Trump And The World

The Rise Of Trump And The Fall Of Representative Democracy

Trump supporters in the sunset
Trump supporters in the sunset
Contardo Calligaris


I want to avoid all possible misunderstandings so I'll go straight to the point: I believe Donald Trump's victory was the effect of an irreversible decline of representative democracy as a viable system of government.

What leads me to this conclusion is not my antipathy towards the campaign that led him to victory, nor my fears of what a Trump presidency will look like. Trump doesn't symbolize a crisis of representative democracy because he's a "sinister" or worrying choice for the top job, but rather because of the kind of candidate he was. True, he ran as a Republican, and with the (partial) support of the party, but he was in fact a candidate who broke the mold.

Most of his policy plans look like they're straight out of the bartender's joke book, and say what the everyman might think under the "right" circumstances. Say the neighbor upstairs starts playing loud mariachi music. The average Joe goes: "These damn Mexicans, why don't they stay in their own country?" And Trump responds: "Let's build a wall!"

Everybody laughs and approves, and it becomes part of his policy plan. This is not to even mention how he speaks about women. Trump can be aggressive and vulgar, but he's not a man of conviction. And even if he ends up doing only a fraction of what he has promised, I'd rather have somebody else as president than a specialist in off-color jokes, if only to avoid the risk that he might do whatever gets a reaction from people sitting at the bar.

But let me come back to my question: How did Trump win the support of half the American citizenry?

The answer starts with the fact that the presidency wasn't the only election on the ballot on Nov. 8. In several states, people were also asked to vote on various proposed pieces of legislation. In some cases, the choice for the presidency seems to correspond to these referendum results. In the mostly Democratic states of California, Nevada and Massachusetts, Clinton won, while a majority of voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana — an expected outcome from Democratic voters. In other words, if the decision had been left to the states, the Democratic elected representatives would, presumably, also have approved the legalization of marijuana.

Out of the box

But the same California rejected another initiative, that to repeal the death penalty. This implies that at least part of those who chose to vote for Hillary Clinton and for the legalization of recreational marijuana also voted to maintain the death penalty. Here, if it had been up to the state legislators, the result would have been different: They probably would have banned the death penalty.

In short, the referendum results reveal that the will of the voters wouldn't be respected adequately if they simply elected representatives from one party or another.

Similarly, in Brazil, you could be in favor of the death penalty and opposed to gun control, and be happy with the few representatives who are advocates of self-defense. Unless you're also for the legalization of marijuana, the decriminalization of abortion and for gay marriage, in which case you won't find your match anywhere.

People can be conservative on the economy without being conservative regarding social issues. And vice versa.

What these U.S. referendums and election results show is that voters are no longer eager to identify with a single set of ideas from a candidate, least of all from a party, Democratic or Republican.

Perhaps it's now time for our democracies to evolve towards a system in which voters would be permanently consulted on concrete issues, without asking them to choose representatives, whose monolithicity and coherence will always appear imperfect to an electorate that can be complex and impossible to categorize.

Since the 1960s, our individuality has grown to take on greater importance than the values parties and organized groups can ever manage to embody. This trend has quietly continued over time, but it took Trump's candidacy to expose it to the world.

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Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

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