Trumpism Without Trump

MIN READMar 30, 2016 | 08:00 GMT

U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump speaks at a rally on Dec. 21, 2015.

(SCOTT OLSON/Getty Images)

Although Stratfor generally eschews writing about domestic North American politics, it is no longer possible to ignore the extent to which Donald Trump is a global phenomenon. This is not just because the rest of the globe is watching Trump. More important, the underlying trends that have brought us Trump are happening around the world, not just in America.

Look at Europe. Especially in Poland, France and Hungary, we see similar anxieties about immigrants. We see economic anxieties among those in the middle class whose employment is threatened by globalization.

Donald Trump the man, like Vladimir Putin, makes it easy to put the spotlight on him. But in true Stratfor fashion, we should focus less on the personalities and more on the fundamental forces working to thrust those personalities into the limelight. Trump is skilled at picking up the baton and making it look as if he is leading the parade. But what if this is one more case of a "leader" finding a parade to get in front of?

It is the parade we should be worried about, not just the big blond drum major marching Trump, Trump, Trump, in front of it.

Fundamental Forces Behind the Headlines

The movement involves familiar components, some of which deserve our sympathy, some not so much. Deserving of sympathy is the economic squeeze that globalization has put on unskilled labor. No wonder The Donald's support is twice as strong among those without college degrees. They are the ones whose jobs have gone overseas, not the college-educated professionals. The steel workers, the coal miners, the autoworkers, they are the ones suffering from trade deals opening up a globalized economy. Upward mobility, the American dream — it's not working for them. They feel betrayed by the political leadership of both parties, and they deserve our sympathy.

It is the parade we should be worried about, not just the big blond drum major marching Trump, Trump, Trump, in front of it.

But then things get ugly when we see racism and xenophobia rear their heads. Here again the issues in Europe are, at a general level, not so different from those in America. The nationalities in question may be different — worries center on Syrians and Libyans, rather than on Mexicans and Nicaraguans — but racism is racism wherever it is found.

Especially when compounded by economic anxiety, the acid of racism is eating away at the cosmopolitan dream — the dream that people of all races and cultures can live together in peace and harmony. Racism is alive and well in both Europe and the United States. All it takes is a flat "recovery" to bring it out.

When we focus on the underlying forces — economic stagnation and racism — rather than the personalities, political games like Jeb Bush's endorsement of Ted Cruz stand out in stark relief. How beside the point! We should be talking about how to get people back to work, especially people of color, and instead the Republicans are holding meetings to figure out how to keep Trump from getting to 1,237 delegates before the Republican Convention in July.

What are some of the other fundamental forces pushing the parade? In addition to globalization and racism, there are two more that aren't being talked about on the news. The first is moving so glacially that, like the water slowly cooking the apocryphal frog, its degree of change is undetectable. The second is psychosexual, so suffering the silence of a taboo... but we get ahead of ourselves.

From the Political to the Economic Era

The first dynamic I've mentioned before, but I'd like to develop it at a little greater length here. It is the very long-term shift from what I call The Religious Era through The Political Era to The Economic Era — capital letters recruited to connote History with a truly Hegelian sweep. Let's call in more of them to hail a Second Reformation as momentous as the first, when, with the separation of Church and State, power passed from the heads of the Church — the Pope and his priests — to the heads of State: Presidents and Prime Ministers.

Likewise today, power is passing from the heads of State to the heads of Major Corporations like Donald Trump and Silvio Berlusconi. And just as the heads of the Church were not happy about the first Reformation (recall, there was a Counter-Reformation), so too the heads of our current political order are not happy about the rising power of our corporate titans. Look at how Tim Cook, the head of Apple, had problems with the FBI. Look at how former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had to speak out about Google's withdrawal from China. As we move from the Political Era into the Economic Era, the private sector tail starts to wag the public sector dog.

Philip Bobbitt describes this historical transition as a transition from the nation-state to what he calls the market state. Bobbitt argues that the transition is being partly driven by the inability of the nation-state to fulfill the bargains inscribed in its constitutional order. As he puts it in The Shield of Achilles:

"In summary, no nation-state can assure its citizens safety from weapons of mass destruction; no nation-state can, by obeying its own national laws (including its international treaties) be assured that its leaders will not be arraigned as criminals or its behavior be used as a legal justification for international coercion; no nation-state can effectively control its own economic life or its own currency; no nation-state can protect its culture and way of life from the depiction and presentation of images and ideas, however foreign or offensive; no nation-state can protect its society from transnational perils, such as ozone depletion, global warming, and infectious epidemics. And yet guaranteeing national security, civil peace through law, economic development and stability, international tranquility and equality, were the principal tasks of the nation-state."

