It’s Not Just Us

I’m not sure if this is oddly consoling or just more disturbing, or even downright terrifying, but it may help make some sense of the spectacle that is U.S. politics to take a step back and recognize the bigger global phenomenon that’s been playing out, of which our topsy-turvy electoral scene is but one part. [1] We’ve seen the surge of hardline nationalist parties and movements across Europe, driven by the cultural and economic pressures of an overwhelming immigration crisis.  The same anxieties were a conspicuous factor in the “Brexit” referendum as Great Britain voted to leave the European Union, which has already drawn comparisons to the U.S. presidential election. [2]  Michael Fumento at The American Conservative compares the latter to the rise of various Latin American strongmen. [3]  And well beyond the west, the Philippines this year elected the tough-talking Rodrigo Duterte, who recently made international headlines by speaking of being “happy to slaughter” drug addicts and, even more incredibly, went so far as to include a favorable reference to Hitler’s Germany. [4] Talk about a man whose brashness is his brand.

And now it’s our turn.

The time was ripe for someone with enough marketing savvy to ride the wave of global, national, and regional anxiety all the way to the top.  And someone did.  But his ascent is not the cause of our problems, it is a result of them – and one that fits within a broader pattern internationally.  To approach the root of those problems will require going beyond the naïve hopes and the gnashing of teeth that characterize where we’ve come to.

To try to retrace the steps of these phenomena, in admittedly broad strokes: a noticeable number of opportunistic individuals are being propelled to power by sociopolitical groundswells of what would have previously been seen as fringe movements.  Behind the mainstreaming of these movements are widespread indignities felt by increasing numbers of people suffering from the negative effects of globalization and technocracy [5], such as the displacement of many industrial jobs by increased automation and international trade policies that have gravely hurt the western working classes (not to mention people working for unjust wages under unsafe conditions on the other end of the outsourcing, who remain largely unheard and unseen except when those unsafe conditions result in disaster).  This strain is exacerbated by desperate waves of refugees seeking entry faster than their would-be host countries can hope to accommodate them, who themselves are fleeing unlivable situations caused by terrorism and civil wars, gang wars, and drug wars.

It’s hard to draw straight lines among all these bleak factors, and this still isn’t to get to the root of the thing: aside from having only scratched the surface of the complicated ramifications of globalization, there is plenty of room to step back further, looking for the causes of the violence driving people in droves to risk their lives to reach places where they are likely to be made unwelcome, and on and on.  And this may be getting to the point where I can’t even make the simplest attempt at an answer.  But one thing seems clear to me on a systemic scale: something has been happening far too rapidly and unrestrainedly and is leaving more and more people behind, with devastating effect.

And the type of Nietzschean persona rising to power on the wave of these effects cannot and will not cure them.  Nor are such personas the disease itself: they are but a symptom.  Or maybe they are more like the quack doctor who swindles the desperately ill patient with the offer of a false cure.  In that respect, it might have been predicted that the one offering the false cure would win greater trust than the one trying to tell us we’re not really sick.

In our case, the false cure was sold under the billing of the voice of the people versus the political ruling class, when the race was really between representatives of the political ruling class and the corporate ruling class, both of whom have profited enormously from economic liberalism.  This is what has allowed a man who perfectly embodies liberalism in both its economic and sexual forms, in all its hideous glory, to market himself under the banner of “change.”  The change we’re now getting is only our present flare-up of this disease coming to a head.

This should be all the proof we need that change in se is not always and automatically positive, whether the immediate change we’re gambling on to get us out of the mess we find ourselves in, or the longer-term but increasingly rapid-fire changes that got us into it.  Those changes needed to be checked somehow, their effects eased: to find some way to preserve livelihoods amid technological and economic upheavals; to withdraw from our dependence on the drugs and oil and minerals that fuel violent conflicts elsewhere by making them lucrative for profiteers.  Unfortunately, any possible – and actual – negative consequences of a rapidly globalizing and liberalizing world, at a pace too fast for many (perhaps most) to keep up with, have been systematically ignored by the prevailing blind faith in the technocratic paradigm. [6] 

We do need a change, but of an entirely different nature: we need a whole systemic paradigm shift, prompted by a deep and broad metanoia – a turning.  It’s still hard to say how such a turn can be possible, but it may take the current state of things to make the need undeniable.  

—Julia Smucker

Julia Smucker writes for Vox Nova.

[1] For a more detailed analysis, see Jonathan Haidt, “When and Why Nationalism Beats Globalism.” The American Interest, July 10, 2016.
[3] “Is Trump Taking Us Down the Path to a Banana Republic?” The American Conservative, Nov. 8, 2016.
[5] See Pope Francis’ explanation of what he terms the “technocratic paradigm” in Laudato si, chapter 3.
[6] Ibid.