to ask is why people are engaged in violent street protests in Paris, but not in Washington, DC. I have personally experienced these Paris protests, and the smell of tear gas on the Champs-Élysées reminded me of the ethnic riots I experienced in Singapore in 1964. And why are the Yellow Vests protesting? For many, at least initially, it is because they didn’t believe that Macron cared for or understood their plight.

Macron is trying to implement sensible macroeconomic reform. The proposed increases in taxes on diesel fuel would have reduced France’s budget deficits and helped lower its carbon dioxide emissions. His hope was that a stronger fiscal position would increase confidence and investment in the French economy so that the bottom 50% of society would eventually benefit. But for people to endure short-term pain for long-term gain, they must trust their leader. And Macron, it appears, has lost the trust of much of that bottom 50%.

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