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The old order is crumbling in the West, but not the one you think

“Their world is crumbling,” gloated a senior member of France’s far-right National Front on that day last November when President Trump won the U.S. presidential election. “Ours is being built.”

Right-wing populists across the West believed their time had come — and that their election victories would end the post-Cold War orthodoxy of liberalism, multiculturalism and globalization with a thud.

Half a year later, it seems Trump’s election was a false dawn for Western ultra-nationalists. Trump himself is mired in a fog of scandal and facing record-low approval ratings. In Europe, far-right parties have suffered major electoral setbacks in France, Austria and the Netherlands. And in Britain, the awkward lurch toward Brexit — a cause Trump championed as his own — has sowed political chaos at home while emboldening Europhiles on the continent.

Labour supporters hold placards in Cambridge, England, on May 31. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Labour supporters hold placards in Cambridge, England, on May 31. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

The surprise outcome of Britain’s election seemed to prove a different point: Nationalism is cheap, but real populism still matters. Defying pundits and polls, leftist Jeremy Corbyn deprived the ruling Conservatives of a parliamentary majority by pushing a simple message: Corbyn was against Tory austerity and in favor of bolstering Britain’s social safety net and health services, improving public housing and taxing the ultra-rich. Young Britons voted for his Labour Party in droves.

From being the laughing stock of the British commentariat, Corbyn has become arguably the most important political figure in his country now that Prime Minister Theresa May is slow-walking her way out of a job. Across the pond, meanwhile, it should be no surprise that democratic socialist Bernie Sanders remains one of the most popular politicians in the United States. Both Sanders and Corbyn ground their platforms on an identical theme: Their societies are shaped by widening inequality, and that growing gap between rich and poor is both morally unjust and a danger to democracy.

In a column that you should read in its entirety, Financial Times journalist Edward Luce delved into why, compared to other countries in Europe, the United States and Britain have been more vulnerable to populism. Luce’s answer is that “no two western societies have commodified more than the US and the UK,” embracing the dogma of free markets without reckoning with the inherent problems it poses.

“During the Reagan-Thatcher revolution of the early 1980s, the two largest English-speaking democracies rebooted their growth machines and put paid to fears of enduring malaise. Both were right to chafe at the price controls and worker unrest of the 1970s,” wrote Luce. “Yet they over-corrected. Hundreds of thousands of French lawyers and financiers may have moved to London in the last generation. Many more British have been priced out of their own capital city.”

Some conservatives would say that’s tough luck, the reality of life in a competitive, capitalist society. But Luce, the author of the new book “The Retreat of Western Liberalism,” begged to differ. He pointed to the continent:

“For all its stagnation, France has done a better job at keeping its left-behinds above water than its Anglo-Saxon rivals. There are more prime-aged French males in jobs than in the US, an unimaginable statistic even 10 years ago,” wrote Luce. “France’s level of income inequality is lower than that of either the US and the UK, both of which are near the top of the Gini coefficient league. Among the OECD club of developed economies, only Chile and Mexico score worse than the US. What applies to France is truer of Germany, which looks set to re-elect a moderate government in September.”

In a New York Times op-ed that went viral last weekend, Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, attacked the myth of meritocracy that surrounds the American upper-middle class, examining instead the extent to which the American political and social system — from the tax code to zoning laws to university admissions processes — is “a class reproduction machine” that “operates with ruthless efficiency.”

Luce concurs: “No two countries have done more to broadcast their meritocracies than the US and the UK. Yet the two rival each other for the worst records of income mobility in the western world.”

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders attend a rally in Warren, Mich., on Jan. 15. (Rachel Woolf/Getty Images)

Supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders attend a rally in Warren, Mich., on Jan. 15. (Rachel Woolf/Getty Images)

Critics on both the left and far right say that inequality has been obscured by centrist, technocratic elites who benefit from the status quo. That also explains the surprise and shock many British pundits felt when Corbyn smashed the Tory majority, suggests Indian public intellectual Pankaj Mishra. “The center-right and center-left intelligentsia also unanimously saw Corbyn and his supporters as deluded cultists and dead-enders,” he wrote.

Mishra offers an interesting explanation for their myopia: “Most commentators today came of age as the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe revealed the criminal inefficiency of central planning, and crisis beset the social-welfare state in Western Europe and America.” That is, in the era of “Reagan-Thatcher revolution” Luce refers to above.

“With much entrusted to the evidently self-regulating mechanism of the global market, and competitive individuals and corporates, politics lost its old conflictual nature,” wrote Mishra. “More and more citizens turned away from political life, as is evident in the falling membership of mainstream parties and poor electoral turnouts.”

Then came the political turmoil of recent years, with centrist parties collapsing across Europe or drifting to extremes, as Republicans have in the United States.

“The age of de-politicization is giving way to an era of intense re-politicization, and mass movements are back on both the right and the left,” Mishra concludes. In other words, history never really ended, as the popular thesis goes. It’s here with a vengeance.

