The center has fallen, and white nationalism is filling the vacuum

Racism has the power to transform both right and left.

Donna Decker of Sarasota, Fla., screams at reporters during a campaign rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
Donna Decker of Sarasota, Fla., screams at reporters during a campaign rally with Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, in Tampa, Fla. CREDIT: AP Photo/ Evan Vucci

In 1992, a magnetic young Democrat swept aside twelve years of unbroken Republican rule by campaigning on a platform that seemed to cross the old left-right divide. Arkansas governor Bill Clinton, the first Democratic president elected after the Cold War, was the great prophet of the Third Way, a seemingly post-ideological marriage of “pro-growth” economic thinking and moderate social liberalism.

It was an idea whose time had come; with the dust still clearing from the collapse of the Berlin Wall, both market liberalism and political liberalism appeared to have vanquished their final great enemy. And in the 24 years since the end of the Civil Rights era, Baby Boomers had spawned an entirely new generation of voters — one that had never known life under Jim Crow. Third Way adherents branded themselves as heralds of a new political order, to replace the interminable squabbling between left and right that had marked prior generations. The same year that Clinton won the presidency, that view received some prestigious intellectual corroboration thanks to the publication of political theorist Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and the Last Man, a book that posited the world had reached “the end point of mankind’s ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government.”

But then another 24 years went by. Today, history has returned with a vengeance. The Third Way legacy is in tatters.

America’s next president will not be a centrist, managerial liberal in the Clinton mold. Instead it will be Donald Trump, an authoritarian demagogue who is in thrall to a league of white nationalists. Even before he won the 2016 presidential election, Trump was chipping away at bedrock democratic safeguards by flirting with political violence, casting doubt on the legitimacy of democratic institutions, and undermining the electorate’s perception of reality itself. “The final form of human government” is now in grave danger.

Trump has also destroyed crucial elements of Third Way’s economic agenda. His candidacy signaled the end of any bipartisan support for neoliberal trade deals. And instead of taking a technocratic, managerial approach to economic policy, he has personalized it. In the weeks between his election victory and his inauguration, he has struck backroom deals with individual manufacturers and investors in order to keep jobs in the United States — or, at least, in order to look like he’s keeping jobs in the United States.

A new political order is being forged in front of our very eyes.

The collapse of the Third Way project is not confined to the United States. The European Union, as both a liberal internationalist project and an experiment in continental free trade, is bleeding out from a thousand cuts. Last year, the United Kingdom voters narrowly approved a referendum to leave the EU, and Italy may soon do the same. Trumpian right-wing nationalists have become serious electoral contenders in France, Germany, the Netherlands, and elsewhere. They lost the most recent Austrian election by only a slim margin. In Sweden, they hold the balance of power in parliament, and in a handful of former Eastern Bloc states — most notably Hungary — they control the government.

A new political order is being forged in front of our very eyes, and authoritarian white populists are swinging the hammer. The leaders of this movement want nothing less than ideological hegemony across the entire West — an end to history, of sorts, but not anything like what Fukuyama had in mind. Even if they fall short of that lofty goal, they will have nonetheless reshaped Western politics for at least a generation.

White populism is unequivocally a movement of the right. But it is not strictly limited by the ideological and electoral constraints that often bind right-wing political movements. This is one of its great strengths; it is why white populists have managed to capture both voters and intellectuals who nominally reside on the left. Instead of pulling those new recruits toward an imaginary center, it is drawing them into radical white nationalism, and changing the nature of both left and right politics in the process.

And so Western democracy faces the greatest threat to its existence in at least a generation. This is a different kind of Third Way.

The dark twin of Clintonism

Unlike the Republican Freedom Caucus or the British Conservative Party, white populists are not beholden to right-wing economic dogma. Their flexibility is what makes them so dangerous.

Take the UK’s major white nationalist party, UKIP. Whereas the ruling Conservative Party has spent the last few years slashing away at the UK’s single-payer health care system, UKIP has positioned itself as a partial defender of the country’s welfare state. While campaigning for the “Brexit” referendum earlier this year, UKIP leaders claimed that departure from the European Union would mean an additional £350 million per week could be spent propping up the National Health Service, UK’s public sector health provider. This was a lie, but it enabled the party to position itself as a defender of both the social safety net and traditional British (mainly English) culture.

