I am almost proud of admitting my mistake in publishing, a year and a half ago, an article thanking Donald Trump for uniting Latin-Americans behind a common foe. Naively, I believed that it was a golden opportunity to realize our common potential and mitigate our domestic differences. But I was dead wrong: not only is Latin America becoming increasingly mass-polarized, but what appeared to be a political suicide a few months ago has proven frighteningly effective as a strategy to pave the way for the White House.
The outcome of the 2016 U.S. election has followed directly in the footsteps of other recent world polling events, such as the successful Brexit vote, the botched referendum over the Colombian Peace Treaty, the political victories of Rajoy in Spain and Macri in Argentina, the recent Hungarian referendum against refugees, and the general political turmoil in Mexico, Brazil and Venezuela. If anything, the very science of polling has displayed a consistent ineptitude at forecasting this landslide thread of popular victories, which suggests a movement growing faster than the models used for its observation.
By analyzing these trends as parts of a whole phenomenon, some sociological conclusions might be conjectured, albeit retaining the lesson learnt: that literally anything can happen and that most predictions are expected to yield tragic inaccuracies. Throughout most of the campaigns that lost – whether it be Hillary’s, the UK campaign against Brexit or the Colombian government’s pro-peace rallying – there prevailed a sense of deep-set overconfidence in victory that left a gap open for the building of a surprisingly strong opposition. In all cases, a profound sense of shock was palpable in the reactions of the victors themselves, and indeed in those of the whole world.
The ever clearer division of the world into two factions – one steeped in apparent progress, the other in clear regression, with the latter side winning by democratic suffrage – is a worrying prospect in view of the emergence of a new geopolitical spectrum. The voters who engineered all of the mentioned political surprises coincided at least on their dissatisfaction with a lingering establishment which has survived by pushing world domination for the end of the oil age.
Unfortunately, this is also an age where most institutions, educational and otherwise, are concerned with abolishing the tools for constructive criticism. This might be the reason why the change has not arisen from the intellectual sector, but from a mass of uneducated, commonplace people with a tendency for fanatical conservatism. As with examples from textbook history, from antiquity to contemporary times, a picture is surmised in which knowledge and experience are values in clear retrocession.
Intellectuals, who have been busy at deconstructing their postmodern perception of history and art, were consistently misled into believing that modern values such as gender equality, free speech and religious freedom, needed no further protection or advancement of any kind. Alone, they thought, any democracy could withstand the antagonism of totalitarians and extremists in general. The architects of this political modernity had, in fact, built a sort of Titanic, proclaimed it unsinkable, and finally left it at the mercy of the unthinkable. For decades, the gears that held History in place had seemed so robust that this collapse now appears, to many, as sudden and surprising.
Democracy is dependent on participation, yet ever more millions abstain from voting altogether, while those who do vote seem poorly informed and utterly unqualified for political analysis in general. This age of disillusionment has brought about a curious dichotomy: the more liberal and intellectual sectors of society have moved away from the process of democracy while, ironically, those who would rather shun democracy in their values have used it consistently in the polls with the observed consequences. Paradoxically thus, democracy appears compromised through its own use and exercise.
Hence, it is not Trump who must be feared in this earthquake of reactionary hysteria, but those who believe they have found a new voice, a new strength in their common ardor. People have always been especially gullible to political scheming, in particular when reinforced with doses of populist and religious fallacy. Our whole present civilization is specialized in the taming of the masses through media: that is precisely the slot from which has emerged this unlikely opposition to an already dangerous status quo. The decisive role of the Christian vote in Trump’s victory, as is the case with every Latin American campaign or referendum, cannot be ignored any further.
These issues remain: is it necessary to momentarily pause democratic values and institutions in order to uphold and preserve them in the long term? Or is it not evident that, by keeping democracy in place in the short term, the path to its own destruction is clear and imminent? Furthermore, to what point has not the population itself been deactivated from many of its individual and collective functions? Who is in full capacity of exercising democracy today? Are not all political models in urgent need of rethinking and reform? Or might brand new ones be required?
In all likelihood, smaller communities and political entities are the best antidote to these mass phenomena. The vicissitudes of the modