Today's Paper Search Latest Traffic #Gazette200 Listen Digital replica FAQ Weather Newsletters Obits Puzzles + Games Archive

More than 600 million Indians cast their ballots over the past six weeks in the largest democratic election in the world. Donald Trump won.

A week ago, several million Australians went to the polls in another touchstone election. Trump won.

Citizens of European Union member states are voting in elections for the mostly toothless, but symbolically significant, European Parliament. Here, too, Trumpism will mark its territory.

Legislative elections in the Philippines this month, which further cemented the rule of Rodrigo Duterte, were another win for Trumpism. Ditto for Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election in Israel last month, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil in October, and Italy's elevation of Matteo Salvini several months before that.

If past is prologue, expect the Trumpiest Tory--Boris Johnson--to succeed Theresa May as prime minister of Britain, too.

In 2016, at a campaign rally in Albany, N.Y., Trump warned: "We're gonna win so much you may even get tired of winning. And you'll say, please, please, it's too much winning, we can't take it anymore."

Tell us about it.

Trump's name was on none of the ballots in these recent elections. His critics should take no comfort in that fact.

In India, Narendra Modi won his re-election largely on the strength of his appeals to Hindu nationalism and anti-Muslim sentiment.

In Australia, incumbent Scott Morrison ran against the high cost of climate action, including in lost jobs, and won a stunning upset.

In the UK, Trump surrogate Nigel Farage looks like he and his Brexit Party will be the runaway victors in the European elections.

In Brazil and the Philippines, the political appeal of Bolsonaro and Duterte seems to be inversely correlated to their respect for human rights and the rule of law, to say nothing of modern ethical pieties.

The common thread here isn't just right-wing populism. It's contempt for the ideology of them before us: of the immigrant before the native-born; of the global or transnational interest before the national or local one; of racial or ethnic or sexual minorities before the majority; of the transgressive before the normal. It's a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It's hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it.

When protests erupted last year in France over Emmanuel Macron's attempt to raise gas prices for the sake of the climate, one gilets jaunes slogan captured the core complaint: "Macron is concerned with the end of the world," it went, while "we are concerned with the end of the month."

This is a potent form of politics, and it's why I suspect Trump will be re-elected next year barring an economic meltdown or foreign-policy shock. You may think (as I often do) that the administration is a daily carnival of shame. You may also think that conservatives are even guiltier than liberals and progressives of them-before-us politics: the 1 percenters before the 99 percent; the big corporations before the little guy, and so on.

But the left has the deeper problem. That's partly because it self-consciously approaches politics as a struggle against selfishness, and partly because it has invested itself so deeply, and increasingly inflexibly, on issues such as climate change or immigration. Whatever else might be said about this, it's a recipe for nonstop political defeat leavened only by a sensation of moral superiority.

Progressives are now speeding, Thelma and Louise style, toward the same cliff they went over in the 1970s and '80s. But unlike the '80s, when conservatives held formidable principles about economic freedom and Western unity, the left is flailing in the face of a new right that is increasingly nativist, illiberal, lawless, and buffoonish. It's losing to losers.

It needn't be this way. The most successful left-of-center leaders of the past 30 years were Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. They believed in the benefits of free markets, the importance of law and order, the superiority of Western values, and a healthy respect for the moral reflexes of ordinary people. Within that framework, they were able to achieve important liberal victories.

Political blunders and personal shortcomings? Many. But neither man would ever have been bested by someone like Trump.

Anyone who thinks the most important political task of the next few years is to defeat Trump in the United States and his epigones abroad must give an honest account of their stunning electoral successes. Plenty has been said about the effects of demagoguery and bigotry in driving these Trumpian victories, and the cultural, social, and economic insecurities that fuel populist anxiety. Not so often mentioned is that the secret of success lies also in having opponents who are even less appealing.

In the contest of ugly, the left keeps winning. To repurpose that line from Trump, "Please, please, it's too much winning."


Bret Stephens is a New York Times columnist.

Editorial on 05/29/2019

Print Headline: The contest of ugly


Sponsor Content

You must be signed in to post comments


  • Skeptic1
    May 29, 2019 at 8:19 a.m.

    Extremes are never tolerated for long. We had 8 years of Obama pandering to the race card, apologizing to the world for our over 200 years of success, and gutting and corrupting our, the pendulum swings back. The leftist ideology of one world and no borders destroys cultural pride and community for the benefit of the very few at the top. If there is such a thing as "Trumpism," it comes from a rejection of the far left.

  • FordP
    May 29, 2019 at 2:52 p.m.

    The author correctly summarizes what is happening world-wide. Human history is filled with evidence that we seek tribal bonds. National identity is important and the natives will demand borders, boundaries, limits, and fences. I have fences on my property because I love my neighbors and respect their wishes that I be neighborly, and they reciprocate by respecting my fences.

    Democrats need to reconsider their quest for open borders, while simultaneously race-bating their supposed constituency along racial lines. We, as humans, seek tribal identity bonds. When those tribes become racial, we have a recipe for civil unrest. When our "American Tribe" retreats to our borders, we can embrace each other with pride and confidence.

    Great leaders always stoke the flames along tribal lines. What better way to identify us-versus-them than to place a fence at the border? What better way to identify membership than to have a job, contribute to community, and embrace our neighbors?

    Trump is winning around the world because he reminds us about how good we have got it. Right-or-wrong he lays claim to our success. Embracing the depth and breadth of our success is THE way to stoke the fires of tribal America.

    DT wins in 2020

  • 0boxerssuddenlinknet
    May 31, 2019 at 12:42 a.m.

    Tony Blair's policies almost destroyed the UK but thank God they are fighting back for their homeland and blair is long gone. Just wish the Clintons had enough grace to do the same.