The Trans-Atlantic Class Struggle

By | 2018-06-18T00:03:51+00:00 June 18th, 2018|
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At the recent G7 summit, President Trump differed with the leaders of Britain, Germany, France and Canada on a host of issues. But the real reason why he and the leaders of longtime allied countries treated one another as enemies is that they belong to socio-political classes engaged in a cold war.

Since World War II, a remarkably uniform ruling class has grown throughout Western Europe as well as in the United States and Canada. It now occupies government bureaucracies, the media, education, big business, and international institutions as well as traditional political parties. Rebellious voters are besieging that class on both sides of the Atlantic. Prime Ministers Theresa May, Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron, and Justin Trudeau represent that class. Their political forces have experienced narrow electoral escapes.

President Donald Trump and Italy’s newly installed PM Giuseppe Conte represent rebellious voters who have brought wholesale rejection of that class to their countries’ top office. Within these countries, the old ruling class refuses to accept electoral defeat. In waging this resistance, they find solidarity with their homologues from the Bering Straits to the Oder. What happened at the G7 was one instance of that struggle.

Herewith, an explanation of this dynamic.

As the size of the Western world’s economy has grown nearly nine-fold, the size of government more than doubled. By the hiring, regulations, contracts, and contacts through which they have steered trillions of dollars—even more successfully than they might have done through laws—the people in charge of Western governments have shaped their societies according to their preferences, foremost of which has been to accommodate and advance people like themselves.

In Europe and in America, as more and more activities, educational, commercial, etc. have come under government’s aegis, the boundary between public and private has faded. Already in his 1960 farewell, President Dwight Eisenhower thought it necessary to warn that connection to government was superseding even criteria of scientific truth.

In Europe even more than in America, politicians of the right and of the left gradually have grown into co-managers of a complex that is the writ-large version of themselves. These rulers’ principal feature is social, intellectual, and moral contempt for the ruled, national boundaries notwithstanding. A German bureaucrat or big business executive is likelier to think better of a Briton or an American in a similar position than of a fellow citizen of a station he views as inferior. The ruling class’s censorious identity and attitude is especially lethal to its leftist parties, which had relied on the votes of humble people.

In recent memory, Western societies (European far more than American) were divided into economic classes. But today, the growth of government and the effective merging of traditional parties has divided them all equally into the trans-nationally favored “ins” and the deplored “outs.”

Different party and electoral systems notwithstanding, revolt and resistance have followed parallel courses throughout the West. America’s looser system saw the first revolts: Barry Goldwater’s 1964 call for “a choice, not an echo” and George Wallace’s 1968 taunt that “there’s not a dime’s worth of difference” between the Republican and Democratic parties. Except for Ronald Reagan, he was right. Europe’s first attempt at revolt happened in Italy in 1994. A petitioned referendum had killed the traditional parties. But, led by Silvio Berlusconi, mainstream politicians’ common socio-political culture reasserted itself. By 2008 however, the ruling class’s handling of the financial crisis and of mass illegal migration, along with its dismissal of traditional cultural concerns, definitively alienated it from the voters on both sides of the Atlantic and spurred them to find ways of saying NO.

In the U.S. voters gave Republicans big majorities in House and Senate as well as in most state governments, while letting them know that they were on short leashes. In 2016 they pulled the leash, defied both parties’ establishments, the media, etc. and elected Donald Trump because he was the most undeniably anti-establishment candidate out there.

In Europe, almost contemporaneously, the British people defied the same class and voted to leave the European Union. In France the establishment candidate in the presidential elections’ first round, Macron, got less than one percent of the vote more than Marine Le Pen, against whom all its forces were directed. In Germany, the members of Merkel’ coalition were reduced to historic lows. In all cases, voters’ distrust for the establishment has continued to rise. In Italy, where collusion between traditional right and left had thwarted election results, the five-star party got 32% on the slogan “vaffanculo,” and the Center-Right Alliance, led by the Northern League got 37%. They formed the government that sent Giuseppe Conte to the G-7 meeting, where he found himself on the same side as Donald Trump.

Tangential to our discussion of the G-7 but essential to our general point is that the countries of Eastern Europe—principally, Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic—have voted out of office their local versions of the Euro-American ruling class for the same reasons that class is being opposed throughout the West: their regulations, emanating from the EU,  deprive the people of self government and do more harm than good, their cultural influences rob the people of their past while, their patronage of Third World migrants robs the people of a future. The ruling class’s resistance to the Eastern countries’ electoral choices differs in the tools but is essentially the same as what it deploys against those who voted for Brexit, for Trump, in Italy’s latest election, and those who, soon, might throw out Mrs. Merkel and others like her.

That resistance refuses to acknowledge that “the people” have really rejected the ruling class. Rejecting them for any rational principle, they say, is impossible. Voters were deceived. Maybe by the Russians. Certainly by appeals to the worst of sentiments by the worst of people. Hence this rejection violates democracy, liberal principles, and the rule of law. We who are the guardians of all the above cannot and will not accept this. We who hold positions of authority  will not recognize these election results as legitimate, and will treat those elected as usurpers.The rule of law is rule by institutions. We control them, and will use them to deny the usurpers’ legitimacy.

We predict that attempts to reject us will have harsh consequences, and we will do our best to mete out those consequences. If the usurpers (by which, remember, they mean the majority of the people) try to unseat us, we will charge despotism, and try to convince the voters they made a mistake. We recognize that the voters are not qualified to judge us, and that it is problematic for us to denigrate them while asking for their votes. But we rely on our dominance of the media and state institutions to square this circle by intimidating first the people whom the voters elect, and then the voters themselves.

All of the above is why Donald Trump’s dismissive attitude toward May, Macron, Merkel, and Trudeau at the G-7 meeting frightened them far more than his vague references to tariffs. He and Mr. Conte, not being intimidated, thus encouraged their publics—and the British, French, German, and Canadian as well—to further disrespect the trans-Atlantic ruling class.

Photo credit: Leon Neal/Getty Images

About the Author:

Angelo Codevilla
Angelo M. Codevilla is a senior fellow of the Claremont Institute, professor emeritus of international relations at Boston University and the author of To Make And Keep Peace (Hoover Institution Press, 2014).