President Trump and the bankruptcy of the elite
Western societies—to be more precise the most powerful ones—seem to have a hidden political agenda, one barely detected by the polls and surveys but that is designed to remove the conventional ruling classes and replace them with others using populist slogans. This was the case in the United Kingdom in June 2016, when the Brits narrowly voted for their country to leave the European Union. The island’s refusal to stay in the EU was considered possible, but not very probable. This is not only because the two major political parties, Conservatives and Labour, supported remaining within the unified European structure, but because the opinion polls suggested the public was also in favor of maintaining the international status quo of their country. There were also circumstances that would seem to force the United Kingdom to stay in the EU, such as Scotland and Northern Ireland’s overwhelming majority against the internal and isolationist rhetoric coming from England, also seen, albeit to a lesser extent, in Wales.
However, David Cameron, just as he did with the Scottish independence referendum—although on that occasion he was rescued by his Labour adversary Gordon Brown—, agreed to hold a non–legally binding yet politically decisive referendum and lost. Kipling’s question resounded around London: “And what should they know of England who only England knows?” Cameron and his party’s non-eurosceptic leaders were unaware of the state of malaise at the heart of the country and were defeated on their own soil by the reactionary leaders of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). The brexiters’ leitmotif consisted of an elementary argument: Regain control of the United Kingdom in the face of its sovereignty being eroded by Brussels and halt immigration flows to sustain their own lifestyle.
The electorate did not mind breaking the political mold. The campaign run by the Europhobes was littered with lies and manipulations, to the point that, despite having won the referendum, their natural leader, Nigel Farage, resigned and his own party, the UKIP, fell apart upon reaching its great ultranationalist objective. The real reason for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, which is still at the ‘wait and see’ stage, was not economic. It was essentially cultural, sentimental, emotive and suggestive: the working and middle classes with limited opportunities felt like the losers in a game of globalization that has turned the west into a promised land for the most disadvantaged. The British ruling class was unable to correctly detect and measure the emotional situation among much of the public who wanted to turn inwards.
After eight years of the charismatic Obama, how can his legacy consist of leaving the White House to a radical politician with a well-earned reputation for being xenophobic, misogynistic, protectionist and
In the United States, differences aside, something similar happened in the November 8 election that led to Donald Trump being elected president. There was a chance it could happen, but it did not seem likely. After eight years of the charismatic Obama, how can his legacy consist of leaving the White House to a radical politician with a well-earned reputation for being xenophobic, misogynistic, protectionist and anti-European? The macroeconomic figures for the United States cannot offer an explanation entirely or even mostly economic. Last November, unemployment stood at only 4.9 percent after seventy months of continuous decline, salaries have been increasing over the last two years and the minimum wage has increased.
Again, as was stated in a sound and well-argued manner by Paul Berman, an analyst for the New York magazine Tablet, “Donald Trump’s political success reflects a cultural crisis, and nothing else.” Cultural crises are those of values, of public principles. Trump has so many supporters not only because the traditional ruling classes have stopped making a true commitment to those they represent, but also because the new American president “has given permission to his followers to return to the kind of racist hatred that has been considered unacceptable in recent decades.” Berman continues, arguing that the Republican has been supported precisely “because he is vulgar, arrogant and aggressive, which allows them [his followers] to also be the same.”
This has caused a breakdown in the paradigm that imposed the rule of political correctness, maintained to a large extent by the more conventional media, who boldly fought Trump while the new American president carried out parallel communication on social media. During the campaign, his followers on Twitter and other social media channels were greater in number than those of the major newspapers and channels in New York and Washington, DC. With Trump, we see a failure not only of the ruling classes, but also of an information model. When in May 2016 Dana Milbank had to swallow the previous year’s piece, which assured people it was impossible for Trump to win the nomination for the Republican Party, we were seeing the first symptoms of atherosclerosis in the U.S. media, which is one of the causes of the trompe l’oeil most consistent democracies in the Western world are experiencing.
In this context of cultural crisis, naturally enhanced by issues relating to the economy and immigration, it cannot be asserted that it is just the white trash, also known as trailer trash—low class, uneducated and isolationist white people—who have elevated Trump to the presidency of the United States. As explained by Caroline Siede on the website boingboing.net, he was also helped by, in a relative paradox, a large proportion of settled Hispanics who are against illegal immigration, which threatens their comfort zone, and women who have accepted a certain degree of misogyny as being reasonable and typical of WASP culture. For this writer, Americans have not learned how to “feel empathy for flawed women as they have for flawed men.” Hillary Clinton has been judged more harshly than her male counterparts, and Trump has treated her despicably, with so many smears and insults, with so much contempt that even a large portion of women saw the Democrat as the incarnation of all the evils of the Washingtonian caste. Women in politics are still seen as “space invaders” (Nirmal Puwar) and in Clinton’s case, this happened to a strong degree. Although Hillary might not have been the best Democratic candidate, she is, as said by Xavier Mas de Xaxás in La Vanguardia, “an intelligent, cold, methodical, pragmatic and strong human being, qualities that would help any man but do not seem to be of much use to her.”
During the campaign, his followers on Twitter and other social media channels were greater in number than those of the major newspapers and channels in New York and Washington, DC. With Trump, we see the failure not only of the ruling classes, but also of an information model
It can therefore be concluded that we are seeing a rebellion by the electorate, a silent and belatedly detected rebellion more cross-cutting and much more complex to explain. Populism is a form of democratic fatigue, of questioning its traditional mechanisms, of simplifying problems and taking a hostile approach to the ruling classes. Adopting policies more commonly seen in the ultranationalist and protectionist right, it has tapped into different electoral groups who are having a hard time. These inbred characteristics are seen as “old demons from the interwar period.” The comparison is not a bad one, since it was in that break between the Great War and the war of 1939-45 when fascism, Nazism and dictatorships arose.
The United States was a leading example and a guarantee of the fact that none of that would happen again, but Trump’s presidency brings back into politics the oldest battering rams against the achievements of liberal and humanist democracy. Enrique Krauze wrote in El País that Trump has created a schism in American democracy. He writes that “The damage to the nation is already done: a political and social schism as severe as that of the Civil War,” in reference to the American Civil War of 1861 to 1865. For this liberal and enlightened Mexican, highly knowledgeable about the United States, all the reasons that explain the emergence of Trump are valid, “but none will be comparable to the lethal effect on a people of opening the door to a demagogue, an effect proven time and time again in history.” The U.S. president has broken the elite, and he has done so with demagogy, sly handling of communication and populism. He has established a paradigm for doing politics that is radically different from everything that went before. Everything is old, but everything is new too.