If there is a regnant consensus among the men and women who steer the Western world, it is this: The globe is flattening. Borders are crumbling. Identities are fluid. Commerce and communications form the warp and woof, weaving nations into the tight fabric of a global economy. People are free to pursue opportunity, enriching their new homes culturally and economically. There may be painful dislocations along the way, but the benefits of globalization heavily outweigh its costs. And those who cannot see this, those who would resist it, those who would undo it—they are ignorant of their own interests, bigoted, xenophobic, and backward.According to Appelbaum, elites have failed to effectively oppose the new ethno-nationalism because of weaknesses in both empathy and imagination:
So entrenched is this consensus that, for decades, in most Western democracies, few mainstream political parties have thought to challenge it. They have left it to the politicians on the margins of the left and the right to give voice to such sentiments—and voicing such sentiments relegated politicians to the margins of political life.
To oppose rising nationalism, political elites turned to fear. They compared Trump to Hitler, Stalin, and Mussolini. They warned Brexit would plunge Britain into a black hole. They evoked the specter of Europe’s bloody past. These tactics barely worked in Austria. And they narrowly failed in Britain. It is an open question whether it will succeed in the United States.This gets at something I have long felt about our political economy: nobody really likes the current system, but nobody has a convincing alternative. I think the Obama/Hillary platform would help, but it would not be in any way revolutionary and it would leave in place the things that most offend the disaffected. I agree with Appelbaum's elite straw man that Sander and Farage are ideologues making outlandish promises. So far as I can tell there is simply no available alternative to the mixed ("neo-liberal") systems used by all the world's advanced economies. People who long either for the past – the lifetime highly paid factory job – or an anarchist future without exploitation or drudgery are simply doomed to be disappointed. But they can vote a lot of trouble in the meantime.
This was the failure of empathy. The economic benefits of globalization are diffuse, it turns out, and its costs highly concentrated. For the worker whose factory has shuttered, cheaper T-shirts offer scant consolation. And the costs of cultural dislocation, although more difficult to quantify, are equally real. It is no coincidence that cultural discontent increases in the U.S. and the U.K. as a direct function of age—the further removed voters feel from the culture into which they were born, the more alien they feel in their own lands. Instead of addressing the pain many voters felt, politicians spent years telling their constituents they were wrong. Not just wrong, in fact, but dangerously ignorant.
Compounding this is a profound failure of imagination. Trump wants to make American great again; the Brexit campaigners promised to make Britain great again. They offer a false nostalgia, an illusory promise to restore a vision of national greatness that never truly existed in the first place. But it is a promise of change, a promise that things will be better once more. . . .
The Western political establishment is inclined to dismiss such reactions as bigotry that should not be dignified with a response. Instead, they deploy slogans of the status quo: Remain, Stronger Together. These are intended as dark warnings of the costs of change, and intimations that those who vote for it are motivated solely by prejudice and ignorance.
And here is where the failure of imagination proved catastrophic for the established elites. They failed to paint a vision of a better, brighter future. They failed to offer a persuasive account of how much their people had gained. They failed to address the real concerns of their constituents, or to acknowledge that the interests of different constituencies sometimes diverge. They looked at those who pointed to the flaws in the global consensus—from Bernie Sanders to Nigel Farage—and saw only ideologues making outlandish promises.
They audaciously gambled that by presenting a stark choice, an all-or-nothing vision of globalization, they could persuade their voters to go all in. They seem not to have seriously considered that voters would embrace the alternative.