Liberalism, liberal democracy not in retreat

From Quillette Don’t Blame Neoliberalism for ‘Postmodern Conservatism’

The premise of the article is wrong. For the past few years, since Brexit and the election of Trump, liberals have been pushing this narrative that liberal democracy is in retreat, dying, in decline, etc. The evidence suggests liberal democracy is not in decline, but rather (as discussed here and here) seems to be doing well in spite of Trump, and there is no ‘global right-wing uprising’ over the past decade. Such supposed rising tide of authoritarianism is just a figment of the left’s imagination, who perceive any challenge to their neoliberal hegemony as some sort of incipient uprising that needs to be stopped with overwhelming force.

The last decade has been an age of political tumult.

Even the first sentence gets off to an inauspicious start. Literally every decade can be considered an age political tumult. The last decade had 911 and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The ’90s saw the dissolution of the Soviet Union, and the numerous Yugoslav wars and conflicts that followed.

Liberal democracy and capitalism are in retreat.

If capitalism is defined as the accumulation of capital at the individual level, then as shown by the booming stock market and the growth of wealth of the Forbes 400, especially in tech, capitalism is doing better than ever. In what has been a decade of uninterrupted economic growth and share price appreciation–the longest ever–trillions of dollars of wealth has been created in the stock market and real estate over the past decade from 2010-2020.

In America, there was the Tea Party movement, Occupy, and the rise of social justice as a new form of increasingly brittle leftist dogma.

That was mostly tail-end of the first decade, from 2009-2011, not the most recent 10 years. There has always been a a divide between the mainstream/pragmatic-left and the far-left, the latter dominated by radicals, academics, labor activists, etc. This goes back a century and is not a recent development.

Brexit in the UK and the stunning election of Donald Trump in the United States. Trump’s Democratic opponent in the coming presidential election may well be Bernie Sanders, an avowed socialist who is promising to implement a policy revolution on the scale of FDR. What is happening?

Trump is very much a product of liberal democracy and works within the framework of it, and him being stonewalled throughout his presidency and his inability to do much, is a ‘win’ for democracy and the system of checks and balances. That is what it is supposed to do. Contrary to the media narrative of Trump being a dictator appeaser, Trump appears to be get along well with left-wing leaders such has Macron and Trudeau, but has come down hard on more authoritarian countries and leaderships such as Turkey, Iran, Russia, and China, imposing sanctions and tariffs and threatening retaliation for human rights abuses, and there was the airstrike on Soleimani. Much of Trump’s cabinet and staff can be considered moderates, having long ago shed any vestiges of far-right such as Bannon. One would be hard-pressed to think of any specific thing Trump has done that could be considered far-right. Even in regard to deportations, he is beat by that extremist Obama.

Maybe Trump postmodern in the sense of there not being a single, objective likeness of Trump: his nationalistic candor and outward projection of toughness at his rallies and before the media, contrasts with his obsequiousness before Congress, world leaders, and tech CEOs. But this applies to all politicians of democracies. Like actors, obviously, the image that politicians project to their supporters and to the media is not isometric to in private or with other politicians and leaders.

Regarding Bernie Sanders, the author ignores that labor conflicts were much worse decades ago, and appeals to socialism have always had a place in US politics and the Western world in general, especially Europe. For example Louisiana governor Huey Long was considered a viable challenger to the already socialist-leaning FDR, as an even more avowed socialist who was way more extreme than Sanders. This was decades before campus snowflakes and SJWs were a ‘thing.’

Regarding supposed illiberal social unrest, even the ’90s were worse. The Rodney King riots had 2000 injuries and 50 fatalities. Unite The Right only had one fatality. Not saying that things cannot be improved, but relative to much of the world and the recent past, things are not that bad. There are huge protests every year in Chile, Brazil, and other Latin American countries. Civil war in the Middle East. Protests in Lebanon and Italy and Spain. For every campus protest , there are approx 363 days out of the year in which there are no protests. Perspective is everything. Much of these protests and demonstrations are by the left, especially in Latin America and the Middle East, not the right. The protests in Turkey over the past decade were against the perceived authoritarian proclivities of Erdogan. The recent protests in Brazil are against Bolsonaro.

Academics, pundits, journalists, etc. will continue to attribute Trump’s win to some sort of purported decline of democracy and liberalism, or some sort of unique pivotal event that represents a fundamental shift or undoing of the status quo, but need to consider the opposing evidence too.