With bubbling tensions simmering in a cauldron, along comes the 2016 presidential election. Just a year ago, no one would have imagined that the forces of globalization would be challenged from both the left and right. The Populist Worldview was taking shape.
On the left, and arguable also part of the Populist Worldview, was the candidacy of Bernie Sanders. Sanders attacked Hillary Clinton where it hurt: on her globalization policies—trade and outsourcing—that have contributed to greater income inequality and pain for the working and middle classes. To many people she seemed too adjoined to corporate America, which was blamed for all ailments of American society. The two candidates seemed to agree on other policies such as immigration, identity politics, catering to the youth vote, and social issues. Sanders drilled down hard on the inequality issue and it especially resonated with the college-educated youth, who saw shrinking opportunities ahead of them while tethered by student debt.
On the right, along comes Trump. He was different, both ideologically and emotionally, than the other Republican candidates. He promised to smash through the ideological divide and do what was best for the American people. He promised to “Make America Great” again. Enough people believed him, and despite his crass outbursts, he is now the U.S. President.
So, what characteristics define the Populist Worldview? I believe there will emerge two factions to this worldview: the left and the right, each trying to seize the issues that will define this worldview. The Democratic and Republican parties of old will cease to exist as in the past several decades and will be shaped anew. I will describe several issues that I believe will define this new worldview and describe how the right has grabbed the momentum in crafting its agenda. Actually, Trump seems to have borrowed aspects of other worldviews, which I will describe below, and also invented some new characteristics.
Trump has borrowed the tribal notion (see indigenous worldview) of loyalty to family and to a very few close advisers such as Steve Bannon. He is fiercely loyal to the family business, and doesn’t entrust its operations to anyone outside the inner circle of his family. He regards his family members, especially his daughter Ivanka and her husband, as heirs to his fortune and political empire.
During the modern worldview, there was a fierce division between two political approaches in the 20th century: authoritarian rule and liberal democracy. Of course this confrontation came to a head during World War II when the authoritarian governments of Germany and Italy (fascism) fought the liberal democracies of the U.S. Britain, parts of France, who allied for convenience sake with the authoritarian communist regime of the Soviet Union. Trump’s administration has not, in my opinion, crossed the line to fascism but many of his policies and actions are uncomfortably close to that ideology. Fascism is a complete rejection of liberal democracy. Trump seems intent on dismantling the levers of liberalism and the checks and balances on his power. He derides the press at every instance; a sure way to try to discredit those who check his power. His fascist tendencies should be carefully monitored.
Trump railed against free trade agreements hurting the American worker during his campaign. He has nixed the Trans-Pacific Free Trade Agreement with Asian counterparts. On occasion he chastises American corporations planning to send jobs to Mexico or overseas. However, it will take a lot more than these token efforts to fulfill the promise he made to American workers that their jobs would be returned to American soil.
Even though he is against some segments of the neoliberal policies of the last several decades, such as trade and outsourcing jobs, he seems to be supportive of others, such as establishing oligarchical rule by appointing billionaires to his cabinet. He is intent on lowering taxes for the wealthy, removing “burdensome” regulations, privatizing public assets such as education, and many others.
Globalizers, Republicans and Democrats, have been very supportive of immigration the last several decades. Immigration has added many pluses to American society by making it more diverse and in my opinion more interesting. But the influx of immigrants has also supported the globalization agenda by providing cheap labor for its enterprises and attracting the brightest workers from around the world to the tech industry. Trump has promised to stop illegal immigration and has conducted a few raids to “round-up” criminal illegal immigrants. However, his ill-conceived orders have created more chaos and fostered more ill-will than necessary. Although the immigration issue has been passed on down the line by Democrats and Republicans for too long, Trump’s policies are problematic.
So what are the characteristics of a Populist Worldview? I would argue that it is essentially undemocratic, a characteristic that doesn’t seem to be that problematic among Populists. It wants to curtail if not eliminate immigration and “round-up” immigrants who are here illegally, especially if they have a criminal record. This means approximately 11 million illegal immigrants, probably a number too large for deportation efforts.
Populists want an end to free trade agreements, such as NAFTA, and a return to bi-lateral trade negotiations. They are in favor of levying a tariff on goods imported into the U.S. from American firms manufacturing in countries who have taken advantage of low-wage foreign labor. Many voters hailed Trump’s business experience as a reason for voting for him. They want an end to regulations and want the economy to grow, fast.
Some of the policies advocated by the Populist agenda may seem reasonable and within the Constitution. However, the implementation of the agenda by Trump is what is problematic. His constant and blatant lies, unstable rantings, gloomy future scenario, and unwarranted attacks on the press are unacceptable to the majority of Americans and a threat to democracy. He has anemic policies and no idea how to channel these policies into actual laws. This is the real problem with the Trump presidency. The executive branch of the government is supposed to execute the laws, under Trump this is absent.
The wall provides an apt metaphor for the Populist Worldview. Trump and his supporters want to wall themselves off from the rest of the world by embracing a nationalistic, isolationist foreign policy agenda. They want to wall themselves off from outsiders, the out-group, while protecting the loyal in-group. They want to wall themselves off from democratic institutions such as a free press, constitutional guidelines, and etiquette, manners, and what has been considered “decent” behavior by mainstream society. Practically every day a new wall is being “built,” dividing our nation from the traditions, customs, and laws of the past; tearing at an already tattered social fabric holding the nation together by just a few threads.
The good news is that the U.S. is a well-established liberal democracy with long-standing institutions run by committed people. We have withstood deep divisions through history—slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Depression, World War II, the 1968 rebellions—that could have easily torn apart a country with less sound institutions. It is up to these institutions—judicial branch, press, civic institutions, local/state governments, and empowered ordinary citizens, and others—to help us weather the storm of the Populist Worldview that seems bent on disrupting more than building, excluding rather than including, and hating more than kindness.
Will this Populist Worldview become the dominant worldview, during this time that I call the Global Wave? Will enough people embrace this worldview creating a tipping point in which this worldview begins to holistic effect all the technological, social, political, economic, and religious patterns in our society? We can hope that once the Populist Worldview becomes more exposed and the policies become more defined that enough people will say “this is not what we had in mind; I want no part of it.” Working with others to resist this worldview seems very important at this time in our history. We all have a stake in the outcome.
- Why do you think there are such deep divisions in American society today?
- Why don’t politicians have an answer or solution to these deep divisions?