Let’s be aware of the fact that Donald Trump is the catalyst of the mounting tensions in the world, and not so much the cause of it. Here are some challenges. In the first place it is very important that the simplifying right and the veritable left will start a conversation, in spite of mutual denunciations. Why? Because both extremes of the political spectrum understand that we as citizens are loosing our grip on our circumstances as a result of the ongoing globalisation, and that something fundamental needs to be done about this.
Europe should talk to Russia, preferably today instead of tomorrow. The choice is between putting still more weaponry into play, having nato still closer to Russia and heading for war, or letting diplomacy do its job and preparing the ground for disarmament-conferences.
We don’t need nato for that, quite the opposite. The us have not yet become a totalitarian state, but the human rights and the fundamental principles of the rule of law – and of civilisation – are under pressure there. For Europe this is even more reason not to let that happen here. And if the elections of November 8, 2016 in the us have been fraudulent, an impeachment of Trump will not help to restore legitimacy to the us government. Wouldn’t new elections make more sense? Without a civil war?
My friends and I, and all people who have experienced a similar shock as a result of the election of Trump, have to find our way in a tough and dangerous world which is unfamiliar to us, but wíth our values which have remained unchanged. That is the reason for this essay: an attempt to make the best of it. Read full text of this booklet in pdf-format.
- The world in which we live is too complex
- We have to bring trade under democratic control
- Curb globalisation: a dialogue between the veritable left and the simplifying right
- Peace in our time?
- A president with messy moral standards
- Bitter tears, bon courage
After November 8, 2016, I have occasionally thought that the governments of civilised nations should recall their ambassadors from the United States, for consultation as it is called; I’d rather say for consideration. Thus far that recall did of course not happen, but consideration is more than ever necessary. After one year it is abundantly clear that Donald Trump’s government has not left relations within the us and the rest of the world untouched.
Obviously, us citizens must set their own course, but as residents of all corners of the world we have to consider what this Trump is doing. Let me mention in this essay a few points that we have to think about. What can we still expect, what have we already seen, how did that affect us, and how can we respond appropriately?
The world in which we live is too complex
It is beyond any doubt: for many citizens life in the second decade of the twenty-first century is difficult. Many are burdened with debt. In the United States and, for example, in Spain, residents can be evicted from their homes at any time. The chance that people will find a decently paid job is decreasing. Long-term unemployment is rather rule than exception. Industries are disappearing. Many suburbs need proper maintenance, but it’s not happening, and the police there will not always be seen as your best friend. Worst of all perhaps is that the social safety nets, which have helped people through difficult times in their lives, are becoming increasingly wide-meshed. You often are on your own, in an environment in which you suspect – or are convinced – that immigrants are driving you out of the housing and job market, and have easier access to social services. The neighbourhood in which you live has less social cohesion than before, and mutual trust is gone.
Daily life has almost no certainties anymore. Of course we do not know this precisely, but the shaming of the political elite that is the order of the day may have something to do with this. After all, is it not the responsibility of politics to provide citizens with a safe and secure existence?
When we think about this, some paradoxes stand out. First of all, there is hardly any anger directed at the business establishment. The leaders of big companies always claim to be the true leaders of the free world, but if something goes wrong in society – and that is really the case now – they are not held responsible.
Secondly, by confronting the political elites angry citizens make it abundantly clear that they expect a lot of care from the government. Despite decades of neoliberalism – which advocated the perishing of the state – for many citizens the state still seems to be the entity that needs to keep society in order.
We have to bring trade under democratic control
If we realise that the escalating economic, cultural and social globalisation has brought us too few blessings, the question is what we need to do, and especially what we can do nów. First of all we have to think about the abundance of trade treaties between individual countries – there are thousands of them – and between groups of countries in certain regions – think of nafta, ceta, the formerly intended tpp, ttip, and indeed the European Union –, and about what is governing them at a global level, such as the World Trade Organisation (wto). In principle, all those treaties have to be revised radically.
However, before we come to this, we need to acknowledge that generally it is beneficial that such treaties are aimed at reducing (further) import and export taxes. But that should not be overdone: countries have the right to protect certain sectors of their economy, perhaps only for a certain period of time. It is also useful if such treaties contribute to the joint determination
of industrial standards, even though small differences are not insurmountable. But after that, the problems come.
Let’s start with the bilateral and regional trade treaties. What is necessary now and in the future is that such trade agreements are being formulated in such a way that they put an end to matters such as tax dumping, environmental degradation, the enormous size and complexity of corporations, and social exploitation. So far, all those trade treaties are silent about the protection of what is of vital importance for citizens and their society – now and in the future. Therefore, those treaties must be renegotiated, reformulated and concluded again. Indeed, that is a hell of a job, which can only succeed if two conditions are met. First, lawyers, economists and social scientists at universities – and scientists at technical and agricultural universities as well – need to set up major research programs to consider how the transition will unfold from the current trade treaties, which undermine democracy and hurt citizens, to trade treaties
that serve the interests of these citizens, bringing democracy and market to a good balance.
