|From the film Monster a Go-Go (1965). Unrelated to the post, except|
maybe as a metaphor for the savage ugliness of the last week (and
an appellation for Trump presidency thus far).
I'm a little emotionally wrung out, actually. Earlier today I forced myself to stop checking Twitter and the Washington Post for a while and numb myself with a couple episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
It was a good choice.
I don't have the stomach for even a superficial autopsy of President Trump's first ghastly week in office. My emotional state has been vacillating between disgust at his reptile-brained worldview and gasping horror at the ever-accruing evidence that we have a crazy person as our Commander in Chief. Sometimes I experience both states simultaneously. When that happens I have to close the browser and take a very long walk. At the rate I'm sucking in nicotine lately, I'll die of a heart attack before the midterm elections.
For the moment, let's focus on Trump's ideology—insofar as a bilious heap of grudges and gut feelings qualifies as a body of ideas about how the world works. You're familiar with it by now: "America First." Foreigners, particularly the non-white, non-Christian species, are job-stealers at best and terrorists at worst. Diplomacy is a zero sum game. Things used to be better, back when only red-blooded, white-skinned men were trusted to run things, when America was booming and the rest of the world was convalescing from war, colonialism, and/or Stalinism, and when climate change wasn't a problem because nobody was talking about climate change because nobody was aware of climate change, so climate change wasn't a problem. (Returning to the latter state of affairs is precisely what the Trump administration hopes to achieve by muzzling the EPA, NASA, et al.)
So here we are. What happens now?
I'm finding plenty of cause to be afraid and a few reasons to be hopeful. For now I'd like to admire the silver lining before considering the thunderhead.
I do believe "Trumpism" and its sister-spawn (at least in the West) represent the last feverish thrashings of a moribund worldview. Trump campaigned on a promise to reverse globalization, but has a very narrow chance of actually succeeding. It will be as difficult a process to stop as industrialization, digitization, or hell, the spread of print material and vernacular literacy in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The trade, transportation, and communications mechanisms we've built up and built upon for the better part of seventy years compel us toward globalism with the steady but irresistible pull of a riptide. Trump's nativist and protectionist allies and supporters are struggling fiercely against the current—but they'll go under long before they arrive back at the shores of an America where ethnic nationalism and jingoism are commonsense virtues. (We should, however, be very concerned about them dragging the rest of us down to the rocks with them in their panicked flight to the past.)
The good news is this: though I wouldn't recommend just waiting things out as a solution (#resist), the d/dx appears to be on our side. "Demographic trends favour pluralism," The Economist augured in November, shortly after the election:
In many countries the university-educated population——typically cosmopolitan in instinct——is rising. In the post-war period about 5% of British adults had gone to university; today more than 40% of school-leavers are university-bound. In Germany 2m citizens were in tertiary education in 2005; a decade later that number had risen to 2.8m. The share of 18- to 24-year-old Americans in that category rose from 26% in 1970 to 40% in 2014.I trust you've also seen the map illustrating what the November election might have looked like if only millennials had voted. It's definitely not what it purports to be, and should be taken with a shaker of salt—but by and large, Generation Y rejects much of what Trump and the coerced and craven GOP stand for. Unless a majority of American twenty- and thirty-somethings do a political π in the next four, eight, twelve years, we're apt to see a blue shift in the polls. (There is a conversation about gerrymandering to be had, and I'd rather pound nails through my most sensitive tissues than examine that right now.)
And immigration, which has done much to fuel ethnic nationalism, could, as generations are born into diverse societies, start to counter that nationalism. The foreign-born population of America rose by almost 10m, to 40m in the decade to 2010. In Britain it rose by 2.9m, to 7.5m, in the decade to 2011. Western voters aged 60 and over——the most nationalist cohort——have lived through a faster cultural and economic overhaul than any previous generation, and seem to have had enough. Few supporters of UKIP and the FN are young; the same is true for Alternative for Germany, another anti-immigrant party.
But youngsters seem to find these changes less frightening. Although just 37% of French people believe that “globalisation is a force for good”, 77% of 18- to 24-year-olds do. The new nationalists are riding high on promises to close borders and restore societies to a past homogeneity. But if the next generation holds out, the future may once more be cosmopolitan.
