This is not a uniquely American problem. Last week I caught up with Australia’s deputy prime minister, Julia Gillard, who was visiting Washington for a conference on education. Though Gillard diplomatically avoided direct comment on American politics, she said what’s happening here reminded her of the rise of Pauline Hanson, a politician who caused a sensation in Australian politics in the 1990s by creating One Nation, a xenophobic and protectionist political party tinged with racism.
Gillard, a leader of Australia’s center-left Labor Party, argues that high unemployment, particularly the displacement of men from previously well-paid jobs, helped unleash Hansonism and “the politics of the ordinary guy versus these elites, the opera-watching, latte-sipping elites.” Hansonism collapsed, partly because the Australian economy boomed. Gillard argued that the key to battling the politics of rage is to acknowledge that it is driven by “real problems” and not simply raw feelings.
No doubt some who despise Obama will see the judges in Norway as part of that latte-sipping crowd and will hold their esteem for the president against him. He can’t do much about this. What he can do — and perhaps then deserve the domestic equivalent of a peace prize — is reach out to the angry white men with policies that address their grievances, and do so with an understanding that what matters to them is not status but simply a chance to make a decent living again.