The revolutionary moment

News Published November 7, 2016

I’ve avoided writing about the American election. It’s not as if there are too few words or opinions on the subject flying about. And I’m not in America, so I can’t see the nuances. But I think maybe I can see something, from my perspective. And, hell, it’s been a few weeks since I last got into trouble for my opinions.

So it’s time to talk politics again.

Let’s begin by watching this film. It’s Donald Trump’s final TV ad, and I’d ask you to watch it carefully. As you do, forget who it’s about. Forget who made it, who is promoting it, and whatever it is that you think of him. Forget the election, in fact. Just listen to the words, and the arguments.

Now let’s isolate a few of the claims being made here, and let’s look at the language they are being made in:

‘Our movement is about replacing a failed and corrupt political establishment.’

‘The establishment has trillions of dollars at stake … the political establishment that is trying to stop us, is the same group responsible for our disastrous trade deals.’

‘There’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth, and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.’

‘The only thing that can stop this corrupt machine is you.’

If I were to place these quotes in front of you, and challenge you to tell me whether they came from Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, George Monbiot, Jeremy Corbyn, Yanis Varoufakis, Occupy Wall Street, Marine Le Pen or me, I don’t think you’d find it easy. Neither would I.

Now, let’s continue. Who do you think said this?

[If I were American, I would vote for] Trump. I’m horrified by him [but] I’m just left thinking Hillary is the true danger … In every society, there is a whole network of unwritten rules, how politics works, and how you build consensus. And Trump disturbed this. If Trump wins, both major parties–Republicans and Democrats–would have to return to basics, rethink themselves, and maybe some things can happen there. … It will be a kind of big awakening. New political processes will be set in motion, will be triggered.

That’s Slavoj Zizek, celebrated Marxist philosopher.

Now, about this one?

When Trump stood in the shadow of a Ford Motor factory during the Michigan primary, he threatened the corporation that if they did indeed go ahead with their planned closure of that factory and move it to Mexico, he would slap a 35% tariff on any Mexican-built cars shipped back to the United States. It was sweet, sweet music to the ears of the working class of Michigan, and when he tossed in his threat to Apple that he would force them to stop making their iPhones in China and build them here in America, well, hearts swooned and Trump walked away with a big victory.

From Green Bay to Pittsburgh, this, my friends, is the middle of England – broken, depressed, struggling, the smokestacks strewn across the countryside with the carcass of what we use to call the Middle Class. Angry, embittered working (and nonworking) people who were lied to by the trickle-down of Reagan and abandoned by Democrats who still try to talk a good line but are really just looking forward to rub one out with a lobbyist from Goldman Sachs who’ll write them nice big check before leaving the room. What happened in the UK with Brexit is going to happen here.

That’s famously lefty filmmaker Michael Moore. He doesn’t like Trump, but he thinks he’s going to win. Finally, for some useful insights into why Americans will vote for Trump despite his many flaws, I recommend this analysis from John Michael Greer, who writes:

We’ll know by this time next week whether the bipartisan consensus that’s been welded firmly in place in American politics since the election of George W. Bush will stay intact for the next four years. That consensus, for those of my readers who haven’t been paying attention, supports massive giveaways to big corporations and the already affluent, punitive austerity for the poor, malign neglect for the nation’s infrastructure, the destruction of the American working class through federal subsidies for automation and offshoring and tacit acceptance of mass illegal immigration as a means of driving down wages, and a monomaniacally confrontational foreign policy obsessed with the domination of the Middle East by raw military force. Those are the policies that George W. Bush and Barack Obama pursued through four presidential terms, and they’re the policies that Hillary Clinton has supported throughout her political career. 

Donald Trump, by contrast, has been arguing against several core elements of that consensus since the beginning of his run for office. Specifically, he’s calling for a reversal of federal policies that support offshoring of jobs, the enforcement of US immigration law, and a less rigidly confrontational stance toward Russia over the war in Syria. It’s been popular all through the current campaign for Clinton’s supporters to insist that nobody actually cares about these issues, and that Trump’s supporters must by definition be motivated by hateful values instead, but that rhetorical gimmick has been a standard thoughstopper on the left for many years now, and it simply won’t wash. The reason why Trump was able to sweep aside the other GOP candidates, and has a shot at winning next week’s election despite the unanimous opposition of this nation’s political class, is that he’s the first presidential candidate in a generation to admit that the issues just mentioned actually matter.

Please don’t leave comments below explaining to me how awful Donald Trump is and all the reasons why. I know all that. It doesn’t matter, at this point. Here’s what does: everything he said in that ad is demonstrably factually correct, in America as in many other nations, and people know it. And here’s something else that matters: the Democratic party, which once represented the working class and was supposed to defend them, at least in theory, from this fate, has morphed into a party of privileged bourgeois liberals, big banks, defence companies, illegal migrants and media corporations. That has allowed a billionaire property developer to lead an insurrection that has captured one of America’s political parties – the party, mind, which kicked off the globalisation project, the party of the rich, the party of those trade deals – and use it to start a war against globalisation.

