Politics and Economics

Is recent extreme populism a reaction to extreme political correctness?


Mexicans, Muslims, African-Americans and Chinese have all been insulted by Donald Trump. In August, he accused a popular news presenter of asking questions about his serial misogyny because she was menstruating — and his poll numbers rose.

He enraged much of the British establishment this week by suggesting that Muslim-dominated parts of Britain had become no-go areas for police. Yet the latest poll suggests that 35 per cent of Republican voters, the highest figure yet, want him as their presidential nominee.

There is a misguided campaign to have Mr. Trump banned from the UK because of his populist views. I don’t support his views either, but he has the right to express his opinions and voters have the right to listen to him, make an informed choice and vote for him. And his populism is not alone.   In Europe populists are in power in Poland and Hungary, and in the governing coalition in Switzerland and Finland. In the first round of the French regional elections on 6th December, the far-right National Front (FN) gained the largest share of the national vote. The FN’s leader, Marine Le Pen, and her niece each polled over 40%. 

This far-right populism is perhaps a natural reaction to the con of political correctness gone berserk.  The con is the flawed belief that a human being is born as a malleable lump of clay that can be manipulated and moulded by society into anything that we want.  i.e. social policy can liberate people from their own limitations, flaws, personal inadequacies and insecurities through legislation and indoctrination.

The problem with political correctness  (if there is one) is that it has a strong vision of how the world ought to be.  Inconvenient truths are met with denial followed by shrill personal attacks and screams of “racism” and “sexism”.  Like all idealists (including socialists) there is little debate about how the world actually is and little effort to find pragmatic solutions and compromises.  This can lead to very poor and expensive decision-making, as many real-world facts are not considered before choosing a chain of action. We now experience constant change regarding gender identity, roles in society and social, sexual, racial and religious equality.  We are moving beyond laudable intentions around equality of opportunity to the dangerous premise of equality of outcome – irrespective of possible average natural differences between the classes, races and sexes.

But for the vast majority human happiness is based on security, familiarity, predictability and conformity.  i.e. understanding your place in the world and knowing how to navigate it.  Fundamentally most people don’t like change.  Change management is an enormous industry in the world of work for this reason.  Trade unions desperately try to stop the world of their members changing because it is considered harmful and stressful.

Small groups of people with a “cause” are highly motivated to change the world to suit their own agenda.   They have energy and intelligence to seize power through the media and government and then change the world to suit their own personal grievances.  But they are often a minority and their constant moving of once-taken-for-granted certainty in our societies causes stress, anxiety, confusion and unhappiness for the majority.

Perhaps Mr. Trump and Ms. Le Pen are speaking for a significant number of voters who believe that political correctness has gone too far.  It is possible to have too much of a good thing.  Political correctness must be reigned back and infused with real world truths or we risk voters supporting these populist extreme counter-measures, which would be much worse.