Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States. There is going to be a flood of commentary on the election and what the American public should expect and what could happen globally. I expect a lot of this follow up will still be highly socially polarized, focused on the personalities of the candidates and probing the polling to define what happened.
Here is my perspective. I think the American public surprised itself with a protest vote that was rooted in a failure of capitalism and its globalization strategy of survival. Another public that has not really benefitted from globalization has lashed out at their establishment elite. Their selection of a buffoon as their leader is an indicator of their deep fear and anger and how much they are willing to risk to change their political and economic system.
The foundation for this historic vote and change, I believe, is the economic impact of globalization on America and the rest of the world. While trade has increased and statistically there are more jobs, overall the quality of life and income distribution in America has not improved in 25 years. Cost of living, limited educational opportunities, international insecurity, the impact of dramatic environmental episodes and continuing racial conflict have undermined the public’s perception of peace and prosperity. For a majority of the American population, the American dream is a myth. For the millions who bought into the promised materialism and individual freedom of capitalism, there is a visceral disappointment.
And instead of embracing the challenge of change with optimism and enthusiasm they capitulated to a campaign rhetoric that was laden with lies, impossible promises, individual hubris, armed defence and outright national arrogance that was already characteristic of American culture.
The results of the American election, the Brexit referendum, and the return of authoritarian governments around the world are all indicators of a tsunami of public dissatisfaction. Without sounding melodramatic, it looks like a global reaction is mounting to contemporary capitalism and its use of globalization to prop up a failing ideology. However, these waves of public opinion also show that people will turn to their classic leaders who used them – for change, they turn to the very system that has abused them – to save them. I have not seen any strong indications that there is an appetite for changing the system that has created the economic and environmental destruction we now experience (please someone prove me pessimistic).
As I have written before (see below), since the 1990’s and the launch of the free trade era, the quality of life in Canada has not improved as much as the accumulation of wealth by the elite. There has been an increase in trade, the GDP has increased by about 30% and there are more jobs BUT none of this has resulted in reduced inequality, a higher standard of living for the public nor significant efforts to reduce pollution.
So I think there should be a warning for Canadians and particularly the Canadian government in what has happened south of the border and around the world. I think there should be an awaking from the sleep of free trade that it is the panacea for the economic, environmental and social needs of our society. Instead of assuming the beneficial outcomes of increased international trade, I hope our government now seeks and confirms that the ultimate beneficiaries of trade are the mass of the people who work and live in the countries involved, not just the elites.
In particular I think Canada should see the executive change in the USA as:
- An opportunity to expose and assure the social and environmental benefits flowing from CETA, TPP and NAFTA,
- Another place to demonstrate our principles an commitment to equality, justice and energy conservation,
- Encouragement to seriously address the needs of people living in poverty, particularly Indigenous citizens, and
- An impetus to seriously reform our electoral system so it is more representative and participatory.
Antonio Gransci (Italian communist who died fighting fascism) once suggested that political action must always be based on ‘an optimism of the will though we may suffer a pessimism of intellect.’ What happened in the USA and is happening around the world will certainly test and hopefully express our collective will.