Donald Trump may be quite right about the current government's inability to make good on its bargains with the middle class. But that inability has less to do with the alleged inadequacies of the current crop of politicians in Washington than it has to do with fundamental historical forces with a vastly longer timescale than the presidential election cycle.

The instruments of government are not working well in either Washington or Brussels. Institutions have histories, and with age comes sclerosis. As Mancur Olson argued in his landmark book, The Rise and Decline of Nations, special interests become entrenched over time, and their demands end up distorting the dynamics of the market. What papal dispensations were to the declining years of the Religious Era, earmarks are to the declining years of the Political Era: scandalous reminders of a rigged system that offers favoritism for the few. Donald Trump did not invent crony capitalism, nor did he invent the dysfunction in Washington. But he certainly is good at capitalizing on both as the fading Political Era gives way to an emergent Economic Era.

Make no mistake: The institutions of government will no more disappear from the face of the Earth than churches have. Just as religion persists in the Political Era, even as it takes a backseat, so politics will persist in the Economic Era. But it will be a truncated politics, just as the Holy Roman Empire was truncated by newer political formations — states — in Europe.

A Syndrome, Not an Ideology

After globalization's economic squeeze on the middle class, after the racism and xenophobia the squeeze brings out, and after the shift from the Political Era to the Economic Era, there is another factor that explains Trump ascendency: A certain psychosexual dynamic that's more complex than your grandfather's sexism. After all, as he'll tell you again and again, Donald loves women.

But the remarks! The denigration of Megyn Kelly! And the macho toleration for roughing up demonstrators! Once again, the important thing to focus on is not so much the man with the baton at the head of the parade, but all those who are so attracted by his outrageous incorrectness. And what we find when we look not at the drum major but at his followers is the emasculation of the middle-class American male.

Several factors add up and reinforce one another: Anxious about the economy and unemployment, threatened by immigrants, frustrated at the lack of efficacy on the part of the leadership in Washington, and fed up with feminism, the blue-collar American male is a ripe target for testosterone-soaked rhetoric. "Make America Potent Again!" and pass the political Viagra.

Yet again, this is not just about Donald Trump, and it's not just about America.

Yet again, this is not just about Donald Trump, and it's not just about America. I was struck by a Feb. 6 headline in The New York Times: "Wanted in China: More Male Teachers, to Make Boys Men." The article went on to explain that, "Worried that a shortage of male teachers has produced a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys, Chinese educators are working to reinforce traditional gender roles and values in the classroom."

But "traditional gender roles and values" are not likely to return any time soon in China or the United States because gender roles are a function of evolutionary and psychological dynamics that take millennia to unfold. As my colleague, Ian Morris, has explained in this space, both the rise of patriarchy and its decline are not matters of fashion or individual choice. The gender equality of hunter-gatherers gave way to patriarchy with the advent of agricultural societies for a series of social, biological and technological reasons that Morris reviews.

Now, after about 12,000 years, our species is moving back toward gender equality, again for a series of social and technological reasons that have little to do with choice or fashion. As Morris puts it:

"[T]he truly difficult part of this struggle was over long before anyone thought of promoting themselves as champions of a self-consciously feminist foreign policy. The real heroes of this story are the forces that are all too often miscast as villains: fossil fuels, which created an economy that allowed women to be independent, and globalization, which continues to spread the new economic order worldwide."

But if patriarchy really is in retreat, as I agree with Morris that it is, then Trump's parade is marching in the wrong direction. Trump has jumped in front of an angry gang of economically anxious, bigoted, misogynistic people who are united more by a syndrome than an ideology.

Linguist and political analyst George Lakoff has analyzed the syndrome. He has studied the language and the metaphors used in public discourse. He has written extensively about the correlations between conservative values and what he calls the Strict Father model of politics and child rearing, as opposed to the Nurturant Family model favored by progressives. The Strict Father model is hierarchical and authoritarian.

"The basic idea is that authority is justified by morality (the strict father version), and that, in a well-ordered world, there should be (and traditionally has been) a moral hierarchy in which those who have traditionally dominated should dominate. The hierarchy is: God above Man, Man above Nature, The Disciplined (Strong) above the Undisciplined (Weak), The Rich above the Poor, Employers above Employees, Adults above Children, Western culture above other cultures, Our Country above other countries. The hierarchy extends to: Men above Women, Whites above Nonwhites, Christians above Non-Christians, Straights above Gays."

So you see, it is a syndrome more than an ideology. But it is a syndrome that appears to be on the wrong side of history. Trump's parade is marching backwards.

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