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Why were democratic political systems not responsive early enough to the grievances that autocratic populists have successfully exploited – inequality and economic anxiety, decline of perceived social status, the chasm between elites and ordinary citizens? Had political parties, particularly of the center-left, pursued a bolder agenda, perhaps the rise of right-wing, nativist political movements might have been averted.Democratic politicians should respond by imposing higher taxes on the wealthy and spending the proceeds on the less well-off.As Robert Kuttner writes in a new book, the only thing missing from Hillary Clinton's platform during the 2016 presidential election was social class.One explanation is that the Democrats (and center-left parties in Western Europe) became too cozy with big finance and large corporations. Kuttner describes how Democratic Party leaders made an explicit decision to reach out to the financial sector following President Ronald Reagan's electoral victories in the 1980s. Big banks became particularly influential not just through their financial clout, but also through their control of key policymaking positions in Democratic administrations. Ideas about how the world works have played a role among the non-elite as well, by dampening the demand for redistribution.What explains this apparent paradox is these voters' very low levels of trust in government's ability to address inequality.This is as true for elites as it is for non-elites.
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