Saturday, November 19, 2016

Remarks to Panel “The Rise of Trumpism” Brock University 17NOV16

The Rise of Trumpism: what happened and what’s next?

The election of Donald Trump to the US presidency was unexpected by most professors of political science — in the United States from Berkeley to Columbia, and indeed in Canada from our McGill to York to UBC. It was unexpected by professors here at Brock too. To them it seems incomprehensible that the American people have chosen as the leader of the free world a man they would characterize as a narcissistic boor whose rationality in discourse is overwhelmed by xenophobic  resentments, and whose frustrations express in racism and misogyny. 

These are the same people who were at a loss to explain how Rob Ford was popularly elected as mayor of Toronto. Nor could they comprehend how Mr Ford sustained very strong support among a significant fraction of residents of Toronto throughout his political career, despite successive revelations of what the media and political elites loudly declaimed as highly unacceptable disreputable behaviour on Mr. Ford’s part. 

But Rob Ford as a municipal leader was not in a position of as much authority as Donald Trump will be. Mayor Ford’s scope for destructive damage was much more constrained than President Trump’s will be. Mr. Ford had no access to the codes for setting off nuclear bombs or capacity to declare war on nations that offended him. But Mr. Trump will.

I have also been here long enough to have been party to the failure of Western political science to have anticipated the collapse of the Soviet Union and demise of the Marxist-Leninist dictatorships that dominated most of Eastern Europe up to the 1990s. We political scientists seem to be more perplexed and bewildered by game changing political change than able to anticipate and account for it.  

The response of so many seems to parallel the great German composer Felix Mendelssohn’s paraphrase of the Old Testament Psalm 55, “Hear My Prayer,” in which King David laments

“My heart is sorely pained, within my breast, 
my soul with deathly terror is oppressed, 
trembling and fearfulness up on me fall, 
with horror overwhelmed, Lord, hear me call!”

Well this does not make for very good social scientific analysis! So the larger question it raises is: “political science: what’s the good in it??”

It turns out that evidently illiberal populism is the preferred political option for close to half of the U.S. electorate. In my case I have dedicated most of my career to scholarly and government work on China and North Korea. So perhaps this makes me more sanguine about illiberal politics than most. After all the Government of North Korea issued a very strong endorsement of Mr. Trump’s candidacy early on in his campaign.  I don’t judge this had much impact on the outcome.  But it is no surprise that Mr. Trump is the favoured choice among authoritarian dictators from Asia to Africa to Latin America.

Our failure to predict the strong appeal of Mr. Trump to a definitive element of the U.S. population leads all the more to questioning political science here at Brock in St Catharines. After all we now know that most of Trump’s support comes from rural areas and smaller towns with a predominantly less educated blue collar population and higher than the national average unemployment rates. In other words, places like our Niagara.  

Similarly to these alienated parts of the USA we here in Niagara know well that we are not central to the awareness of the smug elites of Toronto, Montreal Ottawa and Vancouver. As someone who is sometimes invited to Ottawa to advise on Canada’s China policy, I realize this all the more. I have had this conversation many times: “Oh so you are at Brock University. You know I have passed through Brockville many times on the 401 but have never had a chance to visit your campus! .  . . Please let us know the next time you are back in Ottawa.” But the idea that they would ever have occasion to travel to St Catharines is certainly never a consideration.

And Niagara is culturally different from the more urban settings of Canada. For example our 19-year-old Brock University Political Science student Sam Oosterhoff from Vineland will likely become the next MPP from Niagara West-Glanbrook. Sam is a strong social conservative. A candidate with his conservative Christian values would be highly unlikely to succeed in Rosedale, Westmount-Outremont or Ottawa-Carleton.

Many of the Trump supporters are the collateral damage of the higher cause of globalization in the underclasses particularly in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan and Ohio — once the proud industrial heartland of America. These are people who had been left behind by the revolutions in technology and globalization, the impact of resultant devastation much underappreciated from the privileged enclaves of the elites in Washington and New York. Donald Trump’s supporters are the dispossessed who yearn for a champion who will take strong measures to set things to rights. And dismantle a rigged system that they see as having been captured by effete elites. In many ways his rise is comparable to the military coups welcomed by the people in less democratic systems

The half of U.S. citizens who voted Trump are not unduly concerned by his racist, sexist and Islamophobic discourse or the critiques of those who point out the exaggerations and deceptive inaccuracies expounded by Mr. Trump. The bottom line is that social values transformation in the US rural areas has not kept pace with urban America.

I am old enough to remember the 1960s and 1970s when pervasive discrimination and racism was mainstream social realities.  

It was accepted as simply a function of the natural order that women would be subject to systemic discrimination that severely constrained their life options. 

Homosexuality was both taboo and illegal under the laws of Canada. 

Society had a hierarchy of white protestants at the top 
followed by Catholics 
followed by Jews 
followed by Chinese and Indians 
followed by blacks of all origins at the bottom. 

Bear in mind that it was only in 1947 that Canadians of Chinese origin were extended the right to vote in Canadian elections. 

Jokes based on denigration of women or homosexuals or  persons of colour was considered a high form of white male entertainment.

There was a popular American socially progressive TV program of the 1970s, "All in the Family " that satirized the values of the generation of blue collar workers that had grown up in the U.S. in the1930s. The theme song of this show was entitled "Those Were the Days. " Part of that song went:

“And you knew who you were then, 
Girls were girls and men were men, 
Mister we could use a man 
Like Herbert Hoover again. 