Germany’s AfD, Sweden’s SD, and Marine Le Pen’s National Front have all adopted a similar frame. All these parties adhere to a doctrine sometimes called “welfare chauvinism,” meaning they support welfare policies that benefit native-born citizens and virtually no one else. The primary force motivating these parties is ethno-nationalism, not any particular economic theory. Economic policy is “secondary, and will be sacrificed if it can bring better socio-cultural policies,” Cas Mudde, an expert in right-wing populism at the University of Georgia, told ThinkProgress.

“The populist radical right, as I call them, are fairly centrist in socioeconomic terms, and a party like the National Front is strongly anti-globalization,” said Mudde. “Some see them as socioeconomically center-left and socio-culturally far-right. I think that is a bit deceiving, as socio-economic issues are secondary to them, and they often vote more right-wing in parliament.”

The same applies to Trump. White populism is at the core of his governing philosophy, just as it was at the core of his campaign message. While there is plenty in the Trump administration’s economic agenda that should appeal to the GOP’s hardline Atlas Shrugged fans, the president-elect seems largely disinterested in the subtleties of tax policy and funding structures. His marquee policy item is a ban on Muslim immigration.

Trump’s biggest deviation from Republican economic orthodoxy is on the subject of trade. But it wouldn’t be accurate to say he’s “to the left” of his party when it comes to free trade agreements like NAFTA. Rather, he has adapted a form of market nationalism that is of a piece with white populism, much like the philosophy behind Brexit. Similarly, Trump’s claim that he will “save” Medicare and Social Security can be considered an expression of welfare chauvinism. (Incidentally, he has not promised to save the food stamp program; approximately 40 percent of food stamp recipients are white, compared to 76 percent of Medicare beneficiaries.)

It would be tempting to argue that Trump’s full-on embrace of white identity politics makes him an aberration among Republican officials. But it’s more likely that he is leading the party toward a destination it was already headed for.

That’s the view of political scientist Lee Drutman, a senior fellow at New America. In an August piece for Vox, Drutman described Trump’s ascension as “the logical culmination of Republicans’ 50-year ‘Southern strategy’ to make politics primarily about race and identity instead of economics.”

Trumpism speaks directly to white identity and white fear.

According to Drutman, Republicans and Democrats have been “swapping” voters for decades, as the party of Richard Nixon mobilized white racial resentment to convert Southern Democrats. In this telling, Clintonism, not Trumpism, is the aberration; Bill Clinton was only able to cobble together his center-left coalition because Republicans had not yet fully conquered the Southern white vote. By speaking the language of Southern whiteness while deftly holding together a multi-racial coalition, he exploited a window of opportunity that is now closed to Democrats.

But the key feature of Third Way politics was its economic philosophy, not Clinton’s split-the-difference approach to white identity. With socialism apparently consigned to the past, Third Way proponents held up global market liberalism as the economic order of the future. The role of states was not to plan out national economies, but to tinker around the margins so that international free markets could distribute prosperity with maximum efficiency. After all, markets are more rational than political ideologies, and consumers behave more rationally than political fanatics.

Even critics of neoliberalism to its left and right tended to accept the premise that it was headed toward worldwide hegemony. But the consensus in favor of international trade and metastatic markets was always far more fragile than widely believed. Elite consensus, not popular acclamation, undergirded neoliberal policies. Voters were happy to go along with the experiment provided they saw some tangible (albeit unevenly distributed) material benefits, but few of them felt any strong commitment to the principles of market liberalism as a normative end. When it comes to economic abstractions like free trade, public opinion is elastic.

Tyler Einck, right, and Paul Sterkowitz wear masks before entering Trump rally, Oct. 29, 2016, in Phoenix. (CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher)
Tyler Einck, right, and Paul Sterkowitz wear masks before entering Trump rally, Oct. 29, 2016, in Phoenix. (CREDIT: AP Photo/John Locher)

Racial attitudes are far more durable. Though race is no less a social construct than the free market, its impact on daily life is easier to trace. The experience of segregation or integration speaks to an ancient, tribal section of the human brain in a fashion that is both immediate and visceral. Psychological studies have found that many people unconsciously associate phenomena like changing neighborhood demographics with death; a rate hike by the Federal Reserve is unlikely to provoke an equivalent reaction in most Americans.

Clintonian centrism relied on elite consensus and consumer complacency; Trumpism speaks directly to white identity and white fear. It scorns anything like a coherent economic agenda, dwelling instead on the issues likeliest to provoke a visceral response among white voters. In that sense, Trumpism is the dark twin of Clintonism. Whereas Third Way apostles shed left-wing pieties so they could become technocratic stewards of the market, Trump has abandoned right-wing market orthodoxy in order to become a more effective tribune for white populism.

