The common thread in all of these Western stories is that if you put together all the voters who have given up on the old centrist parties (in Europe) or the old party establishments (in America), you would have the kind of majority upon which political realignments can be made. But because the people rejecting the establishments don’t begin to agree on why or what they want instead, because some of them are voting for Greens or Communists and others for reformed Fascists (or some for Bernie Sanders and Jill Stein and others for Trump), the establishment forces can find a way to hang on to power.Thus in America Trump won the election but old-style Republicans still dominate in Congress and even, if certain op-eds are to be believed, within the White House as well. Among Democrats, Barack Obama is still far and away the most popular leader.
The center is hated, but whether overtly or covertly it finds some ways to hold.So maybe we will have a long-term shift to either the right or the left, as seems to have happened in eastern Europe with the rise of nationalist parties. But maybe we are just in for more stasis. One version of that status quo might look like this:
There are plenty of historical precedents for a situation in which a system stalemates or stagnates for generations, where revolts and reform programs founder again and again, where a disliked or despised elite holds on to power for a long time against divided and chaotic forms of populism.I know some of my friends are thinking in that direction: if the people can't be trusted not to vote for buffoonish ideologues, then they need to be marginalized so the elite can get on with running things in a sensible way.
In a recent essay for American Affairs, Michael Lind describes a version of this scenario for our era — a possible Western future in which the presently besieged establishment, “with its near-monopoly of wealth, political power, expertise and media influence, completely and successfully represses the numerically greater but politically weaker working-class majority. If that is the case, the future North America and Europe may look a lot like Brazil and Mexico, with nepotistic oligarchies clustered in a few fashionable metropolitan areas but surrounded by a derelict, depopulated, and despised ‘hinterland.’”
I don't think, though, that such a scenario could unfold in America, at least not any more so than it did over the first half of my life. The American elite is very strongly divided against itself, and the temptation to go demagogue and rally the masses against the other side is too powerful to resist.
I also expect stagnation in American politics rather than some radical shift to the right or the left, but I don't see anything so dramatic as Lind imagines. Just more of the same.