Tomorrow Belongs to US
There is an interesting review of the book “Tomorrow Belongs to Us: The British Far Right Since 1967” in the London School of Economics Review of Books. I have not yet read the book but this bit, by the reviewer, has piqued my interest: “the rise of neo-nationalist or nativist populism has become increasingly difficult to ignore, particularly given radical right mobilisation across Europe and the election of political outlier Donald Trump to the US presidency. To make sense of present-day events, they posit that an understanding of the past is essential to contextualise the British far right today. Thus, 1967 is a particularly significant moment with which to begin the discussion: the National Front (NF) was formed in this year, marking the first time since Oswald Moseley’s British Union of Fascists (BUF) that far-right groups in Britain came together under one united ‘front’.” I, too, have conflated nativists and the alt-right and what seems, to me, to be a revival of the 19th century know nothings with President Trump’s rise to power.
I am going to reassert my, personal, belief that what unites both the far right and their confrères on the far left is fear … fear of change and fear of the change (loss) of status that change might bring to individuals. Eight months ago I used a popular song from the early 1980s in which Billy Joel lamented the demise of a generation or two of low skill – high wage unionized jobs in what is now called the American rust belt. I think he captured the tenor of his times and, even more, of the early 21st century. At about the time that ‘Allentown’ was on the hit parade I was posted to a major NATO HQ in the Netherlands, in South Limburg province … part of our HQ was in an old coal mine complex, the landscape was dotted with large slag-heaps that had been seeded and made into recreational sites but, even 20 years after the mines had closed, we still, on nice summer mornings, had to go out and wipe the coal dust off our lawn furniture before we could sit out and enjoy a morning coffee. The mines were gone because South Korea, which was importing coal and iron ore from around the world, had replaced the Ruhr Basin, which had used Dutch coal, as the new titan of steel production. And, at that time, America (and Canada) was losing its competitive advantage in steel production. The fear than ran through Europe and America was not just created by harder working and lower paid Korean workers; in 1962 Rachel Carson wrote ‘Silent Spring’ and ignited the environmental movement which always looked a lot like a children’s crusade and which went, quickly from pesticides to the chemical industry and then on to coal mining and steel production and air and water pollution. At about the same time the same children, egged on by ‘leaders’ who were either willing agents or, far more often simple dupes of the Comintern, turned against the American misadventure in Vietnam … the same children were active in both causes and heavy industry was a double villain. The war appeared, to many, to divide America on new “class” lines: the children of the middle and upper class, secure in universities, opposed the war and wanted a clean, green environment while the children of the working class, including lower poor blacks, were either reluctant draftees or, actively, supported the American military-industrial complex. Those same people, the ones who self-identify and militant patriots and who could not find jobs in ‘Allentown‘ turned to Donald Trump, and, in a few cases, a small minority, to be sure, to worse …
… out of fear: fear of the “other” and fear of change …
… which came fast and which upset long established patterns of success in the community.
The establishment, Liberals and Conservatives and the NDP in Canada, Democrats and Republicans in America, and Conservatives and Labour in the UK, could not provide enough satisfactory answers for enough people … the moderate middle is still there but new, more radical groups, on the left and the right emerged … along with an inchoate cry of anger from those who feel dispossessed and threatened.
Both the loony left and hard right promise the moon but, of course, neither can deliver and it seems to me that people who support fringe candidates ~ which, in 2015 is what Donald Trump appeared to be ~ do not, really, expect results: they just want to express their anger at the establishment which, they feel, is making too many changes to too many things too quickly. Their fear that, for example, we admit too many migrants, especially illegal migrants, who will take away good jobs because they will work for low wages can, too easily, turn to overt racism and to support for extremist groups.
Us versus them
But that is one or two fairly specific examples of “they” or “them.” There also seems to be a bigger, broader “them,” too.
On that related note, Ian Bremmer, who is the CEO of the Eurasia Group, has written an interesting article in Time magazine, headlined: “Our ‘Us Vs Them’ World: 5 Reasons Why Globalism Is Failing.” It’s important to understand that for people like Ian Bremmer “us” is the OECD plus a few and “them” is 150± other countries.
His five threats are:
The growing division of wealth between haves and have-nots has received plenty of attention in recent years—when 42 people in the world have the same wealth as the bottom 50 percent, the headlines write themselves. But attention is one thing, and action another.
Free trade remains the best way we know to spur sustainable economic growth for the world as a whole. Moving goods, services, investment, and innovation as efficiently as possible generates consumption, a virtuous cycle that has seen the world economy soar nearly 700 percent since 1980. Hundreds of millions around the world have escaped poverty, largely thanks to globalization.