That’s right: a war against globalisation. In America. Led by a Republican. These are words which I never thought I would read, let alone write. Forget whether Trump means what he says. Forget whether he’d do anything about it. Forget whether you like or loathe him, too, because I’m not writing about him. I’m writing about his movement. What we are seeing in 2016 – and not just with Trump, but with Bernie Sanders before him (who we now know could have been the Democrats’ nominee were it not for the Clintons and their backers stuffing him like a turkey: thanks Wikileaks!) is a full-blown American revolt against the impacts of globalisation. Here in Britain, Brexit  was our own version of this revolt (rather than being the massive and inexplicable spasm of irrational racism that many of its opponents still seem determined to explain it away as). The nativist parties in Europe represent another flavour, as do Syriza in Greece, Putin in Russia, Modi in India. Hell, even Isis.

I wrote my first book more than a decade ago; it was about a revolt against globalisation. I made two mistakes in that book (well, at least two, but these are the important ones.) Firstly, I was over-optimistic about the ‘global movement’ that I saw rising, and what it could do and how quickly. In fact, it faded away soon after – or seemed to. Secondly, I assumed that a revolt against globalisation would come from the left and from the poor world – from Mexico, South Africa, Indonesia and other places I visited, and from the proto-Occupy forces which back then were besieging global summits. A revolt certainly has come from those places, where it has in some cases been going on for decades. But now it has been joined by a revolt from the right, which is drawing its strength from working class and lower middle  class people in the West. Globalisation, having immiserated much of the the ‘developing’ world for quarter of a century, is now immiserating much of the ‘developed’ world too. Too many people have been pushed over the brink by this system now. Their rage is not going to die back. There are too many reasons for people to feel it, and to express it. A tipping point has been reached.

What does this mean? I’m going to stick my neck out again on this, even though I did that back in 2004 and got it wrong (or perhaps my timing was just off). So, here we go again: globalisation is collapsing. The liberal project is in retreat. Perhaps it is over altogether. That’s what Brexit meant. That’s what Trump means – even if he loses. What began in earnest in 1990 with the Soviet collapse is ending now, with the collapse of the West – or at least this version of the West.

John Gray, in this week’s New Statesman, has a typically sharp take on just this subject. He thinks, too, that liberalism – economic and social – which has so long been assumed by Western elites to be the point upon which the world is converging, is actually a phenomena limited to Western nations, whose elites, cultural and political, have been corrupted by their dominance, and are increasingly shielded from the people they claim to represent. As such, liberalism is under threat, and could even disappear:

The liberal pageant is fading, yet liberals find it hard to get by without believing they are on what they like to think is the right side of history. The trouble is that they can only envision the future as a continuation of the recent past. This is so whether their liberalism comes from the right or the left. Whether they are George Osborne’s City-based “liberal mainstream”, or Thatcherite think tanks, baffled and seething because Brexit hasn’t taken us closer to a free-market utopia, or egalitarian social democrats who favour redistribution or “predistribution”, an entire generation is finding its view of the world melting away under the impact of events.

One thing seems clear to me, and it’s something both Trump and Sanders are right about: anyone who wants genuine change cannot, at this point in history, support the continuation of the self-serving machine that is delivering us to hell in a handbasket of deplorables. That doesn’t, of course, mean that Donald Trump is a solution; or indeed any of the other people I’ve mentioned here. I don’t think anyone has any real answers yet. But I do think that this is a revolutionary moment, and I know that revolutions are rarely pretty, or predictable.

To me, today, Hillary Clinton looks like a corrupt late Roman emperor, trying to buoy up a system of favour and patronage which is bleeding her outposts dry. Donald J. Trump looks like a barbarian hammering at her gates. Whether you would like to be governed by the emperor or the barbarian probably depends on how much you benefit from the emperor’s largesse, and how much you trust the barbarian not to turn on you once he has finished with the Praetorian Guard. But it probably also comes down to whether you have anything left to lose.

Let’s see how the gates hold tomorrow.

74 Comments

  • Gareth Young

    Trumpenomics may be a reaction to globalisation but I think Brexit was more a reaction against neo-liberalism (the Leavers aren’t anti-free trade, or even, necessarily, immigration; but they are against corporatism and free movement). There are certainly parallels between Brexit and Trump though, certainly in regard to the sense that the political class are running the show for themselves and global money. Great article.

    • Paul

      Interesting thoughts Gareth. What would you see as the difference between globalisation and neo-liberalism in this context? They both seem intimately connected to me.

      • Gareth Young

        The EU is a neo-liberal construct, set up to serve the interests of corporations (that was its genesis) and these lobby in secret and can move production or labour around the EU, undermining wages and collective bargaining, etc. Broadly speaking the Leave camp was arguing against all that and arguing that the UK should go global and open itself up to the world (in terms of trade at least). And the leaders of the Leave campaign were not anti-immigration as such. Many, if not all, argued that immigration was beneficial but must be controlled. Many were pro-free trade but against TTIP/CETA-type trade deals that empowered corporations, and undermined sovereignty and nationalised industry.

        Trump is against immigration and the trade deals that he believes encourage US companies to move production abroad. Trump is more isolationist and protectionist than the Brexiteers. Of course the US itself is a huge neo-liberal state run by bankers, lobbyists and corporations, so he’s not railing against that.

