The rise of outsider, populist, and nativist politicians across the West is no coincidence, nor a "sign of the times". It is symptomatic of political party systems disintegrating from the bottom up, as structural changes in the economy and society unmoor them from the major social cleavages that defined political contestation throughout the twentieth century. Predicting how the process will unfold is difficult. But we can open an analytical window into the future by examining the experience of Bolivia, where politics was much less institutionalized than the West, allowing disintegration and realignment to happen much earlier and faster. A first lesson is that left/worker vs. right/capital politics is probably doomed in societies where industrial workers as a self-conscious group have dwindled to a small fraction of the workforce. What will replace it? The current front-runner is the politics of identity, anchored in social cleavages of ethnicity, religion, language, and place. This is a danger not just for affected societies, but for democracy as an ideal, as identity politics revolves much more than class politics around exclusionary categories and zero-sum games. In the UK and Europe, realignment would likely be triggered by Brexit, and the (partial) collapse of the Eurozone. Lastly, while Evo Morales is an experienced politician with deep roots in the social organizations that now define Bolivian politics, Donald Trump is a self-created, top-down, ultimately directionless triumph of social media. Morales transformed Bolivia. Trump will likely destroy much but build little.
Political parties Party system collapse Social cleavages Identity politics Political realignment Bolivia the West