It was already clear before the Brexit vote that modern populist movements could take control of political parties. What wasn’t clear was whether they could take over a country like Britain. Now we know they can.
Those in the political center were demonized as out-of-touch elites, as though the people leading the insurgency were ordinary folks — which, in the case of the Brexit campaign, is a laughable proposition. The campaign made the word “expert” virtually a term of abuse, and when experts warned of the economic harm that would follow Brexit, they were castigated as “scaremongers.” Immigrants were described as a bunch of scroungers coming to grab Britons’ jobs and benefits when, in reality, the recent migrants from Eastern Europe contribute far more in taxes than they take in welfare payments. And besides, immigration to Britain from outside the European Union will not be affected by the referendum decision.
The political center has lost its power to persuade and its essential means of connection to the people it seeks to represent. Instead, we are seeing a convergence of the far left and far right. The right attacks immigrants while the left rails at bankers, but the spirit of insurgency, the venting of anger at those in power and the addiction to simple, demagogic answers to complex problems are the same for both extremes. Underlying it all is a shared hostility to globalization.