        Bernie Sanders may have run a more pro-globalisation but anti-neo-liberal campaign. I think Trump and Sanders are both trying, in their own ways, to address the same problems but Sanders sees the the politics and economy of the US as the problem, whereas Trump thinks it’s more to do with America’s place in the world and its relationship with pesky foreigners.

    • Tracy Lynn Nelson

      Wow, awesome powerful and effective read. Very impressed with your views. Well done fine sir. From a concerned Canadian who thought I was smart lol. (I am but I think you know what i mean)

    • Rick

      A thoughtful, unbiased, and courageous piece of journalism that takes a unique approach to get the reader to use critical thinking, a difficult task for some readers and their educators? The European countries saw their culture and individual freedoms melt right before their eyes and did nothing to listen to their forgotten middle class. The same happened in America.

  • Joanna Eden

    Thank you for this. You have an incredibly objective, intelligent perspective and I honour your boldness.

  • Tim Sanderson

    At last a sane voice in this matter, thanks Paul good work.

  • michael

    Well put, Paul. As an American, your piece gave me some wonderful context about Brexit as well. Thank you.

  • Martin Woodward

    Howdy from Texas.

    I appreciate your interest in our flawed but enduring American experiment. You should spend some time here. You’ll quickly see that the populism you’re projecting onto Trump is nowhere to be found in any statistically significant portion of the primary pool of Republican voters who chose him as their champion. They chose him for cultural reasons. Don’t fool yourself.

    And where to start with this mess: “[T]he Democratic party, which once represented the working class and was supposed to defend them, at least in theory, from this fate, has morphed into a party of privileged bourgeois liberals, big banks, defence companies, illegal migrants and media corporations.”

    I suppose I’ll start with the ridiculous implied argument that “illegal migrants” are supporting Democrats by voting for them illegally. They aren’t, because they can’t, and there is zero evidence that such practice has ever occurred- although that certainly hasn’t stopped Republicans from constantly suggesting it. We used to call that “lying.”

    As to “big banks” and “defence companies”: I humbly suggest you engage in some research. Pick the ten biggest US banks (or, more precisely, bank holding companies) and the ten biggest US defense contractors. Write down the names of their directors and officers. Then go to fec.gov, and put the names of each of these captains of industry into the search engine. You will see that the overwhelming majority contribute tens of thousands of dollars to Republican candidates only- and zero to Democrats. Make no mistake: the Republican party is a wholly-owned subsidiary of big business. They hate the Democratic party with a burning passion, because it is the only institution keeping them from pillaging what’s left of America.

    To Bernie Sanders. I had the privilege of meeting him (along with a small group of donors) for some delicious Tex-Mex at Ojeda’s restaurant in Dallas a year or so ago. You would be hard-pressed to find a more sincere politician. He knew very well he had no chance- literally, none- of securing the Democratic nomination over Hillary Clinton. But not because the process was rigged. Bernie knew from the get-go that most Democratic primary voters weren’t where he was on the issues. Yet, he felt it important to make his case, and in so doing, he hoped to pull the party leftward and closer to its roots. In this, he clearly succeeded.

    I could go on. But I think I’ve made my point. I have some nascent opinions about politics in the UK and Ireland, but I will hold my powder at least until this summer when I visit and get a good, close look at conditions on the ground. I can’t wait!

    Paul (and others): if you find yourselves in the Great State, come say howdy. If it’s a slow week, I’ll grill y’all a steak you won’t get anywhere else (and if it’s busy, hell, we’ll just go to Ojeda’s).

    T-minus 9 hours before the networks call it for Hillary. I got my beer chilled, and the wife’s champagne will be on ice.

    Happy trails.

    Marty

    • Thanks for the thoughts, Marty. I appreciate them, and the on-the-ground perspective. I appreciate the offer of a steak perhaps even more!

      Just a few responses, or maybe clarifications. Firstly, on that populism: I have certainly seen it amongst Trump supporters, just by watching films of them explaining what they are after, and by reading what they say on the issues. And I presume this populist appeal must be working – otherwise, why would Trump be going so heavy on it? Why would Michael Moore think it might allow him to win? I don’t doubt the cultural pull for a moment, but I do doubt that this economic populism is nowhere to be found at all.

      On migration: I’m not suggesting illegal migrants vote Democrat. Rather that the Democrats appear to be championing, or at least excusing, illegal migration, which has allowed Trump to go so big on his opposition to it (an opposition which is popular across the board, from the polls I’ve seen.)

      On banks and defence companies: Wikileaks has done a good job of demonstrating Clinton’s relationships here. Of course the Republicans, as I said above, are the party of money and corporate power, but the Democrats have been easing their way since Hillary’s hubby. Hence Trump, who’s running against his own party, can pose as a populist on this issue. Whether he actually is or not is another matter.

      And surely Sanders ran Clinton very close indeed. If not for the ‘super delegates’ he had a chance; again, from the reports I saw over here. Personally I was hoping for a Trump v Sanders face-off. But that’s easy for me to say, from over here.

      I do hope things calm down for you all tomorrow, whatever happens. I will cross my fingers.

      Thanks again.
      Paul

    • Hannah

      Marty, I’d love to hear your reactions now – it’s December 5 today – to the networks not calling it for Hillary.