The Third Way consensus was relatively stable so long as it guaranteed financial stability and rising living standards. But the first sign of trouble — a recession, for instance — could open a door for its dark twin. Social dislocation, rapid demographic changes, a decline in the life expectancy of white women, and the election of America’s first black president added spark and fuel to what CNN contributor Van Jones has accurately termed a “whitelash.”

Steve Bannon, Donald Trump’s chief strategist, saw this coming. During a 2014 talk at the Vatican, hosted by the right-wing Human Dignity Institute, Bannon predicted a worldwide “center-right revolt” partially composed of parties like UKIP and the National Front — as well as media outlets such as Breitbart, of which Bannon was CEO at the time.

“The central thing that binds [the revolt] all together is a center-right populist movement of really the middle class, the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos,” said Bannon, referring to to the Swiss town where the World Economic Forum holds annual gatherings. “A group of … people in New York that feel closer to people in London and in Berlin than they do to people in Kansas and in Colorado, and they have more of this elite mentality that they’re going to dictate to everybody how the world’s going to be run.”

Bannon was correct about nearly everything except the “center-right” designation. Shedding the free market evangelism of the Thatcher and Reagan coalitions did not bring right-wing populism closer to the center. Instead, it drew additional voters to the radical fringes of white nationalism.

The Third Position

Last May, Mother Jones reported that the Trump campaign had chosen “one of the country’s most prominent white nationalists” to be a delegate at the 2016 Republican National Convention. The campaign later attributed the selection to a “database error” and dropped the white nationalist leader, William Johnson, from its list of California delegates. But Johnson’s ouster apparently didn’t leave him with any hard feelings, since he went on to fund pro-Trump ads through his American National Super PAC.

Johnson was steadfast in his support for Trump throughout the 2016 presidential election, even though he was the chairperson of the American Freedom Party (AFP), a white supremacist third party that initially had a candidate of its own. The candidate, Bob Whitaker, resigned in April after months of internal bickering, freeing AFP to throw itself fully behind Trump.

Around this time, William Johnson and other party leadership also agreed to dial down its rhetoric a notch or two, the better to make white supremacy palatable to more moderate white voters. In the official AFP talking points, “white nationalists” became “white advocates,” and “white genocide” became “white dispossession,” according to leaked emails.

The maneuver paid off for AFP, which rightly saw Trump’s campaign as the best vehicle for pushing extreme, racist ideology back into the political mainstream. And the party’s evolving terminology, rather than amounting to a retreat, flowed organically from its founding ideals. Since its start in 2009, AFP has espoused a particular strain of white supremacism known as Third Position ideology — in fact, until its 2013 rebrand, the party was called the American Third Position Party.

Gregor Strasser. CREDIT: Wikimedia
Gregor Strasser. CREDIT: Wikimedia

Political Research Associates, a progressive group that tracks the extreme right, has described the Third Position movement as “a minor current of fascism” that borrows ideas liberally from both the extreme right and the extreme left. Its most important antecedent is Strasserism, a strain of Nazism that Adolf Hitler violently extinguished while consolidating his power in the thirties. Strasserists — named after the brothers Otto and Gregor Strasser— expounded a form of Nazi ideology that wedded scientific racism and conspiratorial anti-Semitism to radical anti-capitalism. Effectively, they put the “Socialism” in “National Socialism.”

Hitler had Gregor and other prominent Strasserists murdered in the 1934 purge known as the Night of the Long Knives. Otto fled Germany, and lived in exile until 1974. But during the latter half of the twentieth century, other Third Position groups sprang up in Italy, France, and elsewhere. One of the most prominent Third Position offshoots was the Russian National Bolshevik Party, founded in 1994 and formally banned in 2007, which fused neo-fascism with nostalgia for Stalinist Communism. An early adopter of National Bolshevism, the right-wing political theorist Aleksandr Dugin, now enjoys friendly relations with both the Kremlin and America’s white nationalist “alt-right.”

Third Position ideologues tend to be impressed with their own originality, but fascists have always borrowed from the left when it suited them. Benito Mussolini — the fascist leader par excellence — began his career in politics as a scribbler for various socialist publications; he would go on to smuggle elements of socialist thought into a right-wing, nationalist framework. Nor was he alone, according to Barnard College political scientist Sheri Berman.

