I think that the two most considerable politico-economic happenings of the moment are the rise of Donald Trump and the “Brexit.” While the former is galling and the latter astounding, both of them are upheavals that I choose to contextualize in a political phase that I have taken to calling “The Globalized World” realignment. In the US, I believe, this realignment will culminate in half of each of the main-line political parties finding more common cause across the aisle and may lead to a fracturing of the current political party order into new parties that I call “Big World” and “Small World.”1
The American political order of my generation (after the late-1980’s wind-down of the Cold War) has been defined by the Democratic and Republican parties. The Republican platform has ever been explicable in a bumper sticker:
“Small Government, Traditional Values, Individual Autonomy”
Being a Liberal, I can’t leave simple-enough alone, so let me bring out two logical consequences of this simplified summary:
- Laissez-Faire Capitalism
- Gun ownership sanctified by the Constitution
The liberal position, which is essentially defined by its inability to be put on a bumper sticker, is the hand-wavey confederation of a sentiment like:
“Government can be a force for good. It ought help make sure the little guy doesn’t get screwed; also, individual over church interests and let’s try to be a bit less racist.”
Here’s the simplest possible diagram:
There are some interesting curlicues in this simplification of course. How the racist party of the Dixiecrats became the home of welfare entitlements contra the Reganite narrative of (black) “Welfare Queens” is torturous. Similarly strange is that Republicans ostensibly advocate personal responsibility and self-determination - unless it happens to be in your womb or if you happen to be a homosexual who’s interested in how to pass material wealth to their beloved.
It is ultimately these cultural curlicues which have created a sorting out within the parties from the mid-90’s “culture wars” unto the present. I can recall the ire and the “Rush is Right” bumper stickers appearing in my native Houston and the religiously overtoned presidency of George W. Bush. Surely there were hard-core conservatives who were nominally religious who merely sought to keep the Big Government and Entitlements Democrat in office in check. Similarly there were certainly very devout religious citizens who identified with the Republicans' lip service to family values but probably had a bit of an issue with their party-mates' overinvestment into what is rightly due Caesar.
And this friction has been building longer (I’d say around 1992). It’s not surprising that the GOP’s fissure has finally become a tectonic rift first in the rift surrounding the presumptive nomination of Donald Trump.
But the Democrats are not immune, they have a fissure of their own that I think began more slowly, or later, but widened through the nineties. The young, educated and liberal who flocked to SF and NYC found themselves staggeringly well-remunerated for their work in the liberal urban cities. Their quinoa and Soylent diets, crossfit, yoga, and hashtag-advocacy was at a real distance from the less-urban Democratic strongholds in the Rust Belt.
It’s very imaginable to me to imagine the (wealthy) and progressive, free-trade and globalized factions of each party uniting under the label “Big World.” This, internationally, is the party of the Brexit “Remain” vote. It’s the voice of Barack Obama and his peripatetic life. It’s the voice of the re-urbanization of youth in places like San Francisco, New York and LA as they leave behind the Rust Belt cities whence they matured and whose left-behind population they’re increasingly at odds to understand. It’s the home of the Tesla, the $500 a plate campaign dinner and the iPhone. They’re, and to be honest it’s probably appropriate to say “we’re,” confident, relaxed and change-receptive. It’s the group that has, to be honest, a nasty streak of condescension and lack of empathy toward its other. Sometimes you can hear the eye-roll when places like “Florida” or people like “Donald Trump” or “Mike Huckabee” are mentioned.
But the other side of that are those who feel run roughshod by globalization: “Small World.” In this perspective, the traditions of the ancestors (e.g. Christianity, Islam) feel like they’re losing ground and that they once animated a nation-state we ought try to return to. It’s a group that feels an untenable cognitive dissonance when their unwittingly-privileged reminiscences “Good Old Days” are interrupted by the harsh reality that those days weren’t so good for Latinos, Blacks, or Gays, or Women. It’s a group that feels like America shouldn’t become and surely wasn’t an economic affiliation or trade empire or “state of mind.” It was a landmass defined by the Manifest Destiny and limned by the hand of the Almighty. Speaking of, the Almighty gave us Founding Fathers, European-Enlightened gentlemen who set forth an Enlightened Republic on these shores unfettered by the alliances and monarchies that held Europe back.
Questions of the Present Day
So when I consider the anti-Free-Trade, pro-Trump contingent, I can see whence their anger. They’re uneducated in matters of macroeconomic globalization. They don’t see that the stuff they’ve filled their modest homes with: plasma screen televisions made in Thailand or near-Polo shirts bought in bulk at Sam’s Club, Wal-Mart, and Costco are all the fruits of globalization they reap. The Toyota or Nissan truck in the driveway in the suburban home a moderately soul-crushing distance from work was made by Japanese companies with footprints in the American South East. No, globalization feels like “cheap, shitty spatulas from China” and “Mexicans taking our jobs.” It feels like the boarded-up windows on Main Street. They see only globalization’s drawbacks and don’t know its benefits. They’re not running cool and calm in the face of change: they’re gripping white-knuckled to what they have because they’re not sure the next great step forward in the globalization game won’t take away the little they have — and possibly their pride alongside. And they’re sure as hell angry that some liberal “elite” in New York City is writing on a “blog” reasoned explanations about why they should like it.
And in this fear they’re also angry. Angry at the plutocratic Big Worlders who are so anxious to let go of affiliation of common country and shut down factories and pocket the savings. They’re angry at their own party-mates. And they’re certainly angry at the Liberal Globalists (mea culpa). The only people who seem to know their pain are their economically dispossessed bretheren in the Rust Belt / the Conservative South…even the British Midlands.
So who is Trump? The man that says it’s OK to feel that nostalgia. He doesn’t put facts in front of you like that steel production had already left Monessen, PA before George H. W. Bush entered office. No he tells you that your feeling of anger is justified, that America when “it was Great” is that dream you recall being reality.
Who were the Brexiteers in Britain? They were saying the same thing. The country that helped take down the Nazis certainly didn’t need to find common cause with Germany to justify it’s economic stability.
And what was 9/11 or the goals of al-Qaeda if not an anti-globalization act? It has all the same thumbprints of domestic terrorism: a yearning for a mythic past, an overreliance on emotion versus economic fact, a perception of “selling out” to corporate interest versus “sticking to one’s principles.” It’s no surprise that Mohammed Atta was radicalized when constantly bombarded with McDonald’s, porn, and unveiled women continually creeping from West to East. Robert Wright called out this terrorism and globalization axis in 2002 in Slate (article).
So when I consider the Brexit: it’s the Small Worlders of England pleading not to be left behind; Trump supporters, the same; 9/11 jihadis, the same.
1. I’ll not profess any great ingenuity in seeing or naming this moment, but it’s allowing me to see these titanic events as having a context. I’ll also fully admit that I may have seen snippets of this theory elsewhere publicly and that if brought to my attention all prior art will be acknowledged.Return