  • Charles Eisenstein

    Hey Paul, thanks for saying this. Not sure if you read it, but I wrote an article saying similar things about Brexit a few months ago. As an American if I say anything like this about the election I get savaged with the all-purpose response, “But Trump!” Four legs good, two legs bad. Mostly I’ve kept out of the election. Something much more important is happening in America now, at Standing Rock.

  • Sara Conwy

    Brilliantly put, thanks Paul.

  • nick stevenson

    Thanks. I mostly agree that trump and brexit are signs of the collapse of the liberal project. It has simply neglected environmental disaster and class inequality for too long and its time may well be up. However wins there is a massive task for civil society. The problem with what you say however potentially underestimates nationalist populism. Look at the UK post Brexit nasty intolerant and increasingly anti-democratic. I would fear the same if Trump won. I could easily see a major move against civil liberties making life for people who want to be critical very difficult. Like you ( I have read and appreciated a lot of your work) I fear for the future of the planet if corporate globalisation is allowed to continue, but is the victory of someone who openly avoids tax and does not believe in climate change, who I is openly racist and sexist etc a step in the right direction? I think not.

    • Thanks. I don’t think that a victory for either candidate would be a step in the right direction. I don’t think there will be a step in the right direction under the existing system, anywhere. I agree that nationalist populism is currently rampant and growing; but that, as I suggested in the piece, is itself a reaction to globalism as an ideology which seeks to break down borders and promote mass population movement against the will of most people in most places. That always leads to a nasty backlash. Again, I see this global system destabilising everything and no easy or kind way or out from this point. There’s another article to be written about nations, borders and globalisation, but not this week!

      • nick stevenson

        I see your point, but what if Trump (as seems possible) begins to reject the rule of law and the very liberal freedoms that allow us to object and criticise? What I fear is the mentality of the mob. We are beginning to see that here with the hysteria which has been met by the judges simply up holding the rule of law. Without the right to dissent we will be in a worse position than we are already. Given the nationalist populism of Trump and Farage these become very real possibilities. I liked your alter-globalisation book and think that wave is not yet finished. I also loved the book on englishness which to me spoke to a radical englishness of people like e.p.thompson. All of these projects depend upon liberal freedoms a populist nationalism would have no time for.

        • Yes, I actually think that the closed-minded mob mentality, on both sides of this debate, is a real danger. I don’t think Trump could reject the rule of law. The US system is too robust and has too many checks and balances. But the intolerance of mobs is frightening – that’s a historical truth, always in times of turmoil. In the UK, the pro- and anti-Brexit people regularly caricature each other and few even want to hear what the other side has to say. The same seems true in the US. This could get worse before it gets better, on left and right. I think listening to our ‘enemies’ is now critical. Or better: having no enemies.

  • dukie

    Paul,

    Thank you for this article. It was spot on thruout. I say that as someone intimately involved. My beautiful, black, female, life partner was elected as a Trump delegate to the RNC in Cleveland. Earlier in the primaries we backed Rand Paul. 6 years ago we jumped into Repuglican politics to support Ron Paul.

    And, well done on rebutting “Marty.” He is a slick twister of fact and sounds like a sly Clintonista in disguise. They fail miserably because of Wikileaks. I ran into his kind of rhetoric on a climate blog when I positively mentioned Jill Stein. Paid operatives of the Klinton Machine who don’t want someone like Dr. Stein to take even one vote away from Clinton.

    I, like you, have completely accepted that the planet is hurtling toward an unstoppable, ecological apocalypse. Thus I can admire both Stein & Trump.

    cheers,
    dukie

  • Gregory Pass

    Thanks for these thoughts. I am a liberal intellectual elite who hopes to keep the pageant going for as long as possible. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primaries and for Hillary Clinton in the general election — beyond that I will withhold comment, but only observe that as the campaign progressed Trump increasingly co-opted Bernie Sanders’s positions to attract the disaffected. The result I hope to see in a Democratic Party win (and more importantly down the ticket in Senate, House of Representative, Governor, and local government races) is Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren in the US Senate enjoying more power to act as forces for positive progressive good. But as an alternative to opening the gates to the barbarians to effect revolutionary change, what is your opinion of organizations such as the Bernie-Sanders-inspired “Our Revolution” (https://ourrevolution.com)?

  • Andrea

    The barbarian has broken through the gates. And now, tonight, as the world has turned and spun another myth for the ages, your words have been a balm to help me sleep. Now, it’s time for understanding, time toward the next steps of the revolution. Thank you for this, I’ll now lay down and try to dream once again of a world that could be a peaceful place for simple desires like home, love, peace.

  • Sharon Yarwood

    You speak my mind, Paul. I believe everything you say is right. All I hope is that Donald Trump is a good man. As yet he is very much an unknown quantity but still very much better than yet another corporate puppet.

  • Liz Cruse

    I think we need to distinguish between the liberal project that is neo-liberal in economic terms (and globalisation is an inevitable part of this) and the liberal project that enshrines cultural values of tolerance of alternative lifestyles and equal rights for all. Unfortunately Trump (and probably others) has enmeshed the two and capitalised on bigotry and the intolerance endemic in evangelical Christianity (not only). I believe many of Trump’s supporters are against globalisation. I doubt they would be able to describe neoliberalism- which surely Trump would espouse. His position seems contradictory. And in all this the great threat of climate change comes nowhere for him (though I did hear his economic adviser making passing reference to it on BBC radio today.)Yes we need to change the system but must that be at the cost of tolerance? Trump is just business as usual but in America. What he’s espousing won’t alas break the mould of resource depleting, climate warming capitalism. Thanks though for the article. I admire your work and this has enabled be to think a bit more about the current predicament we are in in U.K. (my home) and USA.

