As the unification of retail and investment banking has hastened the gap between rich and poor, the internet and digital communication has hastened our transmogrification into gangs of like-minded, wordy hooligans – haranguing dissenters. It’s been going on for a while; we are only just noticing it now – another benefit of the internet, it reveals our virtues subtly and our faults with pyrotechnic accompaniment. We watch the “comedia grottesco” slavishly. We are all of us becoming populists and this is manifest in our elected officials. The citizens of the United States of America have inaugurated their newest President, Donald J. Trump. His ascension to the highest office in the US is a fine example of the public’s perceived populist leanings and the evaporation of our collective respect for intellect and pragmatism.
Appropriately, while missing both the meaning and the symbolism of the song, Mr. Trump and his wife’s first dance as President and First Lady was to Sinatra’s: “My Way”. The opening two lines of which are: “And now, the end is near, and so I face, my final curtain.” Some clever boffin in the future will draw a line between this and the end of the Trump Presidency as foreshadow, no matter how it all turns out. Still the irony and absence of understanding didn’t dull the applause. As with those who play “Born in the USA” by Bruce Springsteen to rally the faithful to nationalistic fervour, the actual meaning of the song is secondary to the punchline: “I did it my way – born in the USA.” That this goes unrecognized is irksome, but perhaps symptomatic of the deterioration of understanding.
It is interesting to read the papers/web sites and their coverage on the outcome of the election, the potential future, the accusations of foul play – both foreign and domestic – as the people of the US are currently compelled to ponder what will happen next. While it is likely some of it is true, there seems little to be done about it but to entrench one’s self deeper in the malaise of like-mindedness that permeates public discourse. The hateful rhetoric, the intractable position of one side against the next has set a tone which is very likely not about to fade. There will be no reconciliation between the “right” and “left” in the political sphere – though neither right nor left much resemble what they were in former years, not so very long ago.
The US has embraced populism, or at least many have. They have elected an elitist, potentially tax avoiding billionaire based upon a message aimed at “the common people”. Canada did that a couple of years ago and now, as though having discovered some “special sauce”, a “rich” Canadian business man will run for office to oppose the favoured rich-populist liberal who currently leads Canada. In the UK, anger pushed a hairline vote to leave the EU into a movement where now the seeming inevitability of departure has grown. Despite the need for the Parliament to vote for an Article 50 exit from the European Union, the mood seems likely to continue to favour an end to Britain’s membership in the EU. The left in the UK, under the guidance of a populist will push for Brexit, unless a rebellion (which also seems likely) occurs in the Labour Party. Yet, one would be needed in the Conservative Party too to make a difference. Amongst the Public, both the right and left in Britain, like their “New World” compatriots, are venomous and bile-filled in their opinions. There is no view worth having save the one that cannot be discounted – even with fact. “My view – impenetrable.”
World politics is the same. In the Philippines, Duarte makes Donald J. Trump look like a soft-touch weakling, whose rhetoric is by comparison soothing poems for soft masses. The last President was trying to rein in the “tough-guy” President of the Philippines – before he got any closer to China. No doubt, the new US President will attempt the same. Germany, Italy, and Holland all have their populists – “rightists” – whose views are national and isolationist. It seems the time of the Right to behave badly is on the rise. Canada’s foray into “liberalism” was borne more by dislike of the previous right-leaning Prime Minister than acceptance of the policies of Justin Trudeau – whose policies are destined to bankrupt the country, and who stands alone as the only Canadian Prime Minister to ever be formally investigated by the Ethics Commission. Demagoguery sprinkled with populism might better describe Trudeau and Trump, yet the result is the same. They are shades of a deeper disaffection the public has with truth; fact conflicts with their desire to have their opinions validated. What is bad is done to me, not because of me.
We have sunk, globally, to electing a much lower class of politician. Then, we have sunk as an electorate too. Fewer of us – especially in the West – actually get up off our well-fed backsides and vote. As the internet brought us the convenience of being able to whine from the comfort of our own homes, under a pointed pseudonym or through the formidable reason of a well-selected emoji, we are barely able to articulate a position in a well informed and committed manner; we are no longer of the opinion that we should have to engage in the antiquated act of “going” to a ballot box and damaging the environment by using “paper” to cast our vote. The “Information Age” has been an age of disinformation. We are stupider and more opinionated than we ever have been. Our views are embellished by the “echo-chamber” of like-minded opinion. We are quick to offend and offence. Dare not, in the expression of your opinion, cast doubt or dispersion upon the hallowed opinion of another – especially not while visiting a web site wherein others of similar views should dwell. Speak not of “black” things if you are “white”. Speak not of “LGB” unless you are supportive of “T” and “Q”. Question not the motives of the individual for we are what we “think” ourselves to be and what we think must be respected and must be honoured – in law. To do otherwise is to invite the boundless poison of condemnation. “Stay in your lane.” “Check your privilege.”
Society has changed. One of the discoveries of late has been the old chestnut– if you work hard you will get a good job and a pension – is now bunk. There is a solid argument that this discovery got Donald J. Trump elected. The post-War era bred social programs and perhaps over compensation on the part of governments to provide a welfare state that was ultimately unsustainable in the form they created. They provided too much, and too much was expected. Unions and Management negotiated untenable collective agreements that benefitted the early boomers but was ultimately incapable of providing the same dividends as the developing world matured and globalization became viable. This change in the economies of the world was brought on by the increased acceptance of capitalism, the growth of the free market. The growth of the developing world, raising nations from poverty and backward economies, meant the West faced competition; and, the monopoly they enjoyed in the 50s and 60s began to wane in the 70s. The fading guaranteed markets were harder to gain profit from and others were making good products cheaper. These facts were ignored. Instead of adapting, businesses and unions fought to keep things the same, to fail to change. Behaving in an unchanging manner in a changing world can only lead to destruction. This became evident during the 2000s, when the credit crunch hit. The assumptions of business changed. The realization that pensions, propped up by companies was untenable was demonstrated by no less a company than GM, who was the 3rd largest health care provider in the US at the start of the credit crunch. Yet these failings, the lack of adaptation, these pseudo-charitable distractions from core business, the uncompromising nature of unions, the substandard management of companies and the focusing on shareholder value rather than the health of the companies worked to undermine them; shamefully the blame has been placed on the outsider – the external. The UK suffers because of the EU. The US suffers because of Mexicans and off shore businesses and manufacturing. The outsider is the hated cause of our lack of pensions and profit. A wall will solve our problems. Disconnecting from the wider world will make things better.
While we have greater access to information, we have less use for it. The most hateful term of late is: “The Post Truth era”. For what are we if not what we truthfully are? It seems we are whatever we are willing to say we are. We are what we want. Now, this isn’t true, nor is it factual. Today, facts are not terribly important; or, facts are too important. We eschew belief and faith. We eschew facts. Our intellect has lifted us above the necessity of moral evaluation against a set of “mythical” tenets and traditions; it has caused us to favour only that which can be weighed and measured over the less tangible and harder to quantify, while all the while choosing only those blessed facts which suit our needs. We raise children to be fair and just – to demand honesty and opportunity – then call them “snowflakes” when they confront us with the hypocrisy of the very systems we have allowed to degenerate into machines of favour and privilege, uncompetitive and intransigent. The once grand “free market” has been weighted to favour an ever shrinking group of investment firms and banks, shortening the average life of corporations to 15 years, from 70. “Shareholder value” the grand objective has undermined the corpus, the body, “the corporation”. No longer working toward its own preservation and perpetuation, the corporation can easily source, outsource, and off-shore without a mind for the workforce that were once “employees,” its heart. People belonged, at one time, to a company, a firm. Today, the cheque clears; or, it doesn’t. The corporation is not a thing to be preserved but a thing to be exsanguinated and broken up.
Our individuality and “specialness” has made us expendable to those who once valued people and now value things, and raised our own opinions of ourselves above the very societies we live within. Society should serve me! We no longer accept what we are, our own limitations. It is unfair and wrong that this one has more than that one, regardless of how it might have been attained or what effort expended. We curse “elites” and demand to be led by those “outside” the world of tradition and experience. Yet, the randomness of birth and genes, when it comes together into some admirable formation, is viewed as though it is something which should be lauded and aspired to; when in fact, it is no more than a fortunate merging of chromosomes. With the same click of the mouse we pass over the long considered and laboriously crafted view of kindness and charity, or seek to find its blemish so it might be discredited.
We have and are the world we made.
Our own ignorance and willingness to defer our responsibility has elected Donald Trump, has considered Justin Trudeau a “leader”, has set the UK on the road to exiting the European Union, and given ideologues like Marine LePen a real chance at political office. It is time we woke up and started reading books again. Turn off Facebook. Drop out of our echo chambers. Block the “Brietbarts” and the “OccupyDemocrats” sites and demand real objective news – no editorial without an op-ed, no comment without a rebuttal. We need to take our minds back before they are lost to us forever. The alternative is slavery.