Trump in the Time of Trumpism

“Trailer of Globalization” by Piotr Mamnaimie

We live in an “age of anger”, to borrow the title of a recent book by Pankaj Mishra - an India-born public intellectual well connected in the U.S. and the U.K. – which sets the tone for this posting.

Take Trump (you can have him). He oozes anger. About globalization. About trade agreements like NAFTA. About immigrants and refugees, whom workers think are taking their jobs and anyway, we distrust strangers at the gate, and for Americans, Mexicans and Muslims above all.

It is tempting for otherwise sensitive people to ask in all seriousness with respect to Trump supporters “What do they want?” to which the best answer would seem to be “What the system promised them and failed to deliver.”

Trump is channeling that anger. If Trump fails to assuage these concerns – and his policies, like the war of attrition that passes for health care reform have real potential to exacerbate things - who knows what will happen next. The status quo is no longer working. That may seem obvious, but Hillary Clinton never got it and we got Trump.

So remember Sanders whose success was as surprising as Trump’s. There is the same discontent, resentment, anger on the left as on the right. There is the same dissatisfaction with things as they are, the same dislike of globalizing elites who got us in this mess and promise to solve it with more of the same. (If this sounds to you like I relate to left-wing populism, you’re right). And remember, for the record, young Americans, with whom the future lies, chose Sanders over both Clinton and Trump.

So be vigilant and ready to protest so Trumpism doesn’t happen in Canada. Think of it as your Canada 150 resolution.

Modernity, Globalization and Anarchy

As Western style “modernization” hits, literally, the wider world of Asia, Africa and, critical for the present politics of the West, the Middle East, there is truly trauma. Nations, people, were supposed to prosper and become like us. Instead, as Panjab Mishra asserts in his book Age of Anger, anger is extreme, terrorism rife.

This is not the first round of globalisation. The term is new but not the phenomenon, as indigenous people in Canada know. It was much in evidence in the decades just prior to the First World War, that blood bath which denied all the claims about progress through industrialization.

What was also in evidence were anarchy and assassinations of very big names: American President William McKinley, Russian Tsar Nicholas II, a President of France, the King of Italy, a Prime Minister of Spain, Archduke Francis Ferdinand, heir to the Habsburg Empire, which triggered the First World War, which gravely wounded globalisation real and raw, but unfortunately, failed to kill it or reform it to the point of being tolerable. For it was followed by the Bolshevik Revolution (and, in due course, Stalin), the Great Depression of the 1930s, fascism, and the Second World War.

What’s happening today with terrorism is certainly to be deplored but it’s not new. Nor is it an aberration. It is part and parcel of the project of modernisation which is at the heart of our world.

It is aided and abetted by another part of that parcel, the mass media with their 24/7 coverage, unable and unwilling to put matters in any perspective other than the present. Terror is spectacle, and the media may simply be feeding the phenomenon.

Pervasive surveillance, the erosion of civil liberties, the deterioration of air travel in a claimed age of globalisation are, like terrorism itself, facts of life.

What Neoliberalism Is Really About

Since 1500, the modern age – in the grand language of history as the sequence of ancient, medieval, modern - is about what, to labour the obvious, we now call modernity.

The economics of it picks up steam – with, forgive, the pun, the steam engine – with the Industrial Revolution. There emerged a market for goods as described by Adam Smith and for land and labour by Marx and later by Karl Polanyi. Marxists brilliantly summed up this drawing of land and labour into the market in the concept of the landless proletariat (which then became the supposed agent for revolution.)

Thus the economics of modernity. The politics of modernity is liberal democracy, for white Europeans, albeit slowly and imperfectly, and not for colonized peoples. At the centre of the world nationalism morphs into imperialism which then denies nationalism to the margin. The stage is set for what has seemed like endless conflict.

The promise of modernity is of industrialization. Of prosperity. Of Progress with a capital P. Of equality, at least of opportunity, but limited by the emergence of a new hierarchy of wealth and power. Meanwhile religion and tradition were willfully eroded and the individual was unmoored. What began as the lauded individualism of the Enlightment, from the 18th century on, degenerated into narrowly defined self interest.

Most of us don’t like to admit of this litany of the bad. Yet it lives on. Neoliberalism in recent decades has pushed things further. Thatcher famously said that there is no such thing as society. This is dangerous talk for it risks opening the door to authoritarianism, even fascism, the better to fill the void and make people, in the gaze and embrace of the leader, feel they belong.

It passes understanding that after the horrors of the first half of the 20th century anyone could invent neoliberalism and proclaim globalisation and put them together.

Mel Watkins is a Canadian political economist and activist. He is professor emeritus of economics and political science at the University of Toronto.