  • Jef Gunn

    Thank you Paul, for a fresh view of the Barbarian at the gates. He’s in now, and many of us await his next move, trembling.
    I see and feel most of what your article details. I get that globalism has skewered working people everywhere. When ‘communism fell’ my first thought was, “wait till the other shoe drops!” I’m writing from Oregon, on the West Coast. I come from working class roots and work as an artist and carpenter. So I’m educated and I work with my hands. I first encountered your work in an article in Orion called Dark Ecology. It kicked my butt. I could not let it go for months. I read it at least seven times and appreciate its intricate layers and rhythms, but mostly the stark understanding that things are going to get a lot more difficult before they improve.
    I’m wondering if you have a way to relate these three stories, of Trump’s bold naming of the larger economic reality (Bernie said it too), and his dismissal of climate change as a hoax, and the darkness that may be coming; staying grounded as we move forward.

    • Thank you, and your question is a good one. The answer, I think, is ‘I’m working on it.’ A lot of my thinking is clarifying itself right now in response to this. Watch this space! And thanks again.

  • Laura

    What a fabulous article and discussion. As dark as our future looks, politically, economically but worst ecologically, I have a small measure more of faith in my fellow humans after reading this blog today!

  • Brian

    Hi Paul,
    Great piece, but I’m surprised to see a soul as gentle as yours wading into the virus-laden swamp of toxic sound and fury. It’s mean and ugly, and despite our best intentions and motivations, paying attention to it infects us with meanness and ugliness. Have you noticed how people are becoming mean and ugly – beside themselves. Here is a reminding salve for times like this:

    “When despair for the world grows in me
    and I wake in the night at the least sound
    in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
    I go and lie down where the wood drake
    rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
    I come into the peace of wild things
    who do not tax their lives with forethought
    of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
    And I feel above me the day-blind stars
    waiting with their light. For a time
    I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.”

    Be well.

    • Thanks Brian. I was trying to wade into the as-yet-undrained swamp and avoid the viruses. Perhaps that is impossible. I like the image of infection. That is certainly what it feels like at the moment. You’re right – mean and ugly. It’s like something dark is stalking the world. Which it may be.

  • Jim A. Lauder

    I keep hearing and reading, here and elsewhere, that globalization, corporatism, warmongering and the creation of the corrupt private banking system we live under has been forged by ‘liberalism’. It has not, dammit! The foregoing are children of neo-liberal bastards and whores.

    • Well, the clue’s in the name: neo – liberal. ‘Liberal’ is a word whose meanings vary depending on place, but economic ‘liberalism’ – open borders and markets, corporate freedom – is what globalisation is based on. War and banking are rather older. But it can also be argued that social and economic liberalism go hand in hand, which I think is largely true.

      • Jim A. Lauder

        First I want to make it clear that I thought your article was truly excellent. As to the word ‘neo-liberal’, it is a paradox. There is nothing new about it and is anything but liberal. I would imagine feudalism is probably the best description of what the current efforts are driving towards. I am posting this as well as emailing the link to several friends. Thank you.

  • Laurence McWha

    Ponder this apparent irony ~ nationalism (and its sister, tribalism) which is internal to state borders has fueled international conflict which is a phenomenon external to state borders….. globalism (a relatively new liberal concept in human affairs that is external to the state) has fueled unprecedented domestic conflict which is internal to state borders. The Marxists had another word for globalism (borderless internationalism) and, so far, that concept has failed us and appears to have no future. The backlash is understandable.

  • Jim A. Lauder

    Perhaps the Venus project is the only hope for homo sapiens. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yb5ivvcTvRQ

  • Paul Sousek

    I also agree with your analysis. Trump’s redeeming feature is his rejection of globalism.

    However, his equally emphatic rejection of Climate Change caused by humans is clearly far more important. Post Paris, nation states were expected to upgrade their goals to hopefully aim for +2C world and no hotter (although even that may not be enough to stop runaway Climate Chaos). But if the 2nd biggest polluter does the opposite, as now seems certain, not only will that counteract what ever actions other nations will take, but will encourage other reluctant nations to do likewise. Than we are heading for +5C leading to +7C and end of human civilisation on the planet Earth for ever…

    Further more, Trump is of course keen to push economic growth to the maximum, albeit within USA borders, which can only speed up our Climate Chaos end.

    Not much to celebrate, is there?

    • I agree, though I see he is currently moderating his climate stance. His ignorance on the issue – and on most others – would be funny if it weren’t so serious. The anti-globalists of the right have no ecological clue, and are wedded to markets and growth.

  • Wendell Fitzgerald

    You say “I don’t think anyone has any real answers yet.” Really? You haven’t heard about sovereign money, land value taxation and the movement to shift taxation off of earned income onto unearned income (unearned income estimated at 40+% of GNP, the historical root cause of the disparity of wealth and the entire incentive for destroying the environment for profit, the taxing of which even to 100% creates no negative unintended economic consequences but positive results not to be achieved otherwise), public banks, ending government financial asset hoarding? Just to name a few of the big ideas that have been floating around for a long time unacknowledged by any side including most of our vaunted public intellectuals.

