The world was stunned by the election of Donald Trump. People and pundits alike are debating with each other -How could this happen? – What does this mean for the rest of the world? The answers are as complex as the reasons Trump was selected by the Electoral College. As an entrepreneur living abroad in Paris, France I can tell you that recent events over the past year or so have this place spinning with dread, anxiety, and uncertainty.
The election of Donald Trump, as with Brexit, did not happen in a vacuum. These are the results of trends nobody bothered to spot for the last twenty odd years. The first is globalization. Once thought of as a positive phenomena bringing diverse nations closer through multilateral trade agreements such as NAFTA to name just one, is now seen as detrimental to the people. The question is who are the people? The term people is being used as an overarching term to denote those groups left behind by global trade pacts, the closure of manufacturing plants across the Western world, stagnant salaries, a lack of vigorous job growth, and an emotional sense that the political and corporate elites have left the average person out of their equations for success. Average here does not mean mediocre, but aggregate. As Michael Moore demonstrates in his latest film, Trump Land, their feelings are as real as they are raw.
These are the same profiles of individuals who voted for Brexit and will vote in France, Italy, Austria, and Germany in the declining days of 2016 and in 2017. The message is nationalist and populist. We have had nationalists and populists run for office before and some have led with extreme outcomes as happened across Europe in the 1930s-1940s. I am not pessimistic, nor am I stating that we as a collective whole are returning to a time of death and ruin. What I am suggesting is that there is a collective breakdown of post-1945 norms and values. When people are desperate for change, some will pay any price no matter what the cost. This can lead to a dark path.
We must therefore be vigilant and stand our ground for the decency and civility that binds us all together as living beings. This is no longer a discussion of policy change. It should be a conversation about human values. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny, sexism and the like have no place in any civilized country. These values have been enshrined in the UN Charter and are the values which underpin most nation states.
The campaign of Donald Trump suggests that anything goes. When people are angry, they can say and sometimes do stupid things. Trumps flaws are on full display. His cabinet selections to date reaffirm some of his nasty rhetoric. His language and the psychological and emotional damage that he has caused horrify me. I can’t imagine what his future Administration will conjure.
Fortunately, the Founding Fathers built a constitution that keeps any president in check should he or she break the law. Although the Republicans control both houses of government, they will soon see how little they have in common. Deals will undoubtedly be made. However, you can be sure that people of both parties will hold his feet to the fire should he transgress and break protocol and law.
During the past divisive election campaign another group came out of the woodwork. These are not the angry working voters who want a better life for themselves and their families. These are genuine racist hate mongers who feel they now have a champion in the White House. They would love to overturn Row v. Wade, send everyone who is undocumented back to their place of origin, single out and register people who are ethnically and religiously different, who eat different food, and pray to God in a manner distinct from their own spiritual practices. Such people should be fought at every turn.
The essayist and journalist, Ryszard Kapuscinski, wrote volumes on building understanding across cultures. His work, The Other, should be essential reading. Only by listening to each other, whether we agree or disagree, can we forge meaningful relationships where we do not victimize or stigmatize one another because we are different. In today’s world, another reason nationalism and populism is on the rise is that we remain stuck in our own echo chambers which is a form of tribalism as described by French anthropologist, Claude Levi-Strauss. The refugee crisis across Europe has only exacerbated tribalism instincts.
Social media is partially to blame. Unless you’re a news junkie and read 10 real newspapers a day like I do, you might receive the news through news feeds on channels linked to your likes on Facebook and Twitter. Fake news stories are trending and require greater awareness of the sources you consult.
In France, current concerns are similar to what drove the American election results. We have a dispirited president, who is as popular as Louis XVI once was. The socialist candidate doesn’t stand a chance in the next election. Therefore, the election hinges on which candidate on the right will face off against Marine Le Pen, on the far right. She is now banking on the Trump-Brexit effect sweeping France as it did the States.
Unemployment is high. There are immigration issues. Taxes are choking people across the board and terrorism is not just a dictionary word. Military troops march in the streets of our big cities, ostensibly to protect us in case of another incident. We just celebrated the anniversary of the Paris attacks. The mood was somber. Everyone in Paris knows someone who was killed or wounded last year. Some hugged each other in solidarity. Others are biding their time until French elections in April.
The French understand that we live in challenging times. It’s as if our multicultural and pluralistic societies are on trial. However, as I previously stated, they are also pissed off at the out-of-touch elite. One contender for the Parti Republicain didn’t even know the price of bread at the bakery when he was asked at a recent debate. To coin a phrase, he had his Marie Antoinette moment.
Although politics in France can be as rough a sport as in other countries, no one has stooped to the level displayed by Donald Trump. Given the raucous atmosphere, I don’t dare make predictions about an eventual French winner, or about the outcomes of the Italian referendum and the Austrian election coming due in December. I pray, like most decent souls, that Europeans do not vote anger and hate. As Michele Obama stated so often, “When they go low, we go high”. This is the only way to go forward and implement positive and sustainable change.
I’ll sign off with an uplifting quote from a great Indian sage I had the pleasure of knowing. He said: “There is only one race; the human race. There is only one language and that is the language of love.” Who can disagree with this?
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