But not all countries and peoples share in this virtuous cycle equally. Countries and specific sets of workers lose when jobs and opportunities are sent abroad for the sake of profit margins. And when infrastructure spending, public school systems, health care and the like are tied directly to the economic fortunes of a community, it compounds problems of inequality. It’s taken a couple of generations—and the sharp shock of Brexit plus the election of Donald Trump—for this to become unavoidably obvious for globalization’s still-complacent winners in Europe and the U.S.
2. Society and culture
In a globalized world, people flow across borders too. When workers see threats to their lives, livelihoods, status, and entitlements, they demand walls — barriers against cheap labor and unfamiliar faces—or what you might call “them.”
Donald Trump understood this better than any of his political rivals in the U.S. Through storm after storm, and despite his inability to “drain the swamp” in Washington, his most loyal supporters stick with him, because no one else in the United States can credibly promise to defend their interests against establishment disdain.
Most politicians call for unity. Trump speaks of “us vs them” and continues to reap the rewards.
Cultural divides also bleed into the security realm. Global trade demands geopolitical stability. Stability requires leaders willing to do more so others can do less, who use their power to impose the compromises on which multinational progress depends.
But Trump defeated 16 Republicans and Hillary Clinton with promises that America would defend no interests but her own. He derided endless pointless wars and the presidents responsible for them. And while it was America’s political and military establishment that argued for the necessity of all these wars, they were wars waged on the backs of working-class American men and women. When they returned home, they found a world not much safer than the ones they risked their lives to defend. Even worse, instead of being treated as heroes, they were barely treated at all by a dysfunctional veterans administration system.
And then there’s the bundling of immigration concerns with terrorist fears. In the U.S., it’s a narrative that has been politicized for years but has little basis in reality. Europe is another matter; some European communities have historically had a more difficult time integrating immigrant populations, and the threat posed by homegrown jihadi militants, radicalized in slums like the banlieues of Paris and neighborhoods like Molenbeek in Belgium, is all too real.
4. Technology and filter bubbles
The Internet has long been used to connect folks seeking like-minded individuals in chat forums and online communities. But with the advent and explosion of social media, echo chambers took on a life of their own. Today, it takes work to find someone with whom you fundamentally disagree—people gravitate to others who share their values and assumptions about their communities and the world.
Human nature isn’t only to blame, though. Tech and media companies now grow their bottom lines by maximizing the amount of time you spend engaging with content on their platforms. Algorithms are designed to show you content you’re expected to “like” and engage with, with the result being narrower demographic groups that help advertisement targeting and data collection. The result is ever more political fragmentation in the cyber sphere, which manifests itself more profoundly in the real world with each election cycle.
5. Technology and automation
And the tech revolution is still only in its infancy. People talk about the coming era of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) as the “fourth industrial revolution,” placing it (somewhat comfortingly) in historical context. But we’ve never seen anything on the scale of what’s to come—automation and AI are expected to cost 400 to 800 million people their jobs by 2030.
The world may produce more with robots at the helm, but the economic gains will go mostly to the few who control the technology; hundreds of millions of others will be left with less work to do (if they find work at all). And for all the talk of retraining to prepare people for this automated future, few of those plans have come to fruition. If anything, we should be preparing for a “post-industrial revolution,” one that looks set to widen the chasm between “us” and “them” still further.”
What to do?
Without wishing to agree with everything he says, I would suggest that a sound policy for a liberal, democratic, sophisticated and rich middle power, like Canada includes:
- Promoting free(er) trade wherever and whenever possible … even with unfair trading partners like China and protectionist trading partners like America and India;
- Promote sound multiculturalism … welcome more and more immigrants from e.g. China, India and the Philippines and from other “source” countries that actually have a surplus of well educated, sophisticated people. Do that at the expense of countries that have a poor track record of sending us immigrants who fit, well, into Canadian society and at the expense of would be immigrants who are really needed more, in their homelands, than in our hospitals and research centres: stop, in other words, robbing the poor to give to the rich;
- Beef up our foreign service and our military. In the first case pick the best people, no quotas, and in the second make sound, sensible defence planning and funding plans that will give Canada a Triple A+ military;
- Develop and fund a sensible education programme (it’s a provincial area of responsibility) that will prepare all Canadians for the economic future wherein low skill-high wage, unionized “jobs for life” are no longer available;
- Provide incentives for companies to do R&D here, in Canada.