  • Guilherme Kujawski

    Good points… But why not remove the cloak of invisibility over Rojava and turn our eyes to what is happening there?

  • J, C. Greenway

    I was really saddened to read this from a writer I have admired for a long time, so wanted to note a few points that have been running through my mind in response.

    The US election and Brexit both seem to have become a kind of Rorschach test, where everyone can see what they want to see. If you want a war against globalisation, then you think that is what will be delivered. I wonder what you thought when some of the first calls Trump made as President-Elect were to officials in Argentina and India about his business interests. Perhaps he also found a moment to speak about the plight of the poor as well?

    What should be obvious is that both Trump and May are only going to dismantle the parts of the global infrastructure and trade agreements that disadavantage *them and the interests they serve*. The era of globalisation you detest so much is more likely to be replaced by protectionism and a trade war than a revitalisation of working- and lower middle-class life. You can be sure that corporations, banks and media barons are not feeling threatened by Brexit or Trump’s election. Minorities, public sector organisations and the poor definitely are.

    It is telling that you can easily dismiss ‘the massive and inexplicable spasm of irrational racism that many of its opponents still seem determined to explain [Brexit] away as…’ If a notable rise in hate crimes and – I know you have been off twitter for a while – post after post after post with incidents of people being shouted at in the street or attacked are not racist, what are they? Similar stories have come from the US as well, with even citizens being told, ‘You’ll be deported now.’ Schoolchildren making a fake ‘wall’ and telling their foreign classmates they can’t come in. Are they behaving like that because they have had enough of global trade deals and the big banks?

    You also threw in ‘illegal migrants’ as part of a group that have taken over the Democratic party in the US. No one should be illegal, especially those fleeing wars our countries have caused. To take it to a (fairly silly, I know) extreme: I have some Welsh ancestors who would want a word with The Wake’s Buckmaster about returning our prime Sussex pasture. ‘Send the Anglo-Saxons back!’ Where does it end?

    No, Clinton was never the perfect candidate. She has made a career out of political compromise, which was never going to go down too well in the current climate. It seems that the very act of speaking to Goldman Sachs was an outrage, but if anyone was going to be able to negotiate the tricky waters of reforming the system while keeping Wall Street content enough not to turn the US into Greece, it was her. Can you have the same confidence in Trump?

    It has been remarked upon elsewhere that climate change barely came up as a topic in the US election. Given Trump’s investments in the pipeline company that is currently spraying protesters with water in freezing temperatures and belief that climate change was invented by China to destroy US business, given your own decades of writing on the topic, I am staggered that you can see any good in his election. Unless you have reached the point of, ‘Well, I tried to warn you and you wouldn’t listen, so you get what you deserve.’ Again, who is going to suffer the most here? The air of ‘I’m alright, Jack,’ is dismaying.

    • Thanks for the comment. There’s a lot of stuff in here which is worth unpacking.

      Firstly, as I made clear in the post, the issue is the movement behind Trump, or at least some of it, and not Trump himself. I am not a supporter of his, nor do I like him. I don’t expect an era of good governance in the US. That is not the point.

      No-one is suggesting that this man is any kind of anti-capitalist warrior. But what he has managed to do is very significant. Both of these upwellings – and they will not be the last in the West – were reactions to the ructions caused by globalisation: offshoring, mass migration, growing wealth and power gaps, automation, etc. There’s no doubt that this process is behind these shocks, and behind others around the world.

      Yes the era of globalisation will be replaced by protectionism, which is very much the historical norm. Both are problematic. Protectionism and nationalism can lead to conflicts between nations but, as another poster here has pointed out, globalism has led to conflicts within nations.

      You say that ‘Minorities, public sector organisations and the poor definitely are’ threatened by Trump. These are three very different things. Minorities: well, 30% of Latinos and 30% of Asians in the US voted for Trump, along with 8% of African Americans and 42% of women. Presumably they are not feeling threatened. Others may well be, but so far Trump has done and said nothing to fuel that fear. We will have to see what happens, but I doubt he will. Public sector organisations, I imagine, are always under threat from a Republican president. ‘The poor’? Trump directed his appeal straight at them, and Clinton’s inability to speak to them is what lost her the election. Trump may well have been lying to them all, but the fact he could make that appeal proves the current system is failing them.

      Hate crimes: yes, these are awful, on all sides (Trump supporters have been being physically attacked by anti-Trump protesters for the last four weeks, by the way. There is intolerance everywhere. Anti-Brexit peoples’ abuse of the ‘racist white chavs’ who voted to leave has been absolutely disgusting to see.) Let’s not play down the fact that some people feel they have been given permission to express their racism and bigotry by these votes. It is a real concern. But let’s not exaggerate it either. Several thousand hate crimes, which may or may not be anything to do with Trump or Brexit, do not stain the characters of tens of millions of people who voted for these changes. To suggest that all Trump or Brexit voters were racist or prejudiced, or that this is the feeling of most people, as opposed to a vocal and disgusting minority, is prejudice in itself.

