By now, it’s undeniable: America’s frustration with political elites is upending party loyalty. And now, this phenomenon is taking on global proportions.
According to a recent poll, nearly half of Bernie Sanders’s supporters will not vote for Hillary Clinton, while 22 percent are backing Donald Trump. “I’m a registered Democrat,” one respondent explained, “but I cannot bring myself to vote for another establishment politician like Hillary.”
Based on media coverage, it’s easy to label this distaste purely domestic. However, from the U.K.’s “Brexit” referendum to political movements in France, Italy, and the republic of Georgia, voters have been rising up against an out-of-touch, technocratic elite.
In each of these cases, political insiders have responded with doomsday predictions. Voting against the establishment, they argue, will lead to a swift collapse of our most precious institutions. The anti-establishment movement is not devoid of risk, but when the status quo is failing, it must be challenged. Embracing these protest movements as opportunities to enact reform is the only way our institutions can endure.
However distinct they may be, the Western world’s growing anti-establishment movements carry a remarkably consistent message. Namely, that our political institutions too often favor a small class of privileged elites, at the expense of average citizens.
For Americans, this view is most evident in Trump’s unlikely rise to the GOP nomination. His signature proposals, after all, reject the establishment belief in increased trade and immigration as unalloyed economic goods.
Similarly, Sanders’s electoral success was based mainly on his willingness to admit the inadequacies of our current economic model.
Both campaigns tapped into the scathing anger of a U.S. middle class that hasn’t seen family income growth in 20 years.
Look overseas, however, and you’ll see the same complaints being lodged by citizens throughout Europe. The U.K.’s decision to exit the European Union last month was the most pronounced expression of anti-establishment discontent to date.
The so-called Brexit vote reflected festering economic frustrations. According to two leading labor economists, anti-EU sentiment reigned in areas that have recently lacked wage growth.
As Nigel Farage, former leader of the U.K. Independence Party, put it, “Brexit” supporters, “rejected the multinationals, they rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics and they said actually, we want our country back, we want our fishing waters back, we want our borders back.”
In the end, more than 53 percent of Britons voted to leave the EU. And they did so despite global pleas from everybody from President Obama, to Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne, to Prime Minister David Cameron that doing so would wreck the political establishment.
In France, meanwhile, the steady rise of Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Front party, reflects the same growing impatience with the political status quo. Capitalizing on an unemployment rate that’s hovered above 9 percent since the ’80s, Le Pen has long campaigned on a message of stricter immigration laws and Euroskepticism. She has emerged in recent weeks as the leader in France’s 2017 presidential polls.
Italy’s anti-establishment party, the Five Star Movement, is also making enormous gains. Started by comedian Beppe Grillo, the party opposes both globalization and EU membership. According to three new polls [July 6], M5S is now Italy’s most popular political party.
And in the distant Caucuses, the republic of Georgia, where nearly 70 percent of the population claims unemployment, famous opera singer Paata Burchuladze has embarked on a campaign to be the country’s next prime minister. With an endorsement from United States, the newly-established State for the People party aims to “completely change the paradigm of the relations between the people and the state.” As he sees it, Georgia’s political class, specifically the Georgian Dream party, has failed to serve the interests of average people.
He’s tapped into something powerful by challenging leadership that has been accused of imprisoning political foes and attempting to free political prisoners involved in terror acts.
While the policy proposals of each of these movements may vary significantly, the grievances animating these campaigns are broadly similar. Voters are making a deliberate decision to reject an elite ruling class in favor of political outsiders more attuned to the concerns of ordinary citizens.
Far from a threat to the neo-liberal order, these insurgencies may be the key to retaining the integrity of our political systems.
Yuri Vanetik is a Lincoln Fellow at the Claremont Institute and serves on the national board of Gen Next and the Gen Next Foundation.