Polarising opposition

As we noted yesterday, both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson are experiencing some political turbulence, and both are responding in the same way, by doubling down on the rhetoric that they know will enrage their liberal adversaries.

Trump, faced with the allegation that he put pressure on a foreign government to smear a domestic political opponent, released evidence that all but confirms his guilt, effectively daring Nancy Pelosi to do something about it. Faced with such a blatant provocation, the Democratic leadership had little choice but to launch an impeachment process, even though there is practically no chance of Trump being convicted by the GOP-controlled Senate.

Similarly, Johnson flew back to London to explain himself to the reassembled House of Commons, only to deliver a statement completely lacking in humility or contrition, and instead loaded with the aggressively populist accusation that Parliament and the courts were frustrating the will of the people.

I cannot believe that either of these would-be strongmen are unaware of the effect talk like this will have upon their respective countries; it seems much more likely that this is a deliberate attempt to sow discord and agitate their base, in the hope that the resulting anger and chaos will carry them to electoral victory.

Will liberal democracy be able to withstand this storm? Probably; this isn’t the 1930s. Trump and Johnson will discover that it’s difficult to keep a coalition of angry people together; the more you rile them up the more they demand even greater extremes, until the whole project implodes. That said, the strategy of division has the potential to cause a lot of unpleasantness, and it would be a brave commentator who would bet against Johnson or Trump prevailing in the short term. Polarisation works both ways though; a swing to the right creates the conditions that can convince people of the value of progressive principles. I’m still just about confident that we’ll win out in the end.

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