• Washington Post SCOOP ALERT: It now appears Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller is investigating the finances and business dealings of Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, as part of the probe into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. This follows yesterday’s revelation that the special counsel was interviewing officials regarding the possibility of Trump himself having obstructed justice. Trump, for his part, took to Twitter to angrily denounce the investigation and once more rage about the supposed perfidy of Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in the election last November.

Separately, a report in the Guardian detailed how Attorney General Jeff Sessions attended at least two dinners with a known American lobbyist for Russia, contradicting his sworn testimony this week before a Senate hearing.

• Two jokes made by foreign leaders about Trump seem to encapsulate the American president’s predicament. At a phone-in session with the Russian public, President Vladimir Putin made a sarcastic offer of asylum to ousted FBI director James B. Comey. He first joked that Comey’s leak of a memo discussing Trump’s overture to him was not unlike the efforts of NSA whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who claimed asylum in Russia.

“That means [Comey] is not the leader of the security services, but a human rights defender. And if he faces pressure, then we are happy to offer him political asylum, too,” said Putin.

Trump has complained about how the pressures of the Russia investigation have hampered his efforts to reset relations with Moscow.

On the same day, footage emerged of Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull mocking Trump at a press ball.

“Donald and I, we are winning and winning in the polls,” said Turnbull. “We are winning so much. We are winning like we have never won before.” To raucous laughter, he continued: “We are winning in the polls. We are, we are — not the fake polls, not the fake polls — they’re the one we’re not winning in. We’re winning in the real polls, you know, the online polls. They are so easy to win.”

It’s a light-hearted gag, but may not go over so well for the notoriously thin-skinned Trump.

• Otto Warmbier, the American college student evacuated from North Korea this week, is said to have suffered extensive loss of brain tissue and is in a state of “unresponsive wakefulness.” More from my colleagues:

“Doctors said they don’t know what caused the brain damage. When asked whether it could be the result of beating or other violence while in prison, they said that Warmbier did not show any obvious indications of trauma, nor evidence of either acute or healing fractures…

It has been almost a year and a half since Warmbier was detained in North Korea, which he had visited on a five-day tourist trip on his way to a study-abroad trip to Hong Kong with the University of Virginia. On his last night there, he apparently tried to remove a large propaganda sign. He was charged with ‘hostile acts against the state’ and, after a sham trial, sentenced to 15 years of hard labor.”

Meanwhile, another American — former basketball star and television jester Dennis Rodman — is still in North Korea. He was captured by cameras gifting a copy of Trump’s “The Art of the Deal” to the North Korean sports minister. There’s a chance Rodman will meet with Kim Jong Un this weekend.

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual&nbsp;'Direct Line with Vladimir Putin' TV and radio call-in broadcast in&nbsp;Moscow on June 15. (Pool photo by Michael Klimentyev/European Pressphoto Agency via Sputnik)</p>

Russian President Vladimir Putin during his annual ‘Direct Line with Vladimir Putin’ TV and radio call-in broadcast in Moscow on June 15. (Pool photo by Michael Klimentyev/European Pressphoto Agency via Sputnik)

Nothing to see here, folks

Facing a wave of popular unrest not seen in years, Russian President Vladi­mir Putin took to the nation’s airwaves Thursday to assure citizens their lives will be getting better. But judging from the questions Putin fielded over four long hours, Russians aren’t feeling it.

Just three days after tens of thousands of people turned out in more than 180 cities across Russia to express their dissatisfaction with the government, Putin used his annual “Direct Line with the President” call-in show to say the Russian economy is showing signs of growth after a long recession and that “things will start moving to where people feel a change for the better.”

The questions that came in from viewers reflected little of that. A Siberian teacher asked Putin how she is supposed to live on $280 a month. Residents of a Moscow suburb complained about a giant pile of garbage that they said is visible from space. A 24-year-old cancer patient from a polar mining town demanded to know why health care is a shambles.

“Please do not lose hope,” Putin told her. “We will work on your problem and on the hospital in your town. I promise!”

The carefully choreographed show has traditionally been a showcase for Putin to prove he understands his people’s problems — and explain how he’ll fix them. But unedited texts from viewers that popped up on screen revealed the anger and frustration some Russians feel with their leader.

“Putin, do you really think people believe in all this circus with staged questions?” read one.

“All Russia believes you have sat on the throne too long,” read another.

If Putin saw these comments, he did not react. When a young man in the Moscow studio where Putin sat asked a sharply worded question about official corruption, the Russian leader shot back, “Did you prepare that yourself or did someone suggest it to you?”

“Life prepared me for it,” the man responded.

Wrapping up the show, Putin remarked that clearly people were less upset about corruption than in previous years, “judging by the questions people are asking,” apparently ignoring the angry texts popping up on the screen.

He said he read a text in which the sender wrote that “everything will be okay.”

