White, straight, male America has made its voice heard. Decades of being left outside, confused and bemused, by identity politics have made an impression on the very section of US society that ethnic, religious and other minorities have so often been reacting against. They have been told for decades that they couldn’t have a seat at the table – lacking, as they were, the purchasing power of a serviceable and saleable ‘identity’ – and have seen their wages, their power and their esteem depressed and reduced. But they have been watching and learning too. And it was in imitation of their perceived oppressors that they coalesced around a reductive but powerful view of themselves. Race, orientation, gender and religion are not solely the preserve of minorities; they can be pervading identities for majorities too. And when this block votes as a block they win – at least for now.
What do they want? Well, there are the usual demands of identity politics; the great game of domination and recognition. But there is also a powerful and urgent raging against the forces of globalisation. For thirty years or more, certainly since the fall of Soviet Russia, the currency of diplomacy has been trade. Trade deals themselves are dry, rational and mutually agreeable. But they create victims as well as beneficiaries. Factories closed, jobs lost, men left bereft of a role and whole cities left without a purpose – China’s upwardly mobile middle class has not been spun from nothing, it has been built with the proceeds of asset stripping. America’s middle class has been shrunk in order to pay for a mass, global embourgeoisement. That was the project of the globalist class – who believed that such a radical economic and social redistribution would mean peace and relative prosperity at utilitarian scale. They forgot that raw anger and loss can be powerful when forged into coalitions of political action.
Comparisons will be made with the Brexit vote and it is an apt analogy. Again the political and commenting classes have been conspicuously and ruthlessly rejected. Again, nativist sentiments have found mass appeal. Again, globalism has been attacked at the ballot box. So what next? Well, all the laws of politics are now in flux. Who can write off Marine Le Pen’s chances in France? There is no reason now to presume that Putin will always be our enemy or that Israel will always enjoy American protection. The era of the peace dividend and underinvestment in defence is dead. And, as the rules are changing, who are the pollsters and the commentators to tell us that Corbyn ‘can’t win’?
For thirty years the global elite have met in Davos to plot the end of history and design the last man. Davos died last night. Whatever grows to replace it, our leaders are no longer at liberty to pretend that politics can be reduced to rational utilitarianism.