Reckoning with Trumpism

Donald Trump has a point when he says that the world has changed and people are anxious. The world in which our parents grew up is very different from the world today. A high school degree is no longer sufficient to guarantee a stable job and a comfortable life. The faces in our neighborhoods have changed too. People from countries whose name you have never heard of (Cameroon?) have moved in; you used to know everyone in the neighborhood by name; you read the same newspapers, watched the same TV shows and rooted for the same sports teams. But today your neighborhood is unrecognizable. A feeling of security and belonging has given way to one of anxiety and suspicion – suspicion for that new neighbor with a large family who speaks a strange tongue; who speaks with an unfamiliar accent which you can barely understand. How are you supposed to keep up? Change has been so sudden people can’t adapt fast enough.

You are culturally unanchored in your own community. You feel economic insecurity because your jobs have been shipped overseas. Your leaders told you that if you work hard, the American Dream is yours for the taking. Yet your hard work seems to be falling on infertile ground. Your children have graduated from college and returned home because they can’t find jobs. Yet politicians keep saying everything is fine – the stock market is doing well, Silicon Valley is creating unprecedented wealth for the economy. But when you look around, only other people seem to be sharing in this economic prosperity – you’re left out. Amidst the uncertainty and deep frustration, your patience has run out. You are short on tolerance. You are frustrated with your leaders and elected officials. You are tired of being called a racist and bigot each time you protest.

For millions of Americans or British or Europeans who identify with this story, a significant proportion have finally found an answer in Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders, Brexit, or nationalism. It’s time to take your country back and return it to glory, so the argument goes. Political correctness be damned.

Trumpism has correctly identified the problem. It understands that these are challenging, complex problems that need urgent answers. Moreover, it appreciates the enormity of the problems and sympathizes with the plight of the disaffected. However, Trumpism, alas, has no real answers to these problems. It has done a good job tapping into populist rage and riding the wave of discontent to the national stage. But the solutions it provides are reductive and simplistic. Here’s why many people have rightly pointed out that the philosophy behind this ideology is misguided: It reduces complex, multi-faceted and trans-national problems into simple, binary problems that can only be addressed with easy solutions and quick fixes. If only you could pull up the drawbridge and keep out immigrants, you would address the problem of mass migration, Trumpism contends. If you only you could repudiate free trade and slap tariffs on foreign goods, you would bring back jobs to the deindustrialized hinterlands of America and Britain, according to advocates of this philosophy. If only you could stop Muslims from entering America and all refugees from seeking asylum in Europe, you would stop terrorism.

During times of hardship and uncertainty, it is hard to think with clarity and see through such fog of misinformation. But unfortunately, if we give in to Trumpism, we will wake up the next morning with buyer’s remorse. It will not solve problems, it will magnify them. It might be too early to call, but if Brexit has taught us one thing, it is that there are no easy solutions to complex global challenges. This is not mathematics which has a formulaic, logical approach to arriving at the right solution. Real world problems are messy, complicated, and daunting. They require patience, level-headedness and trial-and-error. Now isn’t the time to give in to cynicism. Now is the time stay true to the human spirit and work together to overcome hardship. To give in to Trumpism would be to take for granted the struggles and triumphs that our grandparents achieved in the 20th Century in order to give us a more stable, freer and safer world.

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