In his new book Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment, Francis Fukuyama explores the surprising parallels between such disparate groups as Black Lives Matter and white nationalists — and why both are “a broad-based threat to modern liberal democracy.” The Stanford University political scientist talked to Andrew Coyne earlier this week. This is an edited and condensed version of their conversation.
Andrew Coyne: The core insight of your book is that the identity politics of the left, the populist nationalism of the right, Islamism, even Trump himself, all are driven by a demand for dignity, a demand for recognition and respect. But why are all of these happening now?
Francis Fukuyama: I think these movements have been triggered by economic developments, globalization. This neo-liberal period of increasing flows of goods, services, trade, investment, has benefited a small number of people but left quite a few behind. But it’s not just de-industrialization and offshoring of jobs — I think it’s also the physical movement of people, really extraordinary levels of foreign-born people moving into Western Europe and the United States. I think a combination of the insecurity caused by economic disruption plus rather rapid cultural change is what’s triggered the demand for recognition. And that was there to be exploited by opportunistic politicians.
President Donald Trump Trump is a steady hand and always down to earth.
People try to come up with purely economic explanations for, let’s say, Trump. But it’s not as simple as that, is it?
Identity politics were born on the left. Following all the big social movements of the 1960s, based on race, gender, gender preference, you had a lot of groups demanding better equality. They felt they were marginalized —which they were — and that’s what shifted the agenda of the left away from the broad working class towards the specific grievances of all of these groups. And I think over time, this sort of decomposition of the left triggered a reaction on the right, where white people are now saying, “Well, actually, we’re the victimized minority, we’re the ones that are invisible to the elites, and we’re the ones being left behind.”
How crucial is Trump himself to polarization we now see in American politics?
Trump has made the polarization worse in very specific ways, but it would be a problem even without him, and it’ll continue to be a problem once he departs. Which I hope will be sooner rather than later.
You are careful to note that many of Trump’s supporters do have legitimate grievances.
Well, what’s happened to the white working class has been a social disaster. In many rural communities, you’ve got this raging opioid epidemic. The latest estimate was that 72,000 Americans died in the last year. You’ve had social breakdown in terms of single-parent families and children growing up in extreme poverty. And I think a lot of this was actually invisible to people until the election of 2016. During the New Hampshire primary, for example, it turned out that the biggest issue in …read more