Donald Trump’s victory is not solely a revolt against global finance. What his voters rejected was not neoliberalism tout court, but progressive neoliberalism. This may sound to some like an oxymoron, but it is a real, if perverse, political alignment that holds the key to understanding the US election results – and perhaps some developments elsewhere as well.
In its US form, progressive neoliberalism is an alliance of mainstream currents of new social movements (feminism, anti-racism, multiculturalism and LGBTQ rights), on the one side, and high-end »symbolic« and service-based sectors of business (Wall Street, Silicon Valley and Hollywood) on the other. In this alliance, progressive forces are effectively joined with the forces of cognitive capitalism, especially financialization. However unwittingly, the former lend their charisma to the latter. Ideals like diversity and empowerment, which could in principle serve different ends, now gloss policies that have devastated manufacturing and the middle-class livelihoods that were once available to those engaged in it.
Progressive neoliberalism developed in the United States roughly over the last three decades and was ratified with Bill Clinton’s election in 1992. Clinton was the principal engineer and standard-bearer of the »New Democrats«, the US equivalent of Tony Blair’s New Labour. In place of the New Deal coalition of unionized manufacturing workers, African-Americans, and the urban middle classes, he forged a new alliance of entrepreneurs, suburbanites, new social movements and youth, all proclaiming their modern, progressive bona fides by embracing diversity, multiculturalism and women’s rights. Even as it endorsed such progressive notions, the Clinton administration courted Wall Street. Turning the US economy over to Goldman Sachs, it deregulated the banking system and negotiated the free-trade agreements that accelerated deindustrialization.