The Enright Files

Philosophers on politics in the age of Trump

Political analysts have spent the past few years puzzling over the mercurial and cranky behaviour of the electorate. They’ve struggled to make sense of the embrace of radical, often xenophobic populists and the rejection of mainstream democratic parties and the fundamentals of liberal democracy itself. On this month's edition of The Enright Files, some of North America’s most astute political philosophers discuss the perplexing and troubling political trends of our times.
Demonstrators in support of the immigration rules implemented by U.S. President Donald Trump's administration at a rally in Los Angeles on February 4, 2017. (Ringo Chiu/Reuters)
Listen to the full episode53:59

If you're someone who cherishes liberal democracy and its traditions of rights, robust civic institutions, and cool-headed, enlightened leadership, it might have felt like the world was coming to an end in 2016. It was the year of Donald Trump's election, of the Brexit vote and the murder of British MP Jo Cox by an apparent white nationalist, and of surging populist movements across Europe, many of them openly xenophobic or outright racist. 

Disgruntled voters embraced demagoguery, rejected mainstream political parties, and delivered an uppercut to so-called elites. It may have been creative destruction, rolling the dice with inexperienced politicians who had little more than a passing acquaintance with facts and the workings of government. Or it may have been merely self-destructive, risking harsh economic consequences or slipping toward nativist, authoritarian rule. 

Political analysts were confounded and have since trotted out an endless stream of books, magazine articles and op-eds purporting to explain the crankiness and mercurial behaviour of the electorate.

It was because of economic anxiety. It was because of racism, xenophobia and white nationalism. It was because of Facebook and Twitter. It was because political elites don't care about them. It was because of fake news. It was because of misogyny. It was because of Russia. 

But for a number of philosophers the events of 2016 were disturbing but not surprising. They had already detected a combustible distemper in the political culture of western liberal democracies.

On this edition of The Enright Files, some of North America's most astute political philosophers discuss the perplexing and troubling political trends of our times.

Guests in this episode:

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