Secondly, one can imagine that such radical changes can only take shape if substantial sections of the population are committed to this, persistently and well-considered. Perhaps what is being proposed here is not a far-off-their-bed show for the simplifying right. And why could reforming the trade relations between countries – which would bring back national priorities to citizens – not be the basis for alliances between what is called the populist right – what I have previously referred to as the simplifying right – and a from its neoliberal bent returning left? I’ll get back to that.
Curb globalisation: a dialogue between the veritable left and the simplifying right
When we look at the present global ideological and economic battlefield, two roads are open. The first is continuing on the path of ongoing neoliberal globalisation, deregulation of markets, further privatisation of public services and facilities, and leaving the global economic playing field to transnational companies that regard themselves as global governments rather than as serving the public good.
The completely opposite option is breaking with this, recognizing that democracy can never get a grip on what is happening at the global level, and bringing back important decisions for the daily lives of people to the levels which are familiar to them: the national state and the local community in which they live. We have to acknowledge that, under the conditions of unrestrained lobalisatiogn, the countries of the European Union and other parts of the world can not provide the protection that people need. From the previous chapters it will be clear that I opt for this last possibility: it is better to consider neoliberalism as an aberration, and to bring corporations as quickly as possible back into society, instead of letting them think they are the masters of the universe.
In order to achieve this radical change, a broad coalition is needed among populations.
Peace in our time?
In Europe we are at a loss: the us nuclear control button is in the hands of an impulsive president. Impulsivity is generally not conducive to the establishment of stable relationships in the world. If it concerns a weapon of mass destruction, there are reasons to be anxious. Just to reassure the reader: initially the president does not decide on his own; he has to go through some reviews, but in the end it is he who decides, and the whole process of decision-making barely takes a few minutes.
In order to make the complications even bigger: the relations with Israel are very cordial under a Trump-government. Israel has not yet abandoned the idea that the nuclear agreement with Iran is null and void, and should be undone. It seems that Trump endorses Israel in this, or at least wants to renegotiate the agreement. You don’t have to be a stranger in Jerusalem to realise that all the ingredients are in place for escalating tensions between the United States and Israel on the one hand and Iran on the other. In this scenario, an atomic bomb may also occur.
The problem is that the European Union as a whole and the European countries individually barely count on the world stage.
A president with messy moral standards
We live in astonishing times. Donald Trump’s government exists of mostly elderly white men – we did not expect otherwise – who together have at least $35 billion, although I’m afraid I’ve lost count and it could even be more. It is astonishing that the people who voted for the new president of the United States see absolutely no problem in this accumulation of capital, even if most of them experience very little perspective in life themselves.
It is also astonishing that someone who has to bind together the population of a country and give the world confidence, is unable to feel compassion and to exert self-control, does not have a sense of balance, spits out hate, acts out of revenge, is surrounded by people with a limited look at the world, denies opponents the right to speak and excludes them, flirts with racism, xenophobia, sexism and narcissism, makes people anxious and demonises other people, calls journalists liars, is hardly able to distinguish his business interests from his public duties, does not wish to acknowledge the separation of powers that the Constitution dictates, calls elections raudulent that do not seem to benefit him, gives religion a prominent place except Islam, dismantles social structures and undermines the power of the democratic system. America First is his motto… but what are the United States these days? I would say: an ordinary country, just like any other country with its problems and possibilities, only with the bygone illusion that it is the most powerful country in the world, and a nation chosen by God.
Make America Great Again. That’s not what Dwight D. Eisenhower meant in his farewell speech as president in 1961.
Bitter tears, bon courage
There is more on the horizon than only Trump, and it is all the more dangerous. Almost every morning we wake up with what he has said or tweeted the night before, and we go to bed with what he has said or tweeted during the day. Much of what he is doing creates a lot of uncertainty. It is no coincidence that since his arrival the word ‘war’ does not sound as something from a distant past anymore.
Still we should not let ourselves be blinded by his innermost feelings. The world is ravaged by phenomena which are at least as dangerous as Trump. In the first place we should mention Rupert Murdoch, the kingmaker. His media-empire, with television channel Fox at the front, is influencing the way people think and the choices many politicians make. The many hours that Trump spends watching Fox News has deep consequences for his political posturing.
In this context it is a big problem that competition law and the American anti-trust policy have been almost completely put to sleep by neoliberalism. In the second chapter I mentioned that these instruments should be used much more actively. It turns out that the domain of the media is where the (re-) activation of competition law and the anti-trust policy is most necessary.
It is a big threat for democracy if one media-conglomerate disproportionately influences the political, social, economic and cultural debate, as well as the whole of public opinion about essential issues.
Joost Smiers is emeritus professor of political science at the Utrecht University of the Arts. With John Huige and Pieter Pekelharing he is the author of Power of the big corporations. Towards a fair international economy (Van Gennep 2016). He is preparing a publication about Zwerflawaai (Roaming noise) and other unwanted sounds.
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