Trump against globalisation
Is it true that there is a new anti-globalisation trend, the calls to which emerged following the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Soviet Union, and that the election of Donald Trump as US president is neither the first or last manifestation of this trend?
This question has become increasingly urgent in light of the growing strength of ultra right parties in Western Europe during the past few years and the fact that all these parties subscribe to a set of ideas that run counter to the major trends and symbols of globalisation, from the movement of people and movement of trade to the institutions that embody it. In general, the ideas of the ultra right on the role of the state in the economy and society no longer converge with those of globalisation or the ideas familiarly associated with the international order and especially its hallmark: Free trade. In fact, the outlooks of the ultra right have turned sharply in the opposite direction: Towards isolationism, recoiling into the shell of the nation state. This inward reorientation is accompanied by a great deal of wariness towards other countries, including those that have gathered in the same alliances, blocs or other transnational entities.
It was not long before these new trends began to assume concrete form, as in the British drive to leave the EU, known as Brexit. In the US, the election of Trump was much more than the victory of a president parading beneath a right wing banner. It was part of a larger, more comprehensive phenomenon that we might call “Amerexit”. But whether we speak of its British and American editions, the right wing anti-globalisation movement expresses a widespread rejection of global and supranational organisations that impose a certain type of bureaucracy and interplay that wealthy, predominantly white, societies regard as unfair. Moreover, this is not just a drive way from economic globalisation. It has also manifested itself in the exit from international organisations, as Russia did recently when it announced its decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC), urging other countries to do the same.
The anti-globalisation trend sparked widespread interest and concern since the change that occurred in the US, in particular, which is amazing since the US has long been a symbol, in its own right, of the ideas of globalisation. The country, itself, is an exercise in globalisation as it was essentially built on immigration, which made it a kind of “Noah’s Ark” that brought on board human beings from all parts of the world. In addition, the US had always been a powerful advocate of free trade. It was a driving force behind the creation of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and it pressured other countries in various ways to abandon ideas and practices that isolated them from the global economy and world market. Some analysts believe that the collapse of the Soviet Union was essentially due to the pressures of globalisation that the socialist state could not sustain. They also maintain that even if a similar collapse did not occur in China, its alternative emerged in the form of a comprehensive shift towards the market economy and assimilation into the global market, to the point of joining the WTO. The US was undoubtedly the mainspring of modern developments in the transnational and intercontinental system of production. Whether we speak of the spread of knowledge or information systems, what we refer to as the third and fourth technological revolutions were based on what was produced by universities and laboratories in the US. In sum, the US had become the model for the processes of assimilation, integration and diversity in the world at the country, regional and even global level when we consider such worldwide activities and functions from the airline industry, postal services and communications to tourism, trade and the fight against terrorism.
Yet, it appears that the anti-globalisation phenomenon has taken root within the most globalised countries in the world.
This can be understood in the context of the “dialectic” of global evolution whereby a particular phenomenon always gives birth to its own antithesis. In this case, that antithesis derives from the fact that the rates and fruits of development and change are not distributed geographically or across different social, political and economic components with a sufficient degree of evenness and equitableness. The fact is that Donald Trump could never have succeeded had it not been for that transformation in the “swing” states, such as Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Wisconsin. These are the states that make up the so-called “rust belt.” They have remained strongly dependent on traditional heavy industries and least to the instruments and means of the more recent industrial revolutions. In contrast, the demonstrations that erupted in the US after the elections and in protest to the Trump victory came from the more technologically and economically globalised states against which the least globalised states rebelled. In a sense, the demonstrations voiced the anger of “Silicon Valley” against the heavy steel and automotive industrial complexes that won the elections. What this signifies is that the United States of America is no longer “united” in terms of the harmony between degrees of industrial and technological development or “American” because of the determination of the least educated white classes of society to monopolise the definition of what it means to be American.
If the foregoing analysis is correct, then most probably “Brexit” and “Amerexit” are transient phenomena that manifest a moment in which the new and modern clashed with the old and traditional. In like manner, the similar phenomena that are on the rise in France, Austria and Italy and that have reared their heads in other European countries, whether echoing the British exit from the EU or calling for a withdrawal from the new rules of the global market, are a necessary moment in a long historical process. History has demonstrated that all major revolutions in the history of mankind did not conclude with an overwhelming and definitive victory over all that preceded them. There were always various degrees of tension and conflict and even coexistence, sometimes, until there came a phase in which the old withered away or melded into the new.
Perhaps the problem in our modern era is that history is unfolding so rapidly before the eyes of all mankind. We could hear and see the British right as it campaigned for and then celebrated its victory in the Brexit referendum. The American elections played out on a global stage. Millions of people around the world were riveted on their television screens watching the debates between Trump and Clinton. In fact, maybe there is some inspiration to be found in the fact that Clinton won the popular vote while Trump won the Electoral College vote.
The other problem is that every phase of historical evolution comes at a price, and this might not just be exacted by the ballot box but also by recourse to arms. At one point, opposition to globalisation was expressed in the violence of radical terrorist trends that targeted virtually all modern societies. Right now, the manifestations of the contradictions within modern societies themselves are asserting themselves powerfully. When the two forms of anti-globalisation converge in a single historical period, the costs are twofold. On top of this, consider that Trump’s electoral platform not only included expelling Latin American immigrants and banning Muslims from entering the US but also a sharp increase of up to 20 per cent in defence spending bringing the US military budget up to $700 billion in 2017. With this, of course, will come a huge increase in the size of US forces and their destructive capacities. Does not all this tell us that we have arrived at an ominous moment in the history of mankind?
The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.