Didn't need no welfare state, 
Everybody pulled his weight. 
Guys like us we had it made, 
Those were the days”

So there is strong opposition among the Trump supporters to Obamacare as it is considered the road to more intrusions of the state into a free society.

But, more significantly, as Carol Anderson, a historian at Atlanta’s Emory University, put in her interview with Doug Saunders published in the Globe and Mail on Saturday: 
“You know, if you’ve always been privileged, equality begins to look like oppression. That’s part of what you’re seeing in terms of the [white] pessimism, particularly when the system gets defined as a zero-sum game – that you can only gain at somebody else’s loss.”

It is serious: Hilary Clinton only got 51% of college educated white women

The strong support in the U.S. for illiberal populist politics is not resolved by mobilizing all those who would vote against Trump to come out and fill out a ballot the next time. The sole route to resolution of this rising political force in America and throughout the Western world is to address the causes for the severe discontent of those who are so alienated from liberal values of social justice and tolerance of difference.

International impact
Once Mr. Trump assumes the presidency he will likely receive new information and advice that will lead President Trump to modify some of the positions that he espoused in the course of the election campaign and even abandon some of his more intemperate proposals. And who he chooses for key positions in US foreign policy leadership positions will have a strong impact

But it is fair to say that Trump will not support ratification of the Trans-Pacific Partnership

The U.S. will abandon commitment to measures to mitigate climate change. 

And tariffs will be imposed on imports from China, Mexico, Canada.

An isolationist America will likely lead to China being able to bring South Korea, Taiwan and the Southeast Asian nations into its geopolitical orbit.

It is all bad news for the prospects of democracy and human rights globally.

To maintain our Canadian prosperity if our economy suffers due to U.S. changing the terms of NAFTA, Canada will likely be more amenable to allowing Chinese state firms access to the Canadian energy and natural resources sectors and to develop infrastructure to get Canadian tar sands oil and minerals to the Canadian west coast for transhipment to Asia. But it would necessarily be on Chinese terms with illiberal political costs that Canada has not been willing to bear up to now.

Let me conclude by saying that 
In general I cannot see much in the way of prospect of positive consequences in the Trump presidency contributing to the building of a more just, peaceful and prosperous world.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak here today.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Well professor, with all due respect, let's not jump to your conclusions so fast. Like many pundits have conceded after the election, 'that we may owe DJT a chance to lead the country'. After all, after 8 years of democratic rule, the social divide in the US has not been reduced and it's been quite the contrary as a matter of fact. In short, Obama has left a failed legacy, whether you admit it or not. Half of the US is furious.about economy, security, and democratic corruption. Looking to a bigger picture, Europe is falling at an accelerating speed as tragedies are unfolding one after another under the similar policies the HC vowed to implement. Her deep-in-the-DNA corruption even got no mention in your thoughtfully written blog. So my guess is your analysis wasn't as comprehensive and thoughtful enough after all, assuming that you didn't intentionally trying not to discuss these issues. Other assumptions in your article, though backed with media headlines, only triggered my chuckle. Things like DJT even got endorsement from the darkest authoritarian on the planet, NORTH KOREA? WHAT? REALLY? What you were trying to imply was quite obvious, only for the wrong reason. Kim Jung En knows DJT is a disciplined businessman and quite unlike his election opponent who has a known history of trumping dictators with force, regard less of the chance it may open a can of dangerous worms. The exact foreign policy of the DJT administration is yet to be announced but what we do know is he is definitely not like HC. So in my opinion you could have used more clever arguments to help you reach your conclusion in this case. As for Canadian economy, yes you are right about Canada being significantly influenced by the US' trading policies. It has been since the beginning of the time hasn't it? What matters more is how the Canadian federal government should position itself accordingly in these complicated, constantly changing global economic dynamics, rather than pointing finger at others like a spoiled baby. No one can help your economy better than yourself. Kathleen Wynne's government is certainly not on path to do so, whose corruption and incapability never got openly discussed among academic pundits as far as I can remember. Trudeau showed, to my surprise and to his credit, a remarkable attitude change in response to DJT's victory. Therefore, I am confused myself who is actually wiser between our veteran political analyzers and our young untested prime minister who allegedly only worked full time as a ski-instructor, for a short period of time. In terms of the social issues as you were predicting, that somehow the world will crawl back to barbarity and incivility like those you vividly remember in 60's if Trumpism continues, also doesn't hold much water. First of all, if you think again the coloured minority (or immigrants) population in both sides of the border, you will find that traditional white population is no longer a significantly majority ethnically anymore. Second of all, despite many may think 'politically incorrectly' as an instinctive reaction to the ugly truth of race-related news stories, they carries on the behave politically correctly in society as they are required to, and that matters the most to me. Canada and the US are most admired for the restraint and courtesy their citizens have regardless of their political views because they are taught to have big and strong hearts. What we are seeing of the lefty protesters resorting to violence in the states after the election is truly disturbing news. Anyway, to wrap up, I think we all deserve to be asked by ourselves a couple of questions. 1. Do I have all the facts laid out and discussed objectively? 2 Have I thought outside of the box and am smart enough to tell ppl how to think?