LONDON – The center ground of Western politics is known as the field of pragmatism, quiet reason, and evolution, where political actors eschew extremes and seek compromise. Because political centrists are distrustful of loud-mouthed and divisive rhetoric, they have taken a somewhat de haut en bas view of the way the political world functions.
Now they are being overwhelmed. Populism of the right and the left is rampant. The old rules no longer apply. Things said which would have disqualified a candidate a few years back are now a passport to voters’ hearts. Policy positions previously regarded as mainstream are sneered at, and those regarded as outlandish are very much inland today. And political alliances that have endured for a century or more are breaking apart, owing to profound social, economic, and cultural changes.
The right is fissuring. The prevailing sentiment is nationalist, anti-immigration, and often protectionist, giving rise to a new alliance. In the United Kingdom, traditional Labour supporters in old industrial communities and wealthy de-regulators and business owners have united in their dislike of the way the world is changing and “political correctness.” Whether this coalition – and similar formations in other countries – can survive its inherent economic contradictions is unclear, though I would not underestimate the cohesive power of a shared sense of cultural alienation.