By Michael Brendan Dougherty
Monday, July 31, 2017
At first glance, the great rewrite of our politics seems to be off. The new nationalist wave isn’t crashing on the shores, it’s receding. The globalists are winning again. Emmanuel Macron crushed the Front Nationale. Angela Merkel is going to romp to reelection this fall. And it looks like all the people who put their hopes in Brexit or in Donald Trump are smelling the sulfurous odor of reality now. All the native working-class people, all the dissenting right-leaning intellectuals — their hopes have already been dashed.
Teresa May’s post-Brexit election gamble blew up in her face. Now Brexit is slowly being tortured to death. Death by a thousand new doubts. Some opportunist Remainers are part of that effort, but more importantly, it’s being lost by incompetent and convictionless politicians who haven’t prepared to negotiate and are setting their country up to crash out of the European Union.
In America, some of the new nationalist constituency convinced themselves that the very shock of Donald Trump’s election would effect their revolution. Ha. Ha. Enjoy the next three years and change of guessing what Trump is going to tweet about next. Maybe he drops a few more MOABs in wars you thought he was going to end. Now he is telling those left behind by the old economy that there’s no helping them; they should think about moving. If 2016 was your Flight 93 election, make your peace with God now. You got control of the cockpit, but you had no plan for going nose up, the engine is just bursting into flames as you give it more juice on the way to back to Earth. Maybe he causes a few more libs to lose their minds on social media. Maybe they will become as numb to his provocations as you are becoming. Big whoop. Either way, you blew your one chance.
Or did you?
What if sudden-onset political incompetence is just part of the new era that is breaking upon us all? Some of the Tory May-haters, the people who felt accused when she attacked “citizens of the world” as “citizens of nowhere,” have staked their hopes on Ruth Davidson, the leader of Scotland’s Conservative and Unionist party. Here was a young, feisty, creative, and partisan woman — an out lesbian whose sexuality was unimportant. She was comfortable in the world that people under 35 had grown up in, the one where borders and national myths meant less than they ever did. While Teresa May lost the Tories a working majority, Ruth Davidson resurrected her party from the grave. She is as “up and coming” as politicians can be. Here she comes to bury Mayism . . .
Or not at all. Ruth Davidson wrote a big political coming-out essay this week. Capitalism needs a reboot, she says. Yes, she gushes with libertarian abandon when talking about the invention of shipping containers. But at the same time, there are lines of thought in her essay that address the same issue and the same problem that May and Trump and all the dissidents on the right have been speaking about for some time.
Capitalism has to be a moral enterprise she says. It has to reach out to the people who felt left behind, for whom social solidarity has been absent. She cites Adam Smith’s contention that capitalism will provide the means for public services and praises “intervention. Market restraints. Decisions made at a macro-level by governments to ensure basic fairness for the little guy.”
If capitalism is going to survive, it needs to gain the consent of the people, the kids who grow up in a “pit town with no pit, a steel town with no steel or a factory town where the factory closed its doors a decade ago.” She cites the same problems that May and Trump cited, not only the difficulty of finding work, but the helplessness that masses of people feel when they realize that ownership of their own home is an impossible dream. She cites Smith’s claim: “When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.”
In her own way, Davidson is grappling with the same problems and opportunities that conservatives face globally across the industrialized world. Many of the rich have abandoned conservative parties, preferring to be values voters of the center-left. Many of the former working classes that supported the Left in the past are drifting into center-right or right wing parties. The middle-class life that many Americans, English, and French felt was their birthright seems to be slipping away from them. The social supports of family, community, union, and church are disintegrating or irrelevant. The corporate culture is less paternalistic and loyal than ever, at least to the vast bulk of workers. To these people capitalism doesn’t look like an opportunity; it looks like an opportunity to be fleeced.
May and Trump just might fail. But right now it looks like conservative parties and conservative thinkers are likely to continue moving in their direction for a long time to come. We may not have the right answers yet, but the problem set doesn’t look like it is changing any time soon.