Center-left parties in America and Europe are struggling. They are struggling for three reasons: First, they have failed to offer a credible response to the period of prolonged income stagnation and growing inequality; second, they have become part of the political-business-elite accommodation that the public views as corrupt; and third, they have been indifferent to the disruptive effects of globalization and loath to show immigration needs to be controlled.
America is being shaped irreversibly by a growing new majority of millennials, racial minorities, immigrants and secular people. So how did the presidential election produce such a reactionary result, surprising all the pollsters, including me? “Shy” Tories and Brexiters apparently upended Britain. Did “shy” Trump voters upend America?
But what needs attention is how people will respond to these shifts, and in particular, the necessary use of democratic institutions to mitigate the effects of these changes. I explain in my book ‘America Ascendant’ how the Industrial Revolution generated vast growth and productivity, which was largely concentrated in the US, because the US experienced 100 years of unregulated immigration and urban expansion. But following this, it produced a two-decade long period of reform to mitigate the effects of these drastic changes. At the heart of this was breaking the bond between politicians and big businesses to regain the trust of the American people, which then led to a cascade of progressive policies, such as restraints on monopolies, reduced tariffs, the income tax, women’s suffrage, the eight-hour working week in interstate commerce and women’s working conditions, that Woodrow Wilson called ‘The Progressive Era of Renewal.’