Politics as governance of the public space we share is trapped between technocratic arrogance and the audacity of ignorance. Between the “brilliant” postgraduates who believe that the complexity of social problems can be resolved with infallible laboratory algorithms; and the dunces, those who don’t know, and don’t even know they don’t know, and who offer arbitrary answers that simplify and distort reality.
Neither harbor any doubts when they stray into the public space as messengers of the “truth” or the “post-truth.” And although my thoughts today are dedicated to the latter, I am nevertheless worried about the distant arrogance of those supposed wise men who never explain their mistakes, because for them, it is reality that is out of step.
Dunces are, in and of themselves, relatively harmless, and even positive when they are aware of their ignorance and look for help to cover it. Dangerous dunces are those with power over others, and as they don’t recognize their ignorance, they disparage the opinion of others. They try to impose their simplifying “post-truth,” they look for enemies to blame for the reality that they invent, although they use some elements of truth and the fear that this always generates.
He will obviously cut social spending (on health and other areas), thus breaking the bonds of social cohesion
Trump’s most dangerous walls are already built and petrified in his head. They are the ones that should cause the most concern in the United States, Mexico, Latin America, the European Union and the rest of the world, because this character is at the helm of the “still” number one power in the world. There was never a project in his head to govern the diversity that makes his country strong, nothing similar to a program of government in his campaign, and less so in his investiture speech: because this gentleman only trusts his own psychopathic “instincts” and those who adulate his insulting and deceitful manners.
If any world leader had described the American “reality” in the way that Trump did in his acceptance speech, we would have dismissed him as sectarian and a fanatical hater of the United States. It is worth analyzing this “oratory,” worthy of an autocrat who believes himself to be above all institutions, who looks down on his own people, who looks for enemies and scapegoats among those who are not like him, whether they are immigrants, women, or minorities of all types. In this inaugural piece it can be understood what type of walls reside in his head and orient his many presidential decrees and constant tweets.
We will have to hope that some of the “appeasers” who affirmed (there are still many) that he wouldn’t do the things he promised during his campaign, or during these weeks of effective exercise of the presidency, are now fully appraised of what he really intends to do. Because he shows an audacious ignorance of the internal and external reality that he is trying to project his power over.
The first society that will pay the price of Trump’s mental walls will be America
It is also logical to expect that his imitators will grow and multiply, making it harder to exercise democratic representative governance, the only one that protects our liberties, in the places in the world where it exists. And it matters little that these imitators present themselves under the umbrella, more imaginary than real, of left- or right-wing ideologies. What unites them, or brings them together in “packs,” is their etymologically reactionary position in the face of the vertigo produced by the changes brought about by the technological revolution, and the fraudulent way in which they take advantage of understandable fears among sensitive social groups.
Because we are living through a transition at the global level, which, as was the case with the industrial revolution, cannot be reversed, which is generating a growing interdependence, and which is questioning the nation state as the stage where sovereignty, democracy and identity are carried out. The difference with the industrial revolution is the rapid speed at which the current revolution is taking hold.
Reactionaries take advantage of this fear of change; they close borders; they reject the other, those who are different; they hunker down behind a nationalism without memory of the destruction it wrought in the 20th century. They return to the protectionism of trade wars, and revolt against the technological revolution, using the latter’s own means the better to negate it and to confront its consequences defensively.
The function of progressive politics is not to reject or deny technological change
But there is something behind the electoral triumphs of people like Trump that reveals the need to introduce elements of governance in globalization so as to make it more predictable, and above all, to make it fairer in terms of redistribution, to rethink the way we work and the time we spend doing it. The function of progressive politics is not to reject or deny technological change, nor to use the fears it generates to go back in time in search of “regressive utopias,” but instead to prepare us to face up to this change by taking advantage of its good aspects and minimizing the risks therein so as not to leave anybody behind.
The first society that will pay the price of Trump’s mental walls is America. The good news is that this society is reacting immediately, mobilizing to fight from within against these reactionary and discriminatory instincts installed in the White House since January 20. They are aware that these policies deny the diversity of American society, a diversity that makes it complex but also gives it strength. They are aware that the United States is a society of interconnected minorities in which the imposition of one group over another will only lead to a new “witch hunt,” to an increase in hate crimes toward those seen as different and for that reason to blame. They are aware that hard-won civil rights are in danger. A society built on immigration cannot demonize it.
Reactionaries take advantage of fear of change, they close borders, reject the other
Perhaps they still don’t realize the economic and social effects of these isolationist and threatening policies. In the walled mind of Trump there is no awareness of what global business means, yet the United States is home to the world’s leading global businesses. These are businesses that produce in the world, looking to reduce costs and looking to find talent where they can. They are companies that sell in the world and prefer free trade. It is obvious that the obligation of politics is to limit abuse through reasonable regulatory frameworks, but not to close borders and spark trade wars.
As it is not possible to be a global power without global businesses, the United States will begin its decline as “first power” in the Trump era. It cannot expect that its businesses will manufacture in the United States, that Americans will consume what is produced there and that other countries will continue to consume what its global companies sell.
How is he going to apply high import tariffs and return manufacturing to the United States, where it is more expensive, without raising prices for consumers and effectively impoverishing them? How can he lower taxes and increase spending (on infrastructure and defense) without unbalancing the public accounts? He will obviously cut social spending (on health and other areas), thus breaking the bonds of social cohesion.
Democracy doesn’t guarantee good government, but it does allow us to change the people who do things badly. Which is why, in the long run, it is always better. Let us keep hope alive!
Felipe González was prime minister of Spain between 1982 and 1996.
English version by Nick Lyne.