Tuesday, November 30, 2021

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 14-07-2018 09:15

Waiting for what comes next

Trump got to where he is because he sensed that his country was going in a direction which a great many people found alarming.

The international order that came into being less than three decades ago when the Soviet Union departed this life, leaving the United States as the only superpower still standing, is already falling apart. Thanks in large measure to the angst that afflicts so many influential Westerners who think their forebears – especially the men among them – should be held responsible for everything they dislike about the world we live in, it is crumbling away before our eyes. What comes next is anybody’s guess. No doubt it will be far worse.

Looming over the horizon are trade wars that could wreak havoc in shaky economies such as Argentina’s, rancorous squabbles over who should pay to keep Europe safe from those who see it as a soft target, genocidal conflicts fuelled by religious fanaticism and the in all probability unpleasant results of the belated recognition by the governments of relatively rich countries that to allow immigration on a massive scale to continue for any longer would be extremely risky.

It is easy to blame what is happening on Donald Trump who, instead of striving to keep the USdominated world order in one piece, is swinging the gigantic wrecking ball his compatriots gave him with unholy enthusiasm, smashing it into buildings housing both friends and foes without much concern for those living in them. But even if Trump had never existed, the soon-to-be old order would be approaching its end.

Many European countries – Italy, Spain, Germany, Greece and others – in which the birth rate is far below the replacement level, are moribund. Reversing the negative effects that mass immigration without assimilation has already had may prove impossible. Increasingly high-tech economies in which a shrinking minority gets handsomely rewarded and a growing majority must make do on leftovers are incompatible with democracy, let alone “social justice.” And, as Trump is vigorously reminding his “European partners,” US taxpayers are unable to see why they should continue to pay through the nose to protect rich countries like Germany whose governments decline to invest much in defence but are happy to make money cosying up to hostile trouble-makers like Iran and Russia.

It was the blindness of rivals all too prone to congratulate themselves on their superiority that made Trump “the most powerful man in the world.” When the reality-show and real-estate mogul announced he was making another run for the presidency of the United States, progressives in the US and elsewhere chortled with delight. They assumed he would make such an ass of himself that, even if he failed to win the nomination, the Republican Party would be a laughing stock for generations for letting such an uncouth character take part in the primaries. They took it for granted that his candidacy would spell doom for right-wingers the world over. They could hardly have been more wrong. Far from weakening them, it made them stronger.

Progressives may have been right about The Donald’s tendency to behave in an outrageous fashion, but his undisguised contempt for the prevailing conventional wisdom and his willingness to break all the alleged rules helped him on his way to the White House and could well get him re-elected. For now at any rate, the US economy is barrelling along nicely; for many that is more than enough to make them overlook their president’s less endearing qualities.

What is more, goaded day after day by Trump, the Democrats are moving further to the left and, as a result, further away from the centre-ground most voters favour. The antics of some Democrat leaders, who urge the faithful to make life thoroughly unpleasant for anyone suspected of supporting Trump by getting them booted out of classy restaurants or subjecting them to televised diatribes seasoned with expletives that were once deleted for family audiences are unhelpful, as are their passionate support for open borders and the hounding of academics suspected of holding opinions deemed racist, sexist, or something equally objectionable.

Trump got to where he is because, almost alone among US politicians, he sensed that his country was going in a direction which a great many people found alarming. By tapping into the feeling that the “coastal elites” cared nothing for the fate of the many who were getting left behind, he appealed to the increasing number of “ordinary” folk who are now rebelling against the entrenched elites whose members, like the aristocrats of old, thoroughly despise those who do not share their points of view or way of speaking and make no effort to hide it. Hillary Clinton’s public dismissal of the “basket of deplorables” backing Trump helped cost her an election she thought she already had in the bag.

As Argentine politicians know better than most, to get power and keep it a would-be president has to win the trust of people who, in many cases, are barely literate and are unfamiliar with the issues a better informed minority regards as important. In much of the world, this is becoming harder and harder for machine politicians to do as the interests of people who have what it takes to stay afloat in what, broadly speaking, may be described as a meritocratic society, continue to diverge from those of the many who, often for no fault of their own, fail to keep up.

It is not just a question of money. Self-respect matters just as much, hence the current popularity of “identity politics.” This fashion began among individuals who decided that it would be a smart career move on their part to set themselves up as leaders of some ethnic, religious and sexual minority and make out that they represented the victims of some appalling historical injustice who deserve to be compensated for the centuries of suffering their kind had endured.

For a while, they got away with it but then, in the US, “identity politics” was taken up by individuals like Trump who insist that the lower middle class deserves far more respect than it has been getting of late or, in Europe, that their country’s sacred traditions are under threat from outsiders. As in democratic countries the majority usually has the last word, the privileges guilt-stricken governments handed out to groups organised by professional grievance-mongers are likely to prove short-lived.

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James Neilson

James Neilson

Former editor of the Buenos Aires Herald (1979-1986).


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