A Global Crisis?


The U.S elections have drawn to a close in a frantic finale. Donald Trump is president of the United States of America. The nature of the election, characterised by vicious tribalist politics, sexism, racism, allegations of corruption, lies, poisonous rhetoric and disturbing violence has been an affront to democratic tradition and process. 

 The election campaign which has preceded the final vote has done significant damage to the reputation and identity of Western politics. Donald Trump's  triumph lies not in becoming president. While it is a catastrophic result which will change the face of the United States, his victory is rooted in bringing the politics of rage and hatred into mainstream politics and exposing the failings of the political hierarchy unable to cope with the seismic socio-economic and demographic changes occurring across the face of the planet. Many of these changes facing policymaker and politician alike are unprecedented and unavoidable as demonstrated by the ascension of globalisation, environmental change, technological revolution, cyber warfare, food and water scarcity, the exhaustion of natural resources, mass migration, hyper-terrorism, and mass surveillance wedded to a permanent state of irregular warfare. Many of these unpredictable forces, changes and threats are difficult for conventional states to control.  

These contemporary challenges have reopened older impulses such as xenophobia, discrimination, racism, and ethnic and genocidal violence while the proliferation of nuclear and biological weapons, political upheaval, miseducation, destabilising regional conflicts, and a surge in arms races across unstable regions threatens global order like never before. The idolisation of celebrities and super wealthy and the digital revolution has led to a surge in entitlement and changed how we interact and communicate. We are the generation that wants it all. Instant communication, instant coffee, instant social media, instant gratification, instant pleasure, instant solutions, instant shopping, instant policy, instant news, instant happiness packaged and tied with a ribbon, instant responses, instant transactions, instant economic prosperity, instant information without necessary context, knowledge and wisdom, instant wars, instant access, instant wealth, instant delivery, instant benefits at the gym, instant fame, instant success, and instant insanity. 

Granted, I cannot wait for the day when the book Drones and Targeted Killings: Legal, Moral and Geopolitical Issues can be instantaneously delivered to my doorstep by a drone in an Amazon package. There are wonderful things that we do with technology now and it is a tool which can and will be used for good. However, the wider struggle to balance technological advancement with human authenticity is one of the great questions of our time. The instantaneity of everything seems to have overwhelmed every aspect of human existence whether it be individually, educationally, culturally, socially, economically, politically, and institutionally. Healthy change and processes comes with balance, time, and cultivation. The rapid socio-economic and political change being witnessed has occurred at an almost unnatural speed, unparalleled in human history and with enormous reverberations if balance and order is not regarded. 

It is little coincidence that Trump speaks for many (not all) who feel economically dislocated. 'Even before the financial crash in 2008, for tens of millions of working-class Americans, things were heading in the wrong direction, and fast. Their real incomes had fallen; their access to pensions, to paid sick leave, to affordable medical coverage, to reasonably priced higher eduction for their children had collapsed; their debts had soared; and their chances of climbing the socio-economic ladder had become ever more remote. This was partly a product of globalisation, with manufacturing jobs lost to developing countries'. He is not the first person or organisation to exploit this global disaffection and disenchantment with the current order and speak for those who feel left behind or left out. 

Donald Trump is not the solution though. Donald Trump is instant coffee. Commodified, packaged, wealthy, a recognisable brand, apparently a quick fix solution to all America's problems, lacks substance, and is missing the key ingredients and time it takes to make a good hot beverage. Like instant coffee, Trump sounds great at first but he leaves a bad taste and will ultimately not bring relief to the American people who are tired with the current political gridlock in Washington, a political system US Secretary of State John Kerry described as "embarrassing" and dominated by the wealthy.

Trump is deceptively straightforward and bluntly simplifies a world which is, and always has been, immensely complex. "Ban Muslims", "blame immigrants", "blame Obama", "blame Mexico", "climate change does not exist", "build a wall", "blame Wall Street", "blame China", "blame globalisation", "blame the establishment", "bomb ISIS", "Oil!", "Iraq!", "the election's rigged" and "Make America Great Again!". The Trump Team manipulates and distorts current international and domestic issues and crises and scapegoats those who protest to promote a brand of violent, reactive, backward politics. He says what people want to hear (half-truths, gossip, someone to blame, and outright lies), not what they need to hear (explanations, history, science, policy, and research). Trump does not present solutions or policy, he promotes a black and white prism through which to view the world. He takes the very easy route and his theatrics and unconventional statements gloss over the emptiness behind his message.

Listening to Trump is like watching Michael Bay's Transformers saga, a monstrous blitz of explosions, lazy special effects, product placement, violence, and the inappropriate stereotyping of minorities and women.  What is critically absent is story, themes, lessons, and the high-quality team-work, direction and leadership needed to produce originality. As long as there are theatrics and loud noises it does not matter for some. This brand of populist and anti-establishment politics has infected Western democracy. Good coffee, good films, good wine, quality friendships, quality relationships, quality work, quality education, developing wisdom and knowledge, like quality political, social and economic solutions, take time and patience to nurture and produce. Most people do not seem to have patience or time for that anymore in the age of Instant Expectations. Trumpism, a very modern phenomenon, is everything that is wrong with our politics and a reflection of the darker forces of the 21st century and 20th century, a fusion of the worst excesses of old and new. 

