Opinion | The West at an Impasse – By Ross Douthat – The New York Times

By Ross Douthat, Opinion Columnist

Dec. 19, 2018, 341c

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President Emmanuel Macron presides over a country roiled by populist protests.CreditCreditPool photo by Benoit Tessier

“In France, where the extraordinarily unpopular Emmanuel Macron presides over a country roiled by populist protests, a leading politician of Macron’s centrist party was asked in a televised interview what policy mistakes his peers had made: “We were probably too intelligent, too subtle,” he told the interviewer, whose eyebrows danced with disbelief.

Around the same time a Hungarian newspaper ran an interview with Radek Sikorski, the former foreign minister of Poland and a member of a centrist party that has been swept aside by the populists who currently rule in Warsaw. Asked to explain the chaotic European situation, he cited a recent Atlantic essay by his wife, the Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum, which portrayed populism as, in part, a revolt by the resentfully unsuccessful against “meritocracy and competition.” The centrist alternative to populism, he suggested, was embodied by Macron, who won the French presidency on “positive ideas” rather than “what is worst in us.”

“Macron’s poll numbers are breaking negative records,” the interviewer dryly noted.

While I read both of these exchanges, my Kindle was open to “The Rise of the Meritocracy,” written in 1958 by the British civil servant Michael Young. The book coined the term in its title, and Young’s neologism was soon adopted as a compliment, a term of praise for a system of elite formation that relied on SAT tests and resumes and promised rule by the most intelligent rather than the well-bred.”

David Lindsay: Ross, well done. You kept me till the end, when you wrote:
“In theory the impasse can be overcome. That’s what statesmanship is for — to bridge gaps between complacent winners and angry losers, to weld populism’s motley grievances into a new agenda suited for the times, to manifest an elitism that is magnanimous instead of arrogant.

But can the system we have really produce such a statesman? The next one we find will be the first.”
What a silly way to end. Think Barak Obama, John Kennedy, Dwight Eisenhower, Franklin D Roosevelt, Teddy Roosevelt. And that doesn’t include the great Europeans such as Winston Churchill.
You write brilliantly. Perhaps you should consider controlling your right wing, Catholic litmus tests.
David Lindsay Jr. is the author of “The Tay Son Rebellion, Historical Fiction of Eighteenth-century Vietnam,” and blogs at TheTaySonRebellion.com and InconvenientNews.wordpress.com

There are some excellent comments, such as:

ChristineMcM
Massachusetts
Times Pick

What bothers me about Ross’s thesis is his insouciance about the limits of populists. He seems to view them as grievance-driven but rudderless, impotent, and unlikely to gain real power. What he leaves out, however, is the natural extension of populism into fascism, as in 1930s Europe. And when he refers to Polish politics as centrists taken over by populists, I cringe because reports show alarming trends towards authoritarianism per th e crackdowns by former Prime Minister Kaczynkiski, mirroring Hungary’s rightward spiral under Orban. Even though Ross seems to feel the US goes through natural cycles of meritocracy and populism, I say it’s dangerous to say those are the only choices. If populists can find a strong and charismatic enough leader to follow, countries can swing authoritarian. We say it can’t happen here, but even though Trump is a corrupt clown who’s given up on serious governing, his Republican party is operating behind the scenes to power grab and subvert democracy. From voter suppression to stripping new Democratic governors of their powers, we see a flouting of US laws, norms, and governing practices. Political polarism (and paralysis) could still morph into “soft” fascism if we aren’t careful.