In The Washington Post, Anthony Faiola describes what's happening in Poland, and strongly suggests that America under Donald Trump could be very similar:
In the land of [the] Law and Justice [Party], anti-intellectualism is king. Polish scientists are aghast at proposed curriculum changes in a new education bill that would downplay evolution theory and climate change and add hours for “patriotic” history lessons. In a Facebook chat, a top equal rights official mused that Polish hotels should not be forced to provide service to black or gay customers. After the official stepped down for unrelated reasons, his successor rejected an international convention to combat violence against women because it appeared to argue against traditional gender roles....
Cheered on by religious conservatives, the new government has defunded public assistance for in vitro fertilization treatments. To draft new sexual-education classes in schools, it tapped a contraceptives opponent who argues that condom use increases the risk of cancer in women. The government is proffering a law that critics say could soon be used to limit opposition protests.
Yet nothing has shocked liberals more than this: After a year in power, Law and Justice is still by far the most popular political party in Poland. It rides atop opinion polls at roughly 36 percent -- more than double the popularity of the ousted Civic Platform party.
Faiola has an explanation for that popularity:
The new government doled out money to families with children. They also slashed Poland’s retirement age -- to as young as 60 for women and 65 for men....
The road to Law and Justice country runs an hour outside cosmopolitan Warsaw, down a dirt path in the hamlet of Krupia Wolka. Once there, pass the front-yard playground of a cream-colored house and meet Pawel and Maria Wiechowski.
High school sweethearts, they married back in 1992. Two-and-a-half decades and 10 children later, they’re still deeply Catholic -- and still struggling financially.↓ Story continues below ↓
...The new government program for families is the Wiechowskis’ life raft; it offers them a monthly cash payout worth nearly $1,000.
“Right now, that’s 100 percent of our income,” Pawel said. “Some people criticize the child benefit and say it’s a government handout. It’s not. It is support for traditional families.”
I was going to explain how that distinguishes the Law and Justice Party's approach from the likely approach of Trump and the GOP Congress, but Paul Krugman beat me to it:
Well, there’s an important difference -- a bit of American exceptionalism, if you like. Europe’s populist parties are actually populist; they pursue policies that really do help workers, as long as those workers are the right color and ethnicity. As someone put it, they’re selling a herrenvolk welfare state. Law and Justice has raised minimum wages and reduced the retirement age; France’s National Front advocates the same things.
Trump, however, is different. He said lots of things on the campaign trail, but his personnel choices indicate that in practice he’s going to be a standard hard-line economic-right Republican. His Congressional allies are revving up to dismantle Obamacare, privatize Medicare, and raise the retirement age. His pick for Labor Secretary is a fast-food tycoon who loathes minimum wage hikes. And his pick for top economic advisor is the king of trickle-down.
So does this mean the Trump Republicans will be less popular in the U.S. than the Law and Justice Party is in Poland? Don't bet on it. In America, the non-rich voters in the GOP base are used to not getting what they want economically, and are used to voting for people who kick them in the teeth because those pols always persuade them that it's Democrats who are kicking them in the teeth, with all their taxing and spending. (Much of the spending is on Medicare and Social Security, but the voters are never told that.)
The Republicans will have to give their voters something, but it'll be crumbs: Carrier-like moments in which tiny numbers of jobs are (seemingly) saved, accompanied by a loosening of gun laws (know what national concealed-carry reciprocity is? you will soon), tightening of abortion laws, attacks on public-sector unions (we saw how popular that was in Wisconsin), and probably quite a lot of high-profile scapegoating of Mexicans and Muslims. And if all that fails, starting a war is always good for the old approval ratings, at least if the war-starter is a Republican.
So look to Poland for a glimpse of our future, but imagine the Polish government without its selectively benign aspects. That's where we're heading.
Crossposted at No More Mr. Nice Blog