None of those address the core problem of “us vs. them” but they will help “us” to contain the worst that “they” can do to us.
The problem is not President Trump or Vladimir Putin, both just symptoms of the “us vs. them” fears that permeate society ~ East and West. Russia is in a steep decline … it has been unable to adapt to the modern, Euro-American world and is even less able to cope with the social, economic and strategic threats posed by China. The Russian remember their brief flirtation with great power, in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s and yearn for a return.
In America tens of millions of people also yearned for a return of a simpler, safer time … but there was not, has not been since 1960, another Truman or Eisenhower ~
~ someone who actually has a plan, a grand strategy to make America safe and prosperous in a very dangerous world. Instead we have had a series of below average to just OK “leaders of the free world” because, it seems to me, those who might be great leaders have eschewed public service. I’m not sure why they have done that; I don’t know why e.g. Jack Welch or Joseph Stiglitz or Benjamin O Davis, just for examples, never sought political office. I wonder if the information age, ushered in by the all seeing, never blinking, always curious, but rarely well focused or discriminating eye of television in the Kennedy-Nixon campaign, didn’t scare some very good men and women off. I also wonder who in their right minds who subject themselves to modern media scrutiny or why would any good leader even bother to be in the same room with 90% of America’s journalists? By 2016 America was reduced to having to decide which of tw wholly disreputable persons was the least bad choice to lead all of “us.”
In fact, long before it became Clinton vs Trump, America had stepped back from leading “us.” Beginning with President John Kennedy’s needless and ill-conceived foray into Vietnam to come to the aid of the wrong side and his consequential elevation of the US military in the world, the United States began its steady decline in leadership … just as Britain had done circa 1835. And just as Britain’s decline from global superpower into “middle power” status wasn’t really clear for 50 or 100 years, so America’s decline as leader of “us,” is only now, 60 years after it reached it reached the zenith of its power, becoming obvious.
Who is the leader of “us?”
It is, no longer any one country. America is, still the military guarantor of “our” sovereignties and liberties, but, increasingly it is a consortia of countries and alliances and corporate conglomerations that “lead,” if that is, indeed, the right word.
Ian Bremmer, in another Time article, (he’s a prolific commentator), dated 27 April, says that “It’s been a busy week for geopolitical meetings. While Western leaders convened in Washington and Korean leaders got together in the demilitarized zone, India’s Narendra Modi headed to the Wuhan province in China to talk with President Xi Jinping for a two-day informal summit beginning Friday. It’s a meeting worth watching: As a new world order takes shape, these two countries go from peripheral players to central drivers.“
He makes two key points:
- A “new world order” is taking shape; and
- Those two countries will be central drivers.
Are China and India “us” or “them?”
They are “us” IF we can comprehend that the membership in “we” and “they” is always in flux. In 1937 almost no one would have said that Germany and Japan were part of the liberal, democratic “we,” now, only 80 years later it is hard to imagine “us” without them. We have to get used to the idea that India is the “world’s greatest (largest) democracy” even though, like America’s, its democracy is flawed. (Canada ranks 7th in terms of “most” democracy, behind Norway, Iceland, Sweden, New Zealand, Denmark and Ireland ~ a drop in standing in the last couple of years.) But, in this graphic, “us” is green and “them” is varying shades of red and orange. But, I repeat, “we” and “they” are constantly changing ~ some countries, even, like Jordan, being less than democratic, are pretty much part of “we.” China is part of “we” in many respects but in some others it is both the leader and the main “cheerleader” for “they.”
So, “us vs. them” is a too narrow definition. There is a political “us vs. them” in which e.g. America and China are pitted against each other; there is an economic “us vs. them” in which China and America are competitors but, broadly, ranged against e.g. the EU and Russia; there is also a social “us vs. them” and here China is, increasingly, “like” the US led West and increasingly at odds with, again juts for example, the countries of the Islamic Crescent.
We need a better matrix within which we, as individuals, may consider “us vs. them” and then elect politicians who will reflect our broader views. It probably needs at least three dimensions: political (x), social (y) and economic (z) … then we can plot out relationships (the plural matters) with any country (point p) and decide how to deal with them. We also need to look back about 160 or more years and remind ourselves that Lord Palmerston is still right:
We must remember that our transient interests are always negotiable, so what are our eternal interests? I have summed them up, before, as political liberty, peace and prosperity. We need to take a selfish and pragmatic view of the world and decide who, which countries and alliances and “coalitions of the willing” and which Canadian political leaders protect and advance our personal political liberty, global peace and Canada’s prosperity.