Post-Trump Crossroads: Deeper Democracy Or A Slide Toward Fascism?
People should not dismiss the meaning of a spate of shocking electoral results, for the world may be entering a period of democratic decline.
BOGOTÁ — Some still seem to be living in the bubble that Donald Trump has just clearly burst. It might be comforting for some to conclude that millions of people have been tricked into voting for a professional con man, just as it was less painful for many to conclude that the results of Brexit or our own Colombian peace referendum were just successful maneuvers by the winning campaigns to exploit voter anger.
There may be some truth to these rationalizations, the painful reality is that the election results were mostly driven by a deep and durable anger across society. Looking beyond the polls and usual cast of pundits, and you can see some offering a real critique of the times we are currently experiencing. Take, for example, American filmmaker Michael Moore, who anticipated Trump's victory; or the sociologist Karl Polanyi's idea of pendular movements in history, between democratic and anti-democratic phases. It may help us understand what we are going through, as it helped explain the rise of fascism in the 1930s.
Moore predicted almost to the letter how and where Trump would rise. Because he saw what the world's pollsters and political progressives could not because they live in what he called a "bubble that comes with an adjoining echo chamber."
Those democracies controlled by economic elites and political dynasties (the Clintons, Bushes, Wall Street and established political parties) have excluded millions, whose rage exploded in the recent elections. The "angry vote" in the United States belonged to the unemployed white men and women of the Midwest. They gave Trump the presidency to avenge themselves of an establishment that had promised that globalization would one day give them back the jobs lost to trade and outsourcing. Those who voted for Trump included people, not necessarily economic victims, but who were nevertheless sickened by the deceit of professional politicians like Hillary Clinton.
So, the citizens of the world's most powerful democracy have voted for an anti-democratic candidate, or as Moore put it on Twitter, like the Britons who voted to leave the European Union, the Americans have "voted to leave America."
Unpacking the ideas of Polanyi, we wind up reaching another painful conclusion. Trump's rise may represent the end of one period and start of another, whose symptoms include the rise of a wave of "illiberal democracies" headed by people like Russia's Vladimir Putin, Philippines' Rodrigo Duterte, Narendra Modi in India, Hungary's Viktor Orban, Turkey's Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro and xenophobic parties across Europe.
This would spell the end of the dominance of globalizing liberalism that began in 1989, with all the good and the bad it has brought — and the pendulum swings squarely in the opposite direction. Trump's most loyal voters, we should recall, were white men resentful of the rise of women, migrants, blacks, LGBT and other, historically discriminated groups.
We are at a crossroads, as Polanyi would say: one direction leads us toward deeper democracy and the other, toward fascism. To find the better way, the first move is to leave the bubble for good.