For anyone who has been paying attention, 2016 so far has been quite eventful. Starting in the United States, a hotel mogul with aversion to trade deals is likely to be elected as the leader of the free world. With a campaign focused on erecting barriers against the world, Donald Trump has become an unlikely hero. Next, the worst mass shooting in American history was committed against a group of people just for being who they were. Fast forward a few weeks, Britain has called it quits with the European Union sending the worlds’ stock markets into a free fall.
What is the connection between these events? As nations begin to close their borders and resort to populism, they also fan the flames of anger of those like the Florida shooter. Whatever we label this perpetrator, the fact is that he belonged to a group that did not see eye to eye with Western society. The two groups feed off one another in a vicious cycle. The harsher the rhetoric of Trump’s cheerleaders, the more angry and insecure the target communities feel about their position in society. The result is far beyond the tragedy in Florida. This then becomes fodder for another round of anti-immigrant rhetoric. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy for both sides.
On the one hand, globalization has been a boon to business and raised the standard of living in every corner of the world. The free movement of goods and people has been the norm for the past few decades. The entire European Project is based on this. However, globalization challenges a nation’s identity and its fundamental principles. These principles include job security for people and respect for a nation’s history and religion; they are also a source of pride. Trump’s appeal extends beyond the poor or/and uneducated; he also appeals to some very intelligent people. But open borders have seriously challenged some of the values a nation’s citizens hold dear. It would be a mistake to write off the right-wingers as just buffoons as many do in the media. Globalization has produced many winners, but emotionally, there are people who want to hold on to those fundamental principles that define a nation. Donald Trump is not the only person who appeals to people’s emotions; he has his parallels in Marine La Pen and Geert Wilders. What we are seeing today is a struggle between two different conceptions of the world. It is too bad it has become a zero-sum game. It is now a war between liberal internationalism and everyone else who plays right into the hands of Donald Trump et al.
There is no doubt that open borders and free flow of people and trade have brought enormous wealth to the world, but there are also difficult issues that many in the liberal internationalism camp turn a blind eye to. As long as they are not willing to address the issues at the centre of Trump or La Pen’s grievances, they will continue to generate more frustration and anger among even neutral citizens who will have no choice but to vote for Trump or La Pen. A return to tribalism is not the answer because we have become too dependent on one another through globalization. Progress is what defines our civilization, and fear-mongering and populism is a reversal of all the progress we made in at least four decades. I don’t know what the solution is, but all I know is that I only believe in a society moving forward. The solution is probably going to be somewhere between total nationalism and liberal internationalism.