“During the interwar period, social democrats, fascists, and national socialists championed a ‘third way’ in economics that avoided the extremes of free-market liberalism and communism, insisting that the state could and should control capitalism without destroying it. … The main difference was that under Fascists and Nazis, the price to pay for this program was the destruction of democracy and the jettisoning of civil liberties and human rights that accompanied it,” wrote Berman in The Primary of Politics, her book on European social democracy.

Though the biggest difference between Third Positionism and other strands of fascism may be little more than a matter of emphasis, it is nonetheless an important distinction. Far more than many other white supremacist radicals, early Third Position devotees grasped the usefulness of fascism’s political malleability. And by deliberately adopting left-wing vocabulary for some of their ideas, they presaged American white supremacism’s return to the rhetoric of blue collar populism — something which Dixiecrats had embraced in the first half of the twentieth century, but gradually abandoned as they shifted into the Republican coalition.

Groups like the National Bolshevik Party and American Third Position can now plausibly claim to have been ahead of their time. They saw, better than nearly anyone else, how even a symbolic gesture toward left-wing economic thought could radically expand white nationalism’s recruitment prospects.

But Third Positionism nonetheless spent decades on the fringes of the fringe. Until the liberal order’s weakness gave them an opening.

The “anti-anti-white left”

A movement becomes particularly vulnerable to subversion when it lacks both organizational discipline and strong intellectual leadership. That’s the grim lesson being taught to us by Jeremy Corbyn.

When members of the UK’s Labour Party first elected Corbyn as their leader in September 2015, progressive commentators on both sides of the Atlantic proclaimed a new dawn for the democratic socialism. A former union official and longtime backbencher, Corbyn seemed at first glance like an ideal champion for social democratic values. His election was also a stunning rebuke to former Labour PM Tony Blair, the person most responsible for turning what was once a leftist party of the working class into a vehicle for Third Way economics.

But if Labour was no longer the party of Blair, then what was it? There was certainly no going back to the days of blue collar social democracy that Corbyn seemed to represent. Decades after the right-wing Thatcher government and New Labour’s neoliberal turn, the party’s traditional union infrastructure had been entirely hollowed out. On top of that, the Scottish National Party had effectively routed Labour in its onetime electoral stronghold of Scotland. The party Corbyn remembered from his youth was dead.

What Labour did have — thanks to excitement over Corbyn and a rules change that made it easier to join — was hundreds of thousands of new members. But these freshman Labourites were skewing the party’s demographics even further away from the working class that Corbyn claimed to represent. A January 2016 report on the incoming Labour membership found that “high-status city dwellers living in central locations and pursuing careers with high rewards are highly over-represented.”

Without an industrial base, a disciplined trade union movement, or a coherent economic critique, the party has little to hold itself together besides Corbyn’s appeal as a cult hero. In the words of British philosopher John Gray: “The defining feature of Corbynite Labour is not an anachronistic utopian socialism, but a very modern kind of liberal narcissism.”

Recent British history has proven that such narcissism is powerless against a sustained right-wing assault. Although Labour was officially against Brexit, Corbyn’s public efforts on behalf of Remain were perfunctory at best, and more than one-third of the party’s supporters ultimately voted Leave. Now Labour is hemorrhaging votes to UKIP, prompting one prominent MP to observe that there are “no safe Labour seats” anymore.

The Democrats are not yet in such dire shape. The United States has a radically different party system and demographic makeup, making a total Labour-style collapse unlikely. But just as Blair’s New Labour was a close cousin to Clinton’s New Democrats, the pathologies of Corbynite Labour do have close American parallels.

Since the 1970s, both the United States and the United Kingdom have seen a precipitous decline in labor union strength and membership, facilitated in no small part by the negligence (and, sometimes, overt hostility) of center-left political leaders. The main result of this decline has been decades of wage stagnation for the Anglo-American working class. Its other consequences have been subtler, but no less dangerous.

Organized labor used to play a major role in structuring the politics of the working class and channeling its political energies. They were a crucial mediating institution between the Democratic Party and unionized workers, lobbying the party on behalf of its members while ensuring that those same members would support the party at the grassroots level. This system used to be particularly strong in the Rust Belt. That is where its decline been most dramatic.

The emaciation of Rust Belt organized labor left white workers in states like Michigan and Wisconsin politically adrift. The structure once provided by unions and similar communitarian institutions was superseded by another, more primal bond: white identity. It wasn’t until the 2016 that the full consequences of this transformation became apparent, because no modern Republican candidate had fully exploited it before Trump. But on November 8, white Rust Belt workers surged to the polls and delivered the candidate of white populism an historic victory.

