Tõnis Saarts: Trumpism – an inevitable part of 21st century DNA

Tõnis Saarts.
Tõnis Saarts. Source: Priit Mürk/ERR

Joe Biden's victory has given the liberals a historic opportunity to demonstrate they have empathy for the losers of globalization and that they take several of their concerns seriously. The challenge is not an easy one, Tõnis Saarts says in Vikerraadio's daily comment.

Donald Trump might have lost the recent presidential election, but the core conflicts his radical right-populist ideology drew from will not be going anywhere for the foreseeable future. Still, liberals and Democrats have been given a historic opportunity to manage the core conflicts that serve as the basis for Trumpism and curb toxic social polarization.

Trump's phenomenon in USA and the rise of the populist right in Europe draw from the same well. It is neoliberal globalization and the accompanying shift in values toward greater openness and tolerance. However, neoliberal globalization has produced both winners and losers. Pushback from the latter is what catapulted Trump to power and is fueling the populist right in Europe.

What is neoliberal globalization and how is it birthing these core conflicts. Globalization is characterized by open borders, free movement and a growing level of integration between nations and states.

The current wave of globalization is characterized as neoliberal because at its core lies the idea of countries meddling less often in the economy and people's lives and allowing everyone to make their own luck in a world of broadening opportunity.

This kind of openness has first and foremost benefited educated people sporting liberal and cosmopolitan convictions. Their professional and educational opportunities, as well as those of their children, have expanded. Because global demand for educated specialists is growing, salaries and social security are up.

Additionally, the liberal and tolerant values of these winners of globalization dominate the mainstream media and public discussions. All of it leaves the liberal and younger middle-class feeling very much at home in this borderless and tolerant world.

However, where there are winners, there are also losers. The latter in neoliberal globalization are representatives of the working class, small business owners and underpaid service sector workers many of whom live outside of cosmopolitan cities.

They have mainly been treated to the drawbacks of globalization – stagnating level of income, jobs moving to Asia, neighborhoods with considerable immigrant populations where traditional culture is waning and representatives of which threaten to take what few traditional jobs are left.

More importantly, people feel that many traditional values they have based their lives on are in decline or even in danger of becoming taboos.  The idea that the white working man is deserving of respect and functions as the head of the family is disappearing.

Any expression of nationalist and anti-immigration sentiment is labeled racism and xenophobia. The public sphere is dominated by all manner of peculiar minorities, outspoken feminists etc.

In short, the value compass of these people has been called into question. They suddenly feel as though they are no longer respected members of society whose socioeconomic future is safe and whose convictions the public considers. Pushback from these social groups is what Trumpism and the populist right in Europe rely on.

Trumpism is the price we pay for neoliberal globalization. The liberal and more successful part of society ignored those who couldn't keep up for too long. It was believed right until the end of the major economic crisis of the late 2000s that the fruits of globalization would eventually ripen also on the lower branches and that everyone would emerge victorious in the end. Unfortunately, that has not happened.

Adversity between the winners and losers of globalization has become such a fundamental conflict to polarize society it seems ingrained in the DNA of the 21st century. This has also made Trumpism and right-wing populism a part of 21st century DNA. "For every force there is an equal and opposite force," the laws of physics tell us.

The conflict between the winners and losers of globalization cannot be cured or solved, its effects can only be alleviated. Just like with other genetic diseases, you can learn to live with them and avoid major complications by being smart about it.

Joe Biden's victory in the USA has given the liberals a historic opportunity to show they have empathy for the losers of globalization and that they take several of their concerns seriously. The challenge will not be an easy one. If the liberals fail to introduce changes over the next four years, it will have serious consequences for the entire Western world.

Trump set about carelessly cutting branches off the tree of liberal democracy and globalization. This has now been stopped. However, should liberals and Democrats refuse or fail to learn their lesson, the next Trumpian politician will take the axe to the trunk of the three.


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Editor: Marcus Turovski

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