RICHARD ECKERSLEY. The Trump imbroglio: confusion and contradiction everywhere

Feb 8, 2017

Global consumer capitalism, is reducing quality of life: stripping our lives of intrinsic worth and meaning; weakening communities; undermining health and wellbeing; creating grotesque inequities; destroying the natural environment; and undermining our faith in humanity’s future.  

In watching and reading the news on Trump’s presidency, my overwhelming sense is of confusion. Opinions are all over the place, defying any convenient binary division into left and right, good and evil.

I’ve read compelling accounts for and against both Clinton and Trump. Some of the most critical of Clinton (and Obama), and insightful about Trump, have come from the socialist left – because they fall outside mainstream political analysis.

It helps to distinguish between the leaders’ personalities and policies and the political system in which they operate. If you believe the US political system is capable of solving the problems that America (and the world) faces, then voting for Clinton might have been the way to go, given her experience and despite her ties to Wall Street and hawkish approach to foreign relations.

If you don’t believe the current system can deliver, then there were reasons to give Trump a shot, however flawed the man and many of his policies.

My research is to do with progress, and the ways in which it is making life better or worse in terms of quality of life and wellbeing. I have no doubt that change is needed beyond anything our governments contemplate, that modernisation as we know it, especially global consumer capitalism, is reducing quality of life: stripping our lives of intrinsic worth and meaning; weakening communities; undermining health and wellbeing; creating grotesque inequities; destroying the natural environment; and undermining our faith in humanity’s future.

I warned as far back as 2010 that politicians and political analysts were seriously underestimating the depth of people’s disillusion and unease, not just with government and its failure to address their concerns, but about modern life more broadly.

This is the key difference between my perspective and other commentaries on Trump.

Clinton would only have delivered more of the same ‘business as usual’ politics. America would have continued to slide towards the crises and calamities its present path is leading. Obama, for all his grace, dignity and intelligence, only ever believed in incremental policy changes, that ‘the arc of history is long and bends towards justice’. Like him, Clinton would not have challenged the growing power of the global elite.

From this systems perspective, Trump deserves credit for taking on the might of the political establishment – both Democrat and Republican – and beating it; it was an astonishing feat.

I noted in an opinion piece last October that politics and the media defined quite arbitrarily what deserved debate and discussion, and that much that was important was excluded. Debate needed to be widened to embrace topics that had been widely seen to be settled and agreed, on the one hand, and those that had been regarded as too radical, dangerous or ridiculous, on the other.

If Trump achieved this freer, wider debate, I said, we should be grateful. By the first days of his presidency, he has.

Political debate has been blown wide open; previously fixed positions are being questioned and agendas widened everywhere.

The protests against Trump downplay the legitimate causes of popular disaffection to emphasise the illegitimate responses. They embrace the same identity politics, focused on minority interests, that contributed to the Democrats’ election loss and has weakened the left everywhere. Trump’s ‘politics of hate’ may be cruel and his climate change policy mistaken, but progressives should applaud some of his policy positions.

It is the left who despaired at the widely accepted doctrine of TINA: that ‘there is no alternative’ to neoliberalism and globalisation; Trump might provide one. It was generally the left who worried that the Trans Pacific Partnership would further increase the power of global corporations and erode national sovereignty, jeopardising public health and environmental protection; Trump has pulled out, effectively scuppering it.

The radical left often protests at the meetings in Davos of the World Economic Forum, seen as the club of the global elite; Trump snubbed it.

Writing in The Guardian about last month’s World Economic Forum meeting, Larry Elliott says that the manner in which Trump won the US election, tapping into deep-seated anger about the unfair distribution of the spoils of economic growth, has been noted. There is talk in Davos of the need to ensure that globalisation works for everyone.

Elliott says that Klaus Schwab, the man who founded the WEF, warned as long ago as 1996 that globalisation faced a mounting backlash against its effects. His warning was not heeded. ‘There was no real attempt to make globalisation work for everyone. Communities affected by the export of jobs to countries where labour was cheaper were left to rot. The rewards of growth went disproportionately to a privileged few.’

The Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, in a marked shift in political rhetoric , is now acknowledging that, despite 25 years of economic growth, in many parts of Australia ‘times are not so good’.

So in these respects Trump, along with other so-called populists, has achieved what the progressive left could not. And if, as his critics claim, he is really intent on further entrenching and concentrating wealth, privilege and power, then, as the current wave of political protest and mobilisation demonstrates, he will provoke even more public outrage and so re-invigorate democracy.

If Trump precipitates a crisis of political legitimacy in the US and other Western democracies, it is what we need.

Richard Eckersley researches progress and wellbeing:

Eckersley, R. 2016.The Trump imbroglio: confusion and contradiction everywhere. Canberra Times, 3 February.


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