White members of the self-styled radical left are closer than they know to right-wing white populism.

As the Rust Belt has entered a new political era, some “moderate” Democratic officeholders have followed. The most prominent example so far is Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. After Trump won that state by more than forty points, Manchin immediately began signaling his willingness to collaborate with the president-elect, even going so far as to consider a cabinet position within the Trump administration. Though cable news will no doubt interpret Manchin’s flirtation with the Republican White House as “centrism,” the truth is American politics no longer has a center. Politicians either side with white populism or they don’t. Manchin has made his choice; he won’t be the last Democratic official to do so.

The erosion of liberal communitarianism didn’t just abandon the former political center to the charms of white populism. It also created a new generation of white activists and thinkers who were bereft of ties to anything greater than their own expressive energies. Organized labor’s decay meant fewer plausible career paths for aspiring activists; the simultaneous decline of professional stability in higher education has limited the possibilities for new ideas and rigorous scholarship from a left-wing perspective.

Alienated from any productive conduit for their political energies, and contemptuous of a Democratic Party they still associate with Third Way Clintonism, many white leftists have turned inward, toward an imagined past. Like Corbyn’s base, they are in thrall to a politically sterile hodgepodge of cultural signifiers, coated in the thick musk of an idealized Old Left. Though some of those cultural signifiers might have seemed naïve or ridiculous in more innocent times, they are, in fact, eerily proximate to Third Position mythology. A small but significant chunk of the white left are closer than they know to right-wing nationalism.

For one thing, there’s the shared nostalgia for past anti-democratic movements. Though not everyone on the anti-capitalist left romanticizes authoritarian regimes, an alarmingly large percentage of socialist thinkers and publications regularly indulge their proclivity for Soviet kitsch. These flights of fancy usually proceed from the base assumption that because American imperialism is bad, the forces that oppose it must therefore be good. Thus CounterPunch has published articles defending the Khmer Rouge; and, in a bizarre turn, the Green Party’s 2016 presidential candidate wound up defending Russia’s annexation of Crimea as a necessary response to an attempted Western “coup.”

The usual defense of populist despots — of all persuasions — is that they’re not anti-democratic because they represent the authentic will of the people. But it is exactly this claim that makes populism of both the left and the right inhospitable to democracy. As the political theorist Jann-Werner Müller has argued, when populists say they represent “the people,” they are claiming “a moral monopoly of representation” that paints all disagreement as illegitimate. To populists of both the left and right, there is no good faith opposition; there are only enemies of the authentic people, however one chooses to define that term. White populists define it as a unified white nation.

In the American populist tradition, the “authentic people” are usually white workers. There exists a surprising left-right consensus that white workers have been “left behind” by the economy and the Democratic Party, even as people of color continue to make advances. The reality is somewhat different: As wealth inequality has grown steeper, households of color have suffered the most. And 2016 Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton — identified as a candidate of the Third Way mainly because her husband is Bill Clinton — put forward a policy agenda that would have distributed significant amounts of wealth to the entire working class, white people included.

White workers have not been abandoned to their fate, but they constitute a smaller-than-ever portion of the working class as a whole. And thanks to a combination of changing demographics and civil rights legislation, they have lost some of the prerogatives of whiteness when it comes to things like hiring disparities and access to public goods. To stop “leaving behind” white workers would mean to reify America’s caste system so they can regain those privileges. The white nationalists of the “alt-right” understand this and make it explicit. On the white left, it remains subtext.

In this Monday, July 25, 2016 file photo, a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign during a campaign rally in Winston-Salem, N.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
In this Monday, July 25, 2016 file photo, a supporter of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump holds a sign during a campaign rally in Winston-Salem, N.C. CREDIT: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

But there’s no need for subtext when it comes to describing the common enemies of the white left and populist right: black and brown “social justice warriors” and Clintonian centrism, which often get depicted as natural allies and enemies of the white working class. The left-wing version of this critique argues that “SJWs” insist on the primacy of “identity politics” — by which they mean any analysis that foregrounds issues of race, gender, and orientation, instead of calling them adjuncts to the labor question — and thereby strengthen neoliberalism by distracting everyone from the real issues. As an editor for the socialist journal Jacobin put it in May, “when racism can be blamed, capitalism can be exonerated.” (Full disclosure: The author of this piece has written for Jacobin once in the past and knows socially several people affiliated with it.)

