French voters headed to the polls on Sunday in the first round of France’s presidential election. With the rise of National Front candidate Marine Le Pen, the election raises the question of what is happening to the “left.” What does it even mean to be on the left?
When the Industrial Revolution led to urbanization, the left became the champion of the poor and the working class. But over the last few decades, this has changed.
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Trump Won Because the Left Lost Its Vision
A split has developed within the left. The split is between the ideology of its elites and the needs of its rank-and-file members, the average worker. We saw this play out most recently in last year’s US presidential election.
Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton was not in touch with the working and middle classes. She has been unable to hide her disdain for what she sees as the provincial views of middle-class voters. Those voters ended up supporting Donald Trump.
Clinton won the nomination because Democratic Party elites believed it was important to elect the first female president of the US. But they failed to convince working-class Americans that the Democrats were still their party.
In the French election, there are two candidates who can make some claim to being on the left. One is a former banker and empty suit who has never served in public office but claims the mantle of progressivism. The other is a former socialist who has grabbed attention by delivering speeches through holograms.
In Great Britain, the biggest challenger for Prime Minister Theresa May is Jeremy Corbyn. He is a socialist who became the Labour Party leader by accident.
The US case is different from the British case. And the British case is different from the French case. But the left in each of these examples shares one thing in common. The political leaders of the major left-wing parties became less concerned with representing working-and middle-class voters. But such voters were the source of their power in the first place.
The Left Is Out of Touch
The elites continued to romanticize the average working-class voter. But this was accompanied by practical indifference. For example, in the US, it was the Democrats who signed NAFTA and pushed for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These trade deals have pros and cons, but the working class bore the brunt of the damage these deals caused.
In the UK, it was the Conservative Party that brought Great Britain into the European Economic Community in 1973. Labour opposed it. When it came to Brexit, though, Labour veered in the opposite direction. Corbyn has ambiguous feelings about the EU. But he came out in favor of remaining in the EU.
Corbyn has also called himself “relaxed” about increased migration to the UK. But the British middle class was enraged at being lectured by Germany about refugees. This issue led the Brexit campaign to take off. Brexit is but one example of how the left is out of touch with its old constituents.
The National Front has existed in France for decades. But now it has become normalized in French politics. The party arrived at this point by stepping into the breach created by the left’s failures. It aims to be the party of the average Frenchman and the working-class factory worker who has lost his job and has no prospects for the future.
The Left Is Losing Its People
The political parties enjoying the most success right now are those that support nationalism, populism, and economic protectionism. It is doubtful whether policies based on these “isms” will cure the underlying disease, but that is not the point. Parties like the National Front and the UK Independence Party, as well as leaders like Trump, have clearly defined their ideology, their constituents, and the policies they think will benefit the working and middle classes.
The middle and working classes are desperately searching for a champion. The problem for the left is that it has forgotten how to fight. The liberal elites are ashamed of nationalism but offer no alternative.
So on and on they continue spinning, searching in vain for the supporters they lost. But those supporters have already given up and are begrudgingly casting their lots with the only real game in town.
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