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The Geography of Populist Discontent

“There are times when rational, well-educated societies lose a sense of perspective,” says urban scholar Josef Konvitz. The global populist backlash represents one of those times.
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David Goldman/AP

Donald Trump in America, Rob Ford in Canada, Brexit in the U.K., and (maybe) Marine Le Pen in France—as I wrote on Tuesday, populism is tied to a cultural backlash reinforced by our increasingly uneven geography. These growing divides generate the anger and backlash that translates into backward-looking, reactionary populist politics.

The economic strategies of populists are territorial: walls, immigration restrictions, and rules based on national origin. But populism’s rise in Europe as well as the United States is less a product of economic inequality per se or even of economic anxiety; it is a cultural backlash against urbanism and the values of openness, globalism, tolerance, and diversity that are the hallmark of great cities.