Why you should care
Because rage against the elites knows no borders.
In the upper bowels of the Republican National Convention at Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena, while looking down at GOP delegates decked out in patriotic red, white and blue, Steve Hilton is seated next to me — in orange socks, corduroy light-blue pants and a T-shirt. The English strategist was behind the successful rise of former U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, who recently resigned after opposing the passage of Brexit, the vote to leave the European Union that Hilton himself supported. Now in the U.S. with Crowdpac, a crowdfunding voter platform based in San Francisco, Hilton discussed how global politics is being upended and how the Republican nominee at the heart of it all can try to win in November.
OZY: After Brexit, we’ve seen a host of the pro-Leave leaders, including Boris Johnson and Andrea Leadsom, refrain from taking on leadership roles. So when these politicians lead in pushing divisive action through but step away immediately after, what happens? How do you pick up from that?
Steve Hilton: What we’ve seen happen will far outlive any immediate political ups and downs. For me, the decision to leave the EU, which I campaigned for very strongly, has been the most positive development in terms of world politics since the fall of the Berlin wall.
The technocratic policy agenda that has been pushed by governments of left and right for decades, that is uncritical of globalization, that prioritizes efficiency over all concerns, that is callous about the individual consequences of that — people have had enough of that. That’s far more consequential than whichever candidate ends up with whichever job in politics.
OZY: We’ve seen an equally transformative period happening in American politics. Would you say the same about Donald Trump — that the figurehead matters less, because the consequences last longer than the candidate?
S.H.: I hope so. And I think it’s important to see it in its proper context, which is not just Trump on the Republican side, but Bernie Sanders on the Democratic side. It’s the same movement of people who are saying we’ve just had enough of what Sanders calls establishment politics and establishment economics.
OZY: What tangible effect does that type of politics have?
S.H.: It’s led to a world that has become dehumanized. Individual people’s lives seem less important than the promotion of a particular technocratic ideology for how the world should be organized. This economic and foreign policy has had really disastrous consequences for a lot of people. We should acknowledge the examples of globalization that have done amazing things for lifting people out of poverty in poorer countries. But it’s making poor people in rich countries poorer. And the elites have been too blasé about that. What you’re seeing now is people acting through the political system to take back power and control, this notion of “people power.”
OZY: How can what Trump has done be called “people power” when, yes, he speaks to a certain segment that has been left behind by globalization, but he’s also alienated a whole other segment of people?
S.H.: The nomination — and, should he win, presidency — of Trump is prompting a really useful examination of these nostrums that have been held without real intellectual challenge for a long time. It’s right to say that there are aspects of his political policy and campaign that are a long way from the values I support. But you have to make a decision: What is most likely to deliver the direction of change that you believe in? Is it someone who is challenging the establishment or someone who is part of the establishment?
OZY: What effect can crowdfunding technology have on elections, from local school boards to the presidency?
S.H.: We’re trying to give people the chance to affect the outcomes of elections through the mechanism the insiders know really works, which is money. It levels the playing field by making it easier for people to donate. And that makes it easier for people to run for office too — one of the reasons change is slow is that you have a narrower and narrower group of people running for office.
OZY: Taking from your experience as a strategist for Cameron, what could Trump do to help him win in November?
S.H.: The most important thing you have to do to win a campaign is to be optimistic, positive and inclusive. Now those words, I know, are not the words that come to most people’s minds when they think of Trump. But when you think of the message of “Make America Great Again,” it’s a very positive, optimistic message. What that needs to be accompanied by is a real effort to show how that will help everyone. Not just the disaffected group that has been pretty well documented as the core support of Trump, but beyond that — to people who think they are on the other side but whose lives in a practical sense would more likely be improved by a model Republican agenda.