One of the most unexpected political results has now occured. Trump is the next US president. Against all the odds, all the polls, all the pundits and significant chunks of the world’s population, Trump has inched Clinton to become president. But while surprising, even in a year where we’ve seen many revolts against the general ‘establishment’, including Brexit, the rise of the Pirate Party in Iceland, the rise of national populism in many European countries and so on, it’s quite evident why Trump won.
The reality is that in electing Trump, as in the other revolts mentioned, there is a significant backlash against liberal modernity. In the area of economics, this vote has rejected the phony free trade agreements which (rather than encapsulating comparative advantage and the development of varied economies of scale) centralise economic power outside the forces of free markets and civil society and into the hands of unaccountable, subsidised corporations. Modern FTAs are more about establishing and enforcing extremely stringent copyright and IP laws, limiting the free movement of ideas and meaning that the commons of thought and innovation are illegitimately privatised. They are also about creating artificial economies of scale through a range of subsidies and interventions, meaning that large investment funds and the corporations that rely on them naturally benefit, as market competition is reduced and monopoly status bolstered. However, established workforces become the ones to lose out, as manufacturing jobs which provide a level of skilled and unskilled labour are destroyed, with only precariatised jobs in the services sector to replace them. These are defining characteristics of the modern economy, and things that have produced an underclass who rightly feel alienated and disenfranchised.
On the social front, this is a rejection of the individualist, selfish society witnessed by many today. Gone have the manners and customs that succeeding generations were meant to be inculcated with. Gone have the historic institutions which bound families and communities together into a shared identity. In their place we see a cult of artificiality, as celebrity culture and the spectacle (as Guy Debord calls it) are the mainstays of the modern world. It is a regular occurrence to see the sexualisation of life posted on all manner of media, from billboards to TV advertisements. Things like decorum and restraint are no longer there, as people talk about being a celebrity simply for the sake of being a celebrity. Similarly, immigration is rejected not because of racism, but because of the feeling that communally held values, from religion to the basic ideas of neighbourliness, are being lost, and that incoming immigrants are not assimilating to these values. This disgusting form of cultural liberalism is also on the chopping block with the election of Trump. People are sick of the self-entitled telling them how they must feel and what they must think.
Both sides of the liberal equation, economic openness and cultural modernity, have taken a huge hit, as their progenitors and spokesmen realise that a large class of people disagree with their worldview. Many people, of many different age groups and classes, don’t like the modern world. Their fears are not assuaged by mealy-mouthed talk about tolerance and openness as they see their neighbourhoods transformed by economic and cultural liberalism.
However, what is more interesting than this is that Trump will not fix these things. In many ways, Trump is a product of the spectacle of society, being a reality-TV star and a celebrity born not of talent but of ill-gained riches. He is a glorified property speculator with a poor record in business and an aptitude toward political wrangling. He will not oppose cultural liberalism, but is instead a morphed, almost grotesque child of its consequences. What better than a bombastic, plain-speaking person to lead a country who will fire people from the state bureaucracies in much the same way he fires people from the Apprentice. His business career was developed on the back of the economic liberalism I’ve described, with many of his business ventures requiring the use of state power. He celebrates things like eminent domain, intellectual property and the corruption of politics by corporations and their interests.
The reality is that Trump won’t be able or willing to paper over the cracks of modern liberalism. Simply looking at his coterie of advisors, from Stephen Moore to Norman Podhoretz, we see that Trump’s “policies” are easily manipulated by pre-existing political interests. Modern democracy, as I’ve described before, inculcates ignorance and apathy, allowing the grotesque creatures of liberalism to fester uncontrollably. It provides no check on such things, thus making Trump’s election as president into a farce. Hopefully, if and when Trump fails, people will rise up and start developing their own decentralised alternatives which re-implant those dying values, such as nationhood, localism and the desire to be part of a collective identity. But one thing is for sure, Trump will certainly not do this.