“I’ll say it to you, then,” Putin said with a smile. “Everything is going to be okay. I can confirm this.” — David Filipov

A Cuban wearing a T-shirt with the U.S. flag walking in&nbsp;Havana on June 15. (Yamil Lage/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)</p>

A Cuban wearing a T-shirt with the U.S. flag walking in Havana on June 15. (Yamil Lage/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

The big question

The Trump administration has indicated for months that it would roll back former president Barack Obama’s decision to normalize relations with Cuba. On Thursday evening, the White House finally announced a slew of new regulations that will reimpose some restrictions on trade, travel and other American dealings with the Communist-run island. So we asked Post Latin America correspondent Nick Miroff: Just how far do the Trump administration’s actions go?

The rollback doesn’t appear to be the sledgehammer many feared (or hoped for). It will restrict or prohibit business deals with Cuba’s military-affiliated conglomerate, GAESA, and it instructs the Treasury Department to tighten up U.S. travel to the island by forcing Americans back toward organized tours, rather than allowing to them go independently.

“But the new policy appears to leave much of the Obama opening intact. Embassies will remain open. U.S. commercial flights will continue. Airbnb can continue working with Cuban bed-and-breakfast operators. Cruise ships can keep coming, and the new policy won’t attempt to limit Cuban Americans’s ability to visit their relatives or send them cash.

And, yes, Americans will still be able to bring cigars and rum back in their suitcases.

“Of course, the enforcement details of the new policy haven’t been written. Without those, it’s hard to tell how much the changes will affect travel from the U.S. —  which is on pace to double in 2017 — or who they’ll harm more: the government or ordinary Cubans.

“Either way, it seems anti-Castro politicians may be coming around to the idea that Cuba’s private sector can drive reforms. That was a big part of President Obama’s justification for normalizing ties, and it didn’t get much Republican support. But in a Thursday interview with the Miami Herald, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) praised Cuba’s emerging entrepreneurial sector as a force for change — the first time I can remember him doing so.

“Politicians like Rubio used to pooh-pooh the idea that U.S. policies should help Cuba’s small businesses. But now those businesses employ a quarter of Cuba’s workforce. It will be interesting to see if the new regulations are written in a way that helps those entrepreneurs succeed — or ends up hurting them by chasing so many potential American customers away.

The New York Times cautions President Trump to make sure he doesn’t spark a backlash from Cuba over his new policy changes, leading to a crackdown that harms ordinary Cubans. And The Post has some real talk about the administration’s attempts to take a tougher line on North Korea. In Britain, the start of Brexit talks is imminent, and news sites in both Britain and Germany say the outlook is bleak for the U.K.’s negotiators.

Trump’s imminent Cuba problem
Does the president represent the interests of only a small group of Cuban-Americans?
By Christopher Sabatini | The New York Times  •  Read more »
The inconvenient truth about North Korea and China
Nothing short of war will get the Kim regime to give up its nukes.
By Andrei Lankov | The Washington Post  •  Read more »
Brexit talks start on Monday and we have no idea what we’re doing
Brexit starts Monday. We have no government, no plan, no strategy, no functioning department and no hope.
By Ian Dunt | Politics.co.uk  •  Read more »
A wave of anger crashes over Britain
Europe used to have a fearful respect of the Tories. But those days have long since passed. Now, the party may have accidentally killed off Brexit.
By Thomas Hüetlin | Der Spiegel  •  Read more »
Conspiracy theories are seemingly having a moment in the U.S., which may be no surprise: Psychologists say they proliferate during times of deep uncertainty and partisanship. Mic compiles five of the most outrageous claims by Alex Jones, founder of far-right website Infowars, while Vox points out some examples of the left’s susceptibility to outlandish stories about Russia. But false stories can have real world consequences: on Wednesday night, a fake tip about a bomb threat forced a section of the Port of Charleston in South Carolina to close for several hours.

Alex Jones: Here are 5 of the right-wing radio host’s craziest conspiracy theories
The “Infowars” founder believes both 9/11 and the Sandy Hook shooting were hoaxes. And that’s not all.
By Abbey Schubert | Mic  •  Read more »
Democrats are falling for fake news about Russia
Why liberal conspiracy theories are flourishing in the age of Trump.
By Zack Beauchamp | Vox  •  Read more »
How a conspiracy theorist’s call about a dirty bomb shut down part of a port
A section of the Port of Charleston was closed for more than seven hours as nearly a dozen federal, state and local agencies searched a container ship.
By Christopher Mele | The New York Times  •  Read more »

Londoners are still mourning after Wednesday’s Grenfell Tower blaze, which has now officially taken 17 lives. But even as the city rallied around survivors and families of the victims, swamping local charities with donations and setting up memorials, politicians are joining furious residents in calling for investigations and punishment for the landlords they say ignored safety rules. One member of parliament called the fire “corporate manslaughter,” and London’s mayor said “there are pressing questions which demand urgent answers.” Prime Minister Theresa May has promised a full public inquiry. (Alastair Graham/Associated Press)

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