      As for illegal migration: if you are for open borders, I’m afraid I believe that you are part of the problem that has caused the rise of Trump. Like it or not, people are reacting hard against the sheer weight and speed of migration into the West at present. I recommend reading this piece for some suggestions as to why. It’s not just racist ‘whites’ either: 60% of the UK’s ethnic minority population wants migration reduced. If people do not feel that they can control the direction of their nation and its culture, if they do not feel that their leaders are listening to them, if they do not feel economically and culturally secure, they will turn to people on the right, and often the hard right, to help them. The left’s ‘no one is illegal’ attitude is the equivalent of a vote for Farage or Le Pen.

      As for Buccmaster: yes, his ancestors took the land too. It is true that all peoples, or most of them, took their land from those who were there first (including the Celts: they stole theirs from the Beaker folk, who they seem to have exterminated.) People take places, often by force, and then create cultures in them. Then, when they feel those cultures are under threat, they react, often with awful consequences. Another theme of that novel. We have to prevent that reaction from happening again. Mass migration on the current scale – not all migration, please note, but very large numbers of people moving in difficult times – in my view, is the quickest route to a race war. I can’t think of anything worse. If Europe’s borders are not controlled soon, we’re going to see the far right in power.

      Whether any good comes from Trump’s election in terms of what he does, we will have to see. I’m not a supporter of his, as I have made clear, nor am I optimistic. His environmental views are barbaric. But the post cold war system is now crumbling, and that’s a huge release of energy. That was always going to come – I have been writing about it for years. Now we have to try to understand it.

      • Corinne Schmidt

        Paul, I enjoy your writing and am intrigued by your views. But please do keep in mind, as you think this through, that Hillary Clinton won the votes of nearly three million more Americans than Donald Trump did. Clearly poor and disaffected Americans voted for Trump, but plenty of poor and disaffected Americans voted for Clinton as well. It wasn’t anti-globalism that won the election, but an Electoral College system deliberately designed to fragment the votes of the poor.
        While his anti-globalism fervor played well for Trump, this will prove to be a reactionary rather than a revolutionary moment. We can already see from his Cabinet picks that Trump’s tenure will likely be disastrous in terms of income inequality, government transparency, and environmental protection. You may be right that his victory will force both parties to reconsider their priorities; all to the good. Meanwhile, we face four and possibly eight years of Trump rolling back policies that have actually done some good for our land and our people. Worse still, we have given a feckless authoritarian the keys to one of the most powerful states in human history. As a teacher struggling to remain in the middle class, I see very little reason for optimism, and will resist to the extent of my powers every effort to normalize this President-elect and his plans. Richmond, Virginia

        • The Electoral College system, as I understand it, was designed to prevent some parts of the country – the most populous – from dominating the others. As Clinton’s majority of votes can be accounted for simply by totting up her votes in one state – California – or a few of the US’s nine megacities, it would seem to be a good system. Without it, metropolitan Americans would dominate the country, because they are a numerical majority, despite being confined to a few small geographical areas. Another way of putting that: the city would dominate small-town and rural areas. I’m against that.

          I don’t think a distinction between ‘reaction’ and ‘revolution’ is useful – it’s used by people on the left mainly to distinguish between upheavals they like and those they don’t. I oppose a lot of what Trump stands for, and I dislike the man himself greatly. But I understand why people would vote for secure borders, economic nationalism and a renewed sense of national pride at this moment in history, and I don’t see the left doing anything other than trying to undermine those things. More broadly, I can see both ‘left’ and ‘right’ remaking themselves across the West, and that might be a good thing. Or it might not. I suppose we will find out.

  • Gerry Kachmarski

    I might be able to name you, Mr. Kingsnorth, as author of an unattributed quote if it contained locutions such as the noun phrase, “a phenomena” (sic) rather than “a phenomenon;” or if it referred to a female politician, such as Mrs. Clinton, as a “corrupt emperor” rather than “empress.” I would consider it an act of churlish Anglo-Saxon defiance of the linguistic impositions of the Normans as embodied in the morphology of Latin and ancient Greek, and thus a dead giveaway.

  • C Alexander

    I agree that the liberal democratic ideal has been dealt a huge setback (at least) and that the GOP and Democratic party establishment was too complacent about the many that were/are hurting because of globalization. And yet, you take this and other arguments too far. Your closing line sums up your mistaken premise and assumptions about many Trump and Clinton supporters: “[whether you want to be governed by an emperor or a barbarian] probably also comes down to whether you have anything left to lose.” African-Americans and HIspanics have a lot to lose and by vast majorities didn’t vote for Trump. Where do they fit into your view of reality? I think that they saw some good in incrementalism, perhaps the best they could wish for because the alternative left them victimized, scapegoated, with the barbarian at the gate. They saw a campaign based on race and bigotry, although you want to believe that racism doesn’t matter so much. (More on that below.)

    Progress is hard to find in unstable political environments, which was why many progressives voted for Clinton, despite their frustrations with the pace of change. Pres. Obama was/is not George W. Bush, and most of the country knew that, whether they liked it or not. Many Clinton supporters were sympathetic with Bernie Sanders on many issues, and wanted greater change than Clinton offered.

