WARSAW – The rule of economic liberalism in the West is leading to the demise of political liberalism. A growing number of key countries are experiencing not elections, but plebiscites on liberal democracy – plebiscites decided by the votes of those who have lost out from liberal democracy. In the United States, Donald Trump’s election as president is a punishment to an establishment that disregarded the demands of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street protests.
The establishment’s next challenge will be to hold on in Italy, where a December 4 constitutional referendum could decide Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s fate. That vote will be a prelude to France’s presidential election in the spring, where a victory for the far-right National Front’s Marine Le Pen would almost certainly bring about the definitive collapse of the European Union, if not of the entire geopolitical West.
However those votes turn out, Brexit and Trump prove that liberal democracy has ceased to be the canon of Western politics. And that has far-reaching implications. How can “swing states” like Poland achieve liberal democracy now that the Western point of reference has disappeared? Eastern Europe has never benefited when political conditions in the West have deteriorated.
Trump is not just an ill-tempered child playing with nuclear matches; he is also dangerously ambitious, and his foreign-policy proposals could unravel crucial alliances and destabilize the international order. Of course, nobody – not even Trump himself – knows if he will keep his campaign promises. But that is precisely the point: unpredictable governments are bad for global geopolitics. For Poland and other Eastern European countries, whose independence and democracy are based on the current global status quo, this can be a matter of life or death.