On Tuesday night, the second shoe dropped with a terrific bang.
Those of us who understood the full import of Britain’s Brexit vote last June had observed a similar phenomenon at work in the unstoppable rise of Donald J. Trump.
As his stunning victory in America’s presidential election sank in, the reaction echoed the Brexit vote aftermath. For distraught liberals, it’s the end of the world as they know it.
As with Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Trump’s victory denies the first law of the universe: that the received opinion of the political and intellectual elite – the acme of virtue, progress and reason – must always win the day because any opposition is automatically evil, reactionary and brainless.
If the people rise up against the elite and elect an unsuitable president, the elite can’t possibly be responsible. No, it must be the fault of the voters, who are as nasty and brutish as the man they have just sent to the White House.
After Brexit, liberals claimed that the people hadn’t understood what they were voting for. The implications were said to be too difficult for them to understand because they were merely xenophobic, anti-immigrant, uneducated troglodytes.
To the same kind of liberals, Trump’s victory presages the termination of decent life in America. He has been painted as a racist, misogynistic antisemite – on account of remarks which have been mostly misquoted, exaggerated, distorted or taken out of context; or attitudes attributed to him through guilt-by-association.
He was supported, for example, by David Duke of the Ku Klux Klan. People shudder; yet no one shuddered when Hillary Clinton called senator Robert Byrd, a previously long-standing recruiter for the KKK, her “friend and mentor” when he died in 2010.
Trump is undoubtedly boorish, vulgar and with saloon-bar attitudes. So was the Democratic president Lyndon B. Johnson. Yet while LBJ’s coarseness caused barely a tremor, Trump’s election is provoking some people even to rethink their support for democracy itself.
That’s got less to do with the man himself than the fact that the liberal elite lost the election. So the voters have been redefined as “angry white men” and democracy is losing its appeal.
Last May, as Trump’s rise started to defy political gravity, under the headline “America has never been so ripe for tyranny” Andrew Sullivan wrote about “the threat late-stage democracy is beginning to pose to itself.”
This calls to mind Bertolt Brecht’s ironic line, after the uprising in East Berlin in 1953, that it would be simplest if the Communist regime “dissolved the people and elected another.”
Of course it doesn’t seem to occur to such commentators that while sounding the alarm over hateful attitudes and the specter of fascism they are themselves promoting hatred of ordinary people and flirting with tyranny.
The reason Trump won the election was precisely attitudes like these. The political, media and intellectual establishment is dumbfounded over Trump’s election, as it was over Brexit, for precisely the reason voters turned on it – because it knew nothing and cared less about ordinary people’s everyday concerns and dismissed such folk as every kind of phobe or bigot.
It set out to change Western society for ever without asking the people if they wanted it to be changed into a multicultural, moral relativist, lifestyle-choice free-for-all of identity politics and victim culture.
Now the people have fought back, delivering a devastating repudiation not just of Hillary Clinton and the corrupt machine politics she represented but the media, the intelligentsia and the entire liberal establishment.
What has shocked these elites is that it is now clear they can no longer make the political weather. They bent every sinew upon an intensive and sustained propaganda and disinformation campaign, only to find that the people merely dismissed everything they were saying as yet more lies.
Indeed, the cruder and more outrageous Donald Trump became, the more support he gained. Just like the onslaught against the Brexiters by the pro-Remain side in Britain’s EU referendum, the campaign against Trump proved to be the gift that kept on giving.
The more offensive he became, the more he reinforced the belief that he was indeed the candidate to deliver change, because he was clearly the ultimate establishment outsider.
None of this is to gainsay the justifiable anxiety that arises from his election. We can see he is highly unpredictable and seems to understand little about the way the world works outside business.
On Israel, though, he is clearly sound, and has promised to move the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, an act that would signal he understands what defending Israel really means. And he has promised to undo the dreadful Iran deal.
Whether he has the acumen and character to handle the Middle East cauldron, though, and thus protect both Israel and the free world, remains an open question. And he badly needs to repel the white supremacists who have leeched onto his campaign.
A populist revolution is under way in Britain, Europe and now in America. We may be in for a very rocky ride.
Extremes produce an extreme reaction. Obama has been an extremist president who has almost ruined America. The revolt of the people has thrown up another extreme in the person of Donald J. Trump.
He may turn out to be a disaster. But liberal progressivism was causing the West to commit suicide. Uncomfortable and hair-raising it may be, but the Western world now has a chance of surviving.Melanie Phillips is a columnist for
The Times (UK).