Were Trump voters motivated by racism or economic anxiety? France offers a clue

The political class of France and most Western countries promised that economic globalization, political integration, and the free movement of people would bring wider prosperity. But that’s not what happened.

Further integration with the EU and the globalized mainstream hasn’t really improved France’s sclerotic economy. The youth unemployment rate in France was roughly 14 percent in the mid-1980s, and it’s gone up ever since. In 2016 it increased slightly from around 25 percent to 26 percent.

States and the political classes have shaped the composition of their own nationalist backlash movements. Post-1989 globalization in America was supposed to enrich everyone, but it inflicted economic pain in a concentrated way to certain regions and demographic groups. People there have responded by falling into despair, and then rallying to Trump. The same is true of young people in France, who have grown up seeing the same or worsening prospects as these political projects continue, enriching people at the very top of the social hierarchy, but doing nothing for them.

After a generation, the project of globalization is failing on its own terms. America’s industrial middle class and France’s youth were promised that they’d have better fortunes in the future. Political integration, global trade, and liberal immigration policies would make them wealthier and foster a spirit of peace. The result for them has been economic stagnation even as they get clearer and clearer looks at the lives of successful people through social media. Instead of a sense of peace, they have a sense of displacement and, in some cases, legitimate terror.