    True, racism wasn’t created in this election. Its scope was revealed through this election. And this may well be a good thing, a true glimpse at the beast. But to identify inflamed, latent racism/bigotry as a motivator in voting is not to deny that those voters also suffer.

    That raises an issue related to “Forget whether Trump means what he says. Forget whether he’d do anything about it.” Voters did not forget what he said when they went to the polls and aren’t forgetting it now. What he said is very much about his movement. In fact, to forget about what he says is to eviscerate your argument and the ad you offer as evidence—what he said mattered greatly to the election outcome. Some people, many Clinton voters, didn’t believe he could deliver even if he wanted to. Some people were very afraid of Trump’s inexperience, his demogoguery and scapegoating because, liberal as it is, racism and bigotry matter to a whole lot of people. They were dismissive (wrongly) of a candidate who would tap into and stoke legitimate, economic fears with no real intention to deliver. None of Trump’s own actions regarding globalization and establishment interests (i.e. his financial stakes in foreign countries, his own employment outsourcing, his avoidance of tax loopholes, disregard for the workers, businesses and investors stiffed in his bankruptcies) lent plausibility to what he said. That mattered to Clinton voters and matters today.

    The establishment didn’t lose this election—Trump’s branded, monied arm won. The vilified party establishment lost the Presidency. But does Congress look much different to you? statehouses?

    No, because self-interest (even if you have a lot to lose) drives voting decisions more often than not. And under Trump’s self-interested umbrella came the gun voters, anti-abortion, the monied investors who guessed (I think, correctly) that Trump was not about to turn on them, that they would be safer with Trump than with anyone who promised to raise taxes on the wealthy–and others.

    Globalization appears to be in retreat, at least in the western world. Will the US survive it with the strength it has today, as a liberal democracy? I have read historians who say that failed demogoguery generally leads to even greater openness to authoritarian regimes. We will see what happens here. But one thing is for sure regarding elections—it matters a lot what is promised and what is delivered.

    • As I understand it, 30% of Latinos, 30% of Asians and 14% of African Americans voted Trump. So did the overwhelming majority of non-college white women, and nearly half of college-educated white women, plus millions of white people who had previously voted for Obama. This seems to demonstrate that the left’s narrative about race doesn’t hold. Personally, I think that the fragmentation of any nation into race- and gender-based groupuscules is a disaster, and I blame the progressives for pushing this notion over the last few decades. I see as much authoritarianism and dangerous racial language coming from left as from right at the moment.

      I also object to the notion that ‘racism’ was at the heart of this vote. I have been told the same thing about the Brexit vote in the UK, and it’s insulting. It plays into the left’s notion that ‘white’ people are reservoirs of latent prejudice, and I reject it.

      Self-interest, of course, always drives elections. Hillary’s coalition of self-interest turned out not to be as effective as Trump’s. I oppose much of what he stands for, and I dislike him as a man. But I can see why, in the US as elsewhere, many people currently want economic nationalism, border security and some renewed cultural pride, and I don’t see the left saying anything to the people who want these things. That’s why it is collapsing everywhere. That may be no bad thing. The old neoliberal right is collapsing too, and not before time.

  • John C.

    My only bone to pick, Paul, is in regards to your optimism about the US system of checks and balances that you referenced in response to another commenter. As I’m sure you’re aware, the United States is a late-stage democracy muddling through late-stage capitalism. But, as Plato demonstrated two millennia ago in The Republic, it’s at that point that democracies fall apart, and all indicators seem to point to the fact that America is ripe for a collapse of constitutional tradition. In fact, the breakdown of our checks and balances has been ongoing for several years now, just not so blatantly (The GOP-led Senate’s refusal to even hold hearings for Obama’s appointment of Garland to the Supreme Court is an example). The Trump Administration, unfortunately, seems bent on accelerating that breakdown. So, yes, I would agree on the point, just as I agree with almost everything else in this essay, that things may get a lot darker before they get better. Just maybe they will get even darker than you’re willing to openly admit.

    (BTW, I didn’t discover Dark Mountain until after the election, and your writing, along with John Michael Greer, Carolyn Baker, and Rachel Du Cann, is one reason why I’m no longer running in circles with my hair on fire like so many of my countrymen.)

    • Thanks for this. I’m no expert, so perhaps I am over-optimistic (not something I am often accused of.) But you may well be right. I understand that Obama was part of this problem too, with his various executive orders and federal over-reach of various kinds. That in turn sparked the Tea Party, which seems now to have been a forerunner to Trump. And for years of course you, like all modern nation states, have had corporate power right at the heart of government, and a media which is complicit with politicians and big money. So yes, perhaps Trump is the latest, and most blatant, indicator, of the crumbling of the Republic. Greer has a post on this today which seems prescient. Not a happy thought.

      • John C.

        Yes, Obama was definitely part of the problem; I should have written that the breakdown of constitutional tradition has been going on for decades, not years, and it’s an impossibly convoluted task to try and untangle cause and effect and figure out who got the ball rolling. If one thing’s for sure, the increasing concentration of power at the federal level of government in this country has a part to play in our crumbling, and Trump may just drive home to both the left and the right the dangers of a centralized state and imperial power. Perhaps the Confederates had a point, and the “American Experiment” should have ended in 1865…

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