Trumpism is a noxious, terrifying blend of the worst aspects of modern celebrity culture wedded to authoritarian, racist and xenophobic rhetoric.  However, the exceptionalism, populism, "us versus them", sectarianism, religious extremism, racism and nationalism being unabashedly flaunted in Britain, many countries across Europe and the Middle East at the moment proves that Trumpism is not an anomaly. This is the depressing state of politics at the moment. The emergence of individuals such as Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage, and Geert Wilders, the growing power of Putinism, Corbynism, and Trumpism, and the rise of ISIS and other anti-establishment forces across the spectrum are signs of a worsening global crisis. Hilary Clinton, while certainly the preferable candidate to Trump, is far from perfect and for many is the the symbol of the establishment, an unwillingness to innovate, adapt and change its ways, a voice which is untrustworthy and speaks for a small clique. These are half-truths, truths and myths which are being ruthlessly exploited and manipulated by Trump and the West's political rivals across the world.

To onlookers, Clinton and Trump symbolise a lack of imagination and an inability to adapt to a fast-changing world. It is either maintaining an unsustainable status quo or relapsing into violence, hatred, excess, ignorance, xenophobia and worst aspects which have defined humanity over the centuries. At face-value, both options are unappealing for the majority of people who are desperate to find the middle-ground and compromise which will navigate us through these difficult times. 

Is it any better closer to home? In Britain, many have been deeply angered by the headlines splashed across the morning papers throughout Brexit and post-Brexit Britain. The grotesque headlines such as "The Enemies of People" from The Daily Mail or "Loaded Foreign Elite Defy the Will of the British People" from The Sun or "Three Judges Blocked Brexit, Now Your Country Really Needs You" by The Daily Express, and the infamous "Breaking Point" poster conjured up by Farage during the Brexit campaign which led to the death of an MP are a few examples of how regression in political thought is making headlines across Europe.  How did it come to this? How did so many mainstream media outlets, commentators, and politicians begin to unabashedly lie, smear, threaten and slander the opposition so horrendously (whether it be on social media or in the morning paper) and decide to return to using rhetoric commonly seen in the 1930s and 1940s?

"The will of the people!" in Brexit Britain is a slogan no better than "Make America Great Again!" at a Donald Trump rally. They are statements designed to whip up passion and populist violence and promote unchecked patriotism and nationalism and degrade the historical constitutions and processes which make our democracies function. They are statements which create a powerful emotional connection with an audience but lack logic and credibility. 

I get it. "Brexit means Brexit." I voted to remain and I am disappointed and worried by the results of the referendum. Who knows? Perhaps people who voted for Brexit may prove me and others wrong and conjure up a policy that eases the social, political and economic consequences that comes with historic decisions. Yet my disappointment does not give me the license to spread hatred online and degrade people who voted in favour of departing the European Union (even if a viable exit plan from the EU was lacking (but never mind that because Britain now has an "Independence Day".)). Nor does it give Brexiters, British Eurosceptics, pro-Brexit media and their people the license to threaten judges, intimidate citizens, dehumanise migrants and refugees, commit hate crimes, promote racism and send threats of death and sexual violence to individuals. The decline in civility is alarming.  

This decline in civility and the resurgence of backward ideologies across the globe is a symptom of dysfunction, a rotten system in dire need of repair, a failure of the imagination and central politics, the failure of the political elite, and a wider challenge which must be faced by the current generation and future ones. Globalisation, while inevitable, is unsustainable in its current form. The triumph of the far-right and far-left and the seemingly unstoppable march of resurgent extremism has shed light on these numerous issues. Whether Western states and the reeling middle ground has the time, capacity, and will to challenge these issues is another matter. 

In these uncertain times, it is easy to become sceptical and pessimistic about humanity's prospects. The global community faces catastrophic climate change, the prospect of climate refugees, water shortages, over-population in urban areas, major divides between rich and poor, disease, potential mass-starvation and famine, resource wars, unending war in the Middle East and more. While man has made extraordinary advances in the 20th and 21st century, the last twenty-five years and in-particular 2016 has sharply reminded us of how far we have to go and how easily all our gains could unravel. 

Do we have the will to harness the intellectual and physical resources and the unprecedented wealth of information, knowledge and wisdom now available to solve climate change, global hunger, disease and make more breakthroughs in technology and science? Do we have the ability to transcend petty tribalist politics to create better solar technology, higher quality of life, nuclear fusion, cryogenic sleep, medical advancement and pave the way for opportunities to  further explore space? These questions are gradually being answered, but are being hampered by immediate concerns, lack of funding and short-termist thinking across the political spectrum.

What I fear the most for the planet and our species is stagnation, wasted potential, an inability to push beyond our deeper impulses, check our human flaws, learn from past mistakes, a determined unwillingness to change, and to fall back into rhetoric and actions which produced the bloodiest century in human history. That our civilisation is perhaps destined to become ungovernable, that entire areas of the planet with flourishing ecosystems are destined to become completely uninhabitable, that we may live behind fences of hyper-security while the world burns, and that we may be consigned to mass civil unrest and permanent instability is a bleak prospect. To watch a civilisation slowly die, limp on, barely survive, and exhaust itself rather than thrive would be the greatest failure. 

 A utopian society wrapped in ideals is impossible and dangerous. Mankind seems to use crisis to expand, learn, grow and adapt. Where there are humans, there will be struggle, violence and politics.  Nevertheless, proactively tackling the 21st century crisis, our global crisis as a collective and doing so through innovation, diplomacy, compromise and practical policy and nurturing new perspectives and ways of learning will ensure our progress as a civilisation and a species. Resisting these necessary changes may destroy us eventually. Embracing change and new perspectives will be our salvation. 

Matthew Williams