I grew up in Communist Calcutta, a city of load-shedding black and Jyoti Basu’s dhoti white. If there was a category level 5 bad word above bokachoda and chudir bai champakali, it was the word globalization, the hooked talon of the imperialist, or so the Red brothers said, one that they would bury into the chests of our workers and peasants of the Third World and proceed to spill out their entrails.
A few people, among them my father, then a professor of Economics at IIM Calcutta, had argued the other way, that it was the West would be disrupted most by globalization and the so-called Third World would stand to benefit at their expense.
Fast forward decades and it is the imperialists and the free-marketers that are hunkering down in their bomb shelters to contain the radioactive fallout of globalization, with Uncle Sam, the standard-bearer of democracy and cut-throat capitalism, now flirting with fascism and socialism, and Union Jack, the people who brought to you imperialism in the modern world, voting to throw off the foreign yoke and gain “independence”.
As usual, Baba, you were right.
Strange things have happened this year, the political equivalent of the worlds coasts being submerged by rising sea-water. A once-New York-liberal, with as many bankruptcies as East-European wives, whose knowledge of the Bible is as as extensive as his knowledge of the theory of relativity, who a year ago was known simply as a reality show trainwreck of the KRK type, has become the putative nominee of a party with a strong traditional Christian base. And it was not a tired dragging over the finish line, Trump has obliterated the opposition, a roster that was one of the strongest assembled in decades, reducing to smoldering embers the political careers of at least three men, who would have been the nominee any other year.
The scion of America’s most powerful political family whose war-chest was known to be infinite. Low-energy Jeb.
The man considered to be the future face of the party. Sweaty Marco Rubio.
And the darling of the base, whose Christian zeal even the Crusaders of the middle ages would find excessive. Lying Ted Cruz.
On the other side of the fence, an almost-unknown, save outside the circle of C-SPAN and nightly talk shows, who has for decades been a socialist, a political strain of thought, that in America has been as popular as Bajrang Dal would be for the royal family of Saudi Arabia, has come awfully close to derailing a presidential campaign that had been decades in the designing.
And in Britain, in a shock referendum, the country has voted to leave Europe, a possibility that till a few days ago had been dismissed as alarmist.
There is a common driver for all this, and it’s not the man who was driving Salman Khan’s car.
It’s the free flow of goods, services and people. It’s globalization. And its economic and political fallout.
On my side of the Atlantic, both Trump and Sanders have tapped into wrath of the post-globalization American, angry that the American Dream, the imaginary compact the greatest nation in the world had with its citizens, wherein if you worked eight hours a day, even as a high school dropout, you could buy a house, have two cars, rear three kids and play baseball on the weekends, is but phantom memory from the 50s and 60s, found only in black and white faded photos, torn pages of Archies comics and in insomniac dreams of Florida pensioners.
In 2016, Americans are working longer hours, often multiple jobs, for less pay and less security, once-prosperous metropolises like Detroit resemble post-apocalyptic zombiescapes, and “Third World problems” like the lack of clean water plague cities like Flint.
And that’s not the saddest part. It’s that Americans believe that the American dream will be restored once they put the right person in charge, that all it needs for the jobs to come back to America from Mexico and China is a leader with the right intentions.
When people want to believe something with all their heart, history tells us that there will always be a professional con-artist coming in to scam them. And if there is one thing Trump is damn good at, it’s conning people. To be honest to Donald Trump, he is not the only politician peddling snake oil, after all who has the guts to tell the people that this is the new normal, that things are likely to get even worse rather than better.
What however makes him unique and also supremely successful is that the “make America great” again lacks even a cursory attempt of being nuanced, reflecting as it does the wisdom of the mob, raw and xenophobic and hateful and unapologetically so.
Bomb the hell out of the world, kick out all Mexicans, block all Muslims from entering the country, kill the families of terrorists, conquer the Middle East and grab their oil, and force Mexico and China to pay back for what its taken from us. Simple.
Con artists, from palm-readers to penis-length-enhancers, know the trick. Your mark already has a solution in mind. So just say what they want to hear. When a man comes to the astrologer he is expecting a ring. When a woman comes surfing to a dietary supplement webpage, she is looking for a magic pill. Wear the ring and your business will get better. Rub this oil and you become Ron Jeremy. Two spoons of acai berry and you get the body of Hale Berry. Vote to get out of EU and, bingo, NHS gets fixed and before you can say “Bob’s your uncle” you have Pax Brittanica.
Simple solutions to problems that have none.
Bernie Sanders too treads a somewhat similar path to Trump, but because his crowd, young college-educated white men and women is different from that of Trump’s, his breast-enhancing cream has a different formulation. Take the stuff away from those who have benefited from globalization and hand it out to those who have not. Or as he calls it “paying the fair share”. So his prescription is free health care, free college, free this and free that. He knows that the way the American system is structured, Hell will freeze over before the Congress will ever allow even a very diluted version of what he proposes to pass, but like Trump supporters, Bernie’s don’t really care for the fine print, as long as they find their own personal solution reflected in their hero’s words.
The battle in US politics today is no longer between Republican and Democrat, but between those who want to destroy the globalized system and those who want to preserve it. By putting Hillary into the ring, the Democrats seem to have put themselves on the wrong side of history. fielding a candidate who is, by her past record, Ms. Globalization herself. While a Bernie vs Trump matchup would have been a knockout for Trump, with Hillary, his numbers are more even (recent polls show him tying with Hillary in swing-states of Pennsylvania and Ohio) and with the threat of Bernie’s angry fans moving over to the other angry man in the contest, the possibility of a Trumpolypse looms large.
The relationship of the individual with globalization is complicated. On one hand, all benefit from it, cheap Walmart goods and Burger King dollar menus. And then, they are victims too, of having to train their replacements and of having to vacate their cubicles for “foreigners” or having to see their jobs being shipped off to other countries. It is only human to be drawn to simplistic solutions like Brexit and Trump, and to hold people responsible for one’s problems rather than amorphous economic systems. While many of their supporters are undoubtedly racist and xenophobic at their core, to color all those behind Trump and Brexit with the same dark brush is not only an intellectually illiberal stance, just like tagging all Muslims as potential terrorists, but also a strategically bad one, because it only ends up making people scared to express their opinions on globalization and immigration lest they be tagged racist, and scaring people into silence pretty much leads them to cling on to the person not vilifying them. In this case Flaming Orange Hair.
If there is anything good that may come out of Brexit is that people outside the UK will understand what happens when you vote from your heart, and not from your head. The devil is in the fine print, from iTunes Terms and Conditions to the implications of leaving the European Union. As vast sections of those who voted for leaving EU now start understanding the economic damage they have wrought, for that second of joy at having given those “bloody immigrants a black eye” (and this includes a large number of recent immigrants too), they are getting the sensation of being handed the bill the day after a night full of mayhem in the hotel room.
Voting for Trump because “I hate Hillary because she stands for the people who took my job” is somewhat like that.
You may break Hillary’s heart for sure.
But she will still have her Goldman Sachs millions.
And globalization, well, it’s not stopping any time soon.
You however will be left with the shitty life you have. And you will have Trump.