It doesn't take much analytic imagination to notice that Trumpism is basically a mutation of the Gamergate ethos transferred from hobbyists to national politics. Here's the thing: Gamergate was so vicious, so vehement in its insistence that the video gaming scene should turn back into a hetero boys' club because it already wasn't anymore. In other words, Gamergaters were fighting a battle they'd already lost. These neo-nationalists are much the same. They're not triumphant: they're desperate. They're like a frenzied, mortally wounded animal, dying but still dangerous.
The troglodytes can't bring video games back to the 1990s or America back to the 1950s any more feasibly than the music industry can decide .mp3s just shouldn't be a thing anymore—for better and for worse.
And there is a "for worse" to bear in mind: globalization has not been a boon for everyone. Trump's rust-belt support base voted as they did because they felt screwed over and forgotten, and they have every right to be angry: they've been imperiously brushed aside by the Invisible Hand. Though we can't discount the millions of people who have been lifted out of poverty, the primary beneficiaries of globalization have been multinational corporations and the cadre of elites in their orbits. It was international commerce that dictated and facilitated the advance of globalization, and the actors certainly weren't motivated by altruism.
Nativism and protectionism and are one of two potential traps into which we risk falling. The other would be to continue to allow the capitalist process to run its course on a global scale without stern but surgical intervention. When left uninterrupted, capitalism tends to consolidate a larger and larger portion of wealth in the hands of fewer and fewer people. (Two excellent books, each with "Capital" in the title, explain how this works.) Unless means are devised to equitably redistribute the mountains of wealth piling up in the accounts of the upper percentiles, Trump will not be the last populist demagogue trying to build walls and blame foreigners for stagnant incomes and grim prospects.
Compelling multinational corporations to work for everyone—not just their stakeholders—will require multilateral cooperation between nation-states. Trump and his neo-nationalist ilk abroad are making it unlikely that such coordination will be possible any time soon.
Let's call this the worse-case [sic] scenario: Trump's enablers are repudiated in the midterms and Trump himself is given the boot in 2020. The reins are taken up by some bland Democrat who may argue for raising the minimum wage, tries to nudge our healthcare scheme back in the right direction, and wags his or her finger at Wall Street while continuing to let The Market serve the interests of its masters amid vague promises of Tech Jobs For All. Incomes remain stagnant; good jobs remain scarce, and another Republican in Trump's mold wins the White House in 2024.
The best-case scenario, then, is that Trump and his cronies are exposed as the morally bankrupt and atavistic con-men they are, the United States returns to some semblance of sanity, and international relations are restored (under the condition that we never let this shit happen again). We work with our allies and frenemies to take effective measures to dilute income inequality (Piketty recommends a global tax on capital), cut carbon emissions, prepare for the consequences of climate change that are already coming down the pipeline, and then everyone joins hands and sings "Get Together."
A bit of a pipe dream, isn't it? Hard to imagine that actually happening.
I'm inclined to suspect the worst-case scenario is more likely.
Imagine: Trump remains in office until 2024. (I'll leave the macabre circumstances to your imagination.) Eventually the United States regains a somewhat even keel, but the damage to the national economy and global stability has been done—and then all of a sudden, the effects of climate change come crashing down sooner and harder than anyone anticipated (barring the scientists who Trump silenced). Against a backdrop of fractured alliances and international distrust, the rising oceans overtake coastal cities, changing weather patterns disrupt agriculture and lead to food shortages, millions of displaced people migrate across borders. "Trade wars" should be the least of anyone's worries when resource wars are looming on the horizon.
There's also a chance of a shorter-term worst-case scenario. Globalization is not a linear process: it can advance, and it can recede. It's unlikely to recede today, since, again, the mechanism driving it forward has seven decades of gathered momentum behind it. But it could happen, and there is precedent for such a thing. The last time globalization was abruptly reversed, it was called World War I. Had you asked an expert in 1910 about the possibility of a war in Europe, he would have laughed at you. "The economies of Britain and Germany are too interconnected for them to start a serious fight with each other," he would have told you.
To quote the man whom President Trump appointed to oversee the United States' nuclear arsenal: "oops." I wonder if Trump will have the decency to stay "oops" if (and hopefully not when) his ego and from-the-hip vindictiveness get us entangled in an avoidable war in which pretty much everyone will come out the loser.
Both worst-case scenarios are possible, of course, one after the other. Another dark age would be the best outcome.
As usual, the best-case scenario is unlikely to happen. But I agree with Naomi Klein: "." Donald Trump's presidency itself proves that "unlikely to happen" and "hard to imagine" don't equate to "impossible." The hour calls for optimism; we’ll save pessimism for better times
Let's see what week #2 brings and what we can do about it.