That Jacobin piece was cited approvingly in an essay called “The Anti-Anti-White Left” and published in December by the white supremacist website American Renaissance. The author of the American Renaissance post, Chris Roberts, defined the anti-anti-white left as “socialists who oppose racial identity politics generally and the shaming of poor whites in particular.”

“Needless to say, they are not race realists or white advocates, and they openly abhor what they call ‘racism,’” wrote Roberts. “However, they are so preoccupied with economics and class that they have little respect for theories about ‘white privilege,’ or ‘authoritarian personalities.’”

Roberts ended his essay by wondering aloud whether “one in four of these anti-anti-white socialists could become white advocates.” It is perhaps worth noting that the editor of American Renaissance is Jared Taylor, an ally of the American Third Position movement.

No pasarán

White nationalist ideology is powerful enough to bridge the left-right divide, but it is not yet powerful enough to command an electoral majority. Donald Trump lost the popular vote, and he is currently the most unpopular president-elect in the history of modern polling. Whatever their individual prejudices, most Americans want to live in a multiracial democracy.

But that democracy is under threat. White nationalists understand they can’t win a fair election, so they will spent the next four years trying to render more elections either unfair or irrelevant. They’re already well along in North Carolina, where the Republican legislature has moved to strip power from the incoming Democratic governor. In any state they can, white populists will soon take further steps to hobble the offices they don’t control and suppress non-white votes.

They have power, but not numbers. In order to stop them, supporters of pluralist democracy will need to assemble a mass movement that reaches into every community, every state capital, and every congressional office it can. The existing liberal infrastructure in most states is not what it once was, but activists will need it as a starting point to rebuild newer, stronger networks. Most of the important work will be done on the state and local level. Labor unions, houses of worship, and community groups all have key roles to play.

Under no circumstances should this movement back away from its commitment to pluralism. The aim of white nationalism is to destroy the multiracial democratic state, and any attempt at compromise will only bring it closer to that goal. People of color, women, LGBT people, and members of other marginalized groups are not a liability to the resistance against Trump; they are its leaders.

If the North Carolina GOP has charted the way forward for white populism, the state’s Moral Mondays movement has done the same for multiracial democracy. That movement, led by state NAACP president Rev. William Barber II, is one of the most vital and important protest campaigns in modern American history. Recent polling suggests it was the key ingredient that toppled Republican Gov. Pat McCrory in the 2016 election, prompting the state legislature’s attempt to kneecap his successor. The Moral Mondays movement succeeded by capitalizing on its own diversity, not apologizing for it.

As The Atlantic’s Vann R. Newkirk II wrote after the election, the movement “expanded its ranks not by appealing to a class-based ethos, but by casting economic, social, and political issues as moral dilemmas and emphasizing empathy.” Rev. Barber knitted together a motley group of Black Lives Matter activists, union members, pro-choice protesters, LGBT advocates, DREAMers, and more. But his coalition didn’t just transcend divisions within the progressive advocacy world; it also spoke to people across the left-right political spectrum, using the language of morality, democracy, and community. And in an exceedingly dark year, it won a critical victory.

Keeping the promise of multiracial democracy does not mean ignoring white workers. But instead of abandoning core values in a misbegotten attempt to win them over, liberals can peel them off by exploiting weaknesses in Trump’s coalition. The president-elect won thanks to an uneasy alliance of white populists, robber barons, and laissez faire ideologues; in the time before his inauguration, internal disagreements over matters like health care and retirement security have already strained that alliance.

Early reports suggest that the incoming Senate Democratic leader, New York’s Chuck Schumer, will attempt to drive a wedge between congressional Republicans and the White House by facilitating Trump’s less conservative economic plans. That would be a grievous mistake. Instead of dividing Trump from his party, Schumer would be better served doing everything in his power to yoke them together. The Tea Party’s economic agenda is still wildly unpopular, and Trump should not have the luxury of distance from it.

Trump is beatable. So is the white nationalist tide he rode to office. But however the next few years shake out, there will be no going back to liberal democratic order of Bill Clinton, or even of Barack Obama. If liberalism emerges from this trial, it will be fundamentally changed.

How it will change is impossible to predict. But remember that a previous crisis of democracy birthed the present global order, the one that is now splintering apart. The dangers of the 1930s were even greater than the threats of the present era: they included totalitarianism, genocide, and an unprecedented global depression. Those pressures transformed liberal democracy. But they did not break it.

Today, democracy faces another storm. If it weathers this one, it might well emerge stronger than ever, much as it did in the post-war era. But for that to happen, it will need all the reinforcements it can get.