It is no doubt emotionally satisfying for members of the embattled managerial overclass to identify antiestablishment populism with pro-Russian treason, fascism, or both. But this kind of paranoid demonological thinking has the potential to be a greater danger to liberal democracy in the West than any particular populist movements.

To begin with, both the Russia Scare and the Brown Scare betray a profound contempt on the part of members of technocratic neoliberal national establishments for voters who support populist causes or candidates. These voters are assumed to be gullible dimwits who are easily manipulated by foreign propaganda or domestic demagogues. Even worse, attributing populism to the irrational impulses of maladjusted voters prevents embattled establishments on both sides of the Atlantic from treating specific grievances of those voters as legitimate.

Worst of all, the myth that Russia swung the 2016 US presidential election from Clinton to Trump, and endlessly repeated comparisons of current events to the rise of the Nazis in Germany’s Weimar Republic, provide the managerial overclasses in Atlantic democracies with excuses to increase their near-monopoly of political, economic, and media power by freezing out political challengers and censoring dissident media. If most opponents of neoliberalism are Russian pawns or potential Nazis, then mere disagreement with neoliberal policies on trade, immigration, taxation, or other subjects can be equated with rejection of liberalism or democracy, if not outright treason. Confronted with peaceful challenges via the voting booth to neoliberal orthodoxy from outsiders on both the populist right and the socialist left, the instinctive reflex of many in the besieged establishment is to call for censorship and repression.