Similarly, Trump saw through Russia’s gas ploy. Russian President Vladimir Putin saw such a strong strategic advantage from Nord Stream mark one gas pipeline that he undertook to build a second gas pipeline transporting the Russian fuel that countries like Germany needed to go “green”. Trump warned against it and, in 2019, signed a law imposing sanctions on any firm that helped build Nord Stream 2, on the basis that the pipeline posed a security risk to Europe. Again, events have proven him right and liberalism’s idealists wrong.
This foresight should not be written off as the luck of the savant. Rather, it is a warning that the eternal sunshine of the liberal mind can be an inbuilt handicap. As Financial Times columnist Janan Ganesh wrote recently, “It takes a cynicism about human nature, even a certain roughness, to comprehend the threat posed by the enemies of the West. Liberalism can lack this reptilian vigilance. ”
We will now never find out if a leader might have emerged who could have unmasked the autocrats and reset international relations while cocking his pinkie among his couth kind, but we can say that previous presidents, despite their sophisticatedly rare steaks and soaring rhetoric, did not .
Likewise, while Boris Johnson is now celebrated by liberals for the greening of Britain, it was not such a long time hence that he was the populist villain of Brexit. Brexit is still decried by the free-marketers enamored of the internationalist club of the European Union but, while it may not have been the most economically rational move, there is evidence that it has solved many social problems.
Who would have guessed that Brexit, which was driven by a sense that Britain had lost its sovereignty and with it control over its borders, would lead to a greater acceptance of immigration? Johnson perhaps? Because polls have found that, while immigration to Britain has increased since Brexit, people are no longer anxious about it. In fact, in most areas of life, British citizens now regard people born elsewhere who have moved to Britain as a net positive.
It seems that a spoonful of populism makes the liberal project possible. Or, in more direct terms, that liberalism is a set of academic ideas which need to be corrected by populism – aka, the people.
Trump has now been democratically discarded and Johnson is trying to reinvent himself as a leading light of liberalism. But as the new liberal leadership cohort extends NATO and once again congratulates itself on having solved history, or at least found the right side of it, leaders should privately ask themselves two crucial questions: “what would a populist do in my position”, and “What will the next populism be sparked by”.
The winners of democratic contests like to tell themselves that voters never get it wrong. In which case, they haven’t in recent history either.