I return to Terri-Stories after quite a break, during what was quite an intense—and some might say calamitous— political and cultural period within my home nation-state (the USA). I can honestly say that I never saw an election quite like this, what with the Republican candidate surviving instance after instance of shameful statements and leaks that in previous elections cycles would have been seen as catastrophic gaffes that would have ended his candidacy—and yet he prevailed. I had never seen a national candidate jokingly request the aid of foreign hackers—and still win. I honestly remain a bit stupefied that a candidate who relentlessly flouted basic norms of civil behavior, routinely spouted out vague statements that only rarely announced anything resembling concrete policies, who seemed to me to lose embarrassingly in all three national debates, and who was consistently divisive in his language, actually won.
While many factors led to Clinton’s loss (e.g., a very uninspiring Vice-Presidential candidate in Tim Kaine; a bewilderingly unethical reopening of an already over-blown investigation into Clinton’s email server when Secretary of State, initiated (against FBI protocols about not disrupting elections) by the FBI Director just days before the election; Trump’s campaign’s very savvy (ab)use of social media platforms to spread false news claims and campaign talking points; and, I think most significantly, lingering fallout from the bruising populist campaign of Independent-turned-Democrat Bernie Sanders, who relentlessly delegitimized Clinton as a corporatist puppet and who systematically discredited the very DNC that was being hacked by foreign hacking teams, and who inspired many of his most fervent supporters, the “Bernie Bros,” to loudly claim they would rather stay home than vote for Clinton), it seems to me that one of the most significant factors is a populist reaction against what we might call neoliberalism. (I am of course hardly the first to note this.) In an era of massive and unseemly income inequality (which seems, by the way, only to have grown under Obama), there seems to be a massive reaction against two key principles of globalism—the constant expansion of the freeing up of the flow of capital (through more and different kinds of “free trade” agreements, and the related expansion of the freer flow of people (in the form of more immigration).
That reactions against globalism are key to Clinton’s loss should be evident from the fact that it was Sanders’ populist campaign that so thoroughly undermined her candidacy. The massively large crowds attending Sanders’ rallies were driven by many of the same hostilities towards free-trade that energized Trump crowds. (By the way, although I don’t like to indulge in hypothetical scenarios [usually because such thinking can go on ad infinitum], I do think that, had Clinton been sensible enough to recognize that Sanders’ support was due to an anti-globalist Zeitgeist, she probably would have trounced Trump had she selected him as her Vice-Presidential candidate. If the Democratic Party wants to win future elections, it should probably advise future winners of the primary to strongly consider uniting their electorate by choosing any candidate who came in a very strong second place…)
Anti-globalist reactions in the form of nationalist and nativist movements (about which I have written numerous times on this blog) have become so alarmingly frequent these days that some political and economic analysts are warning that global anger is alarmingly similar to the global mood before World War I. As Ana Swanson shows in her excellent Washington Post article on the subject, Citing a Deutsche Asset Management article by Josh Feinman, Swanson discusses the ways in which globalization can be seen as “cyclical,” with what are clearly nationalist forces pushing back in fierce patterns. With successful hard-right-wing movements now in the US, Japan, Turkey, the Philippines, and elsewhere, with the success of the anti-immigrant, nationalist Brexit movement in the UK, with many anti-immigrant voices rising within EU countries, with strong right-wing voices rising in France, the Netherlands, Russia, and elsewhere, the world is looking very much like one where resistance to globalism is taking unfortunate form in inward-looking, intolerant nativist movements.
I do hope that things do become calmer soon. As someone who is fascinated by the history of nationalism—and so understandably wary of its peculiar power— I worry that there is way too much hardening of state and cultural lines these days.
I am a bit skeptical about some of the parallels discussed by Swanson, by the way. While it is interesting to think of an earlier globalist period predating World War I, I do think the rise of the digital age has made the massive expansion of markets of a fundamentally different kind from the earlier expansion. While telegraphs, for example, surely connected people, we are now in a world where technologies such as video-conferencing and electronic currency transfers have not just lessened, but in some ways actually destroyed, distance as a model. I am not sure if this fundamentally changes things, but it does make the ideas of retrenchment behind national economic lines so obviously self-defeating as to force the most xenophobic demagogues to be shunned by others (no one, I think, is going to want to keep Amazon or Apple utterly contained to a single state).
As we enter the strange new world of a Trump-helmed America, I will be keen on seeing whether this tension between nationalism and globalism becomes exacerbated in our public discourse, or if—and I suspect this will more likely be the case, as Trump walks back most of his most provocative claims and promises, since any businessperson needs stability and the status quo for real profits to be maintained—it will fade back into a less alarming patterns.