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White supremacist protest in Charlottesville, Aug. 11, 2017. Photo: Samuel Corum/Anadolu/Getty

Western countries have rarely been so simultaneously divided — and never since World War II. Though the problem looks like toxic politics, it's mainly not.

What ails the West, says Stanford historian Francis Fukuyama, is that "people are lining up with their group."

What's going on: Fukuyama, whose new book is "Identity: The demand for dignity and the politics of resentment," says that the two-year-old anti-establishment revolt is all about people feeling a loss of stature and "agency."

In 1989, Fukuyama published "The End of History and the last man," the essay that made him famous. In it, he argued that democracy had proven itself the best and last political system that humans would create.

  • He has faced serious pushback for hubris, especially the last two years as the West, in country after country, has made a decided turn to autocracy.
  • But his detractors have mostly ignored a closing thought by Fukuyama — a prediction back then that (paraphrasing), once people no longer had injustice to fight against, they would fight justice.

Fukuyama told me that that is essentially what has happened: "I just think the passage of time allowed people to forget what's wrong with authoritarian governments," he said. "So in Poland, for example, they lived under a Communist dictatorship, but the vast majority of Poles today were born after the fall of Communism. They have no living experience of what it was like to live under a regime like that."

  • But before their populations reached that flashpoint, the people running Western governments opened the door to this forgetfulness by piling on one grave error after another. In that list Fukuyama includes the Iraq war, the 2008 financial crisis, and finally the migrant crisis in Europe.
  • In Europe, the last straw was migrant policy, which large swaths of society perceived as an intolerable attack on what he calls their "credal identity."
  • In the U.S., he said, the Democratic Party crossed the same line by singling out specific groups for special protection "rather than including them as part of the larger group seeking equality."

The outcome: populism. "The cultural identity part of it has been underplayed by a lot of people who have focused on the economic drivers of it," Fukuyama said. "The economic drivers are very important, but I think the way that downward economic mobility is interpreted is in terms of loss of status, and that's why it's these former middle classes that no longer feel so middle class, that are the real core constituency for populous movements."

  • There is a solution, Fukuyama says, though for Europe it will be especially hard to get there. Some immigrant communities in Europe, he said, reject basic tenets of the democratic political order.
  • In the U.S., he said, people need to find a path back to a united idea of what it is to be American. "The main message is that we need to figure out how to recreate a sense of American national identity that will fit the diverse society that we've become but will still be meaningful in terms of binding us together."

Go deeper

Ina Fried, author of Login
2 hours ago - Technology

Intel CEO sees making own chips as a matter of national security

Pat Gelsinger. Photo: Axios on HBO

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger is putting the pressure on the U.S. government to help subsidize chip manufacturing, insisting the current reliance on plants in Taiwan and Korea as "geopolitically unstable."

Why it matters: There is bipartisan support for funding the domestic semiconductor industry, but Congress has yet to sign the check. The Senate has passed the CHIPS Act that includes $52 billion in semiconductor investment, but it has yet to pass the House.

Updated 2 hours ago - World

17 U.S. and Canadian missionaries kidnapped in Haiti

Haitian soldiers guard the public prosecutor's office in Port-au-Prince this month. Photo: Richard Pierrin/AFP via Getty Images

Children are among a group of 17 missionaries kidnapped in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, per a statement from Christian Aid Ministries Sunday.

The latest: "The group of 16 U.S citizens and one Canadian citizen includes five men, seven women, and five children," the Ohio-based group said. Haitian police inspector Frantz Champagne on Sunday identified the 400 Mawozo gang as the group responsible, in a statement to AP.

Ina Fried, author of Login
4 hours ago - Technology

Intel CEO wants to compete against Apple

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger hasn't given up on the idea of the Mac once again using Intel chips, but he acknowledges it will probably be years before he gets that chance.

  • In the meantime, he is focused on powering Windows machines that give Apple CEO Tim Cook a run for his money.

Why it matters: In getting pushed out of the Mac, Intel not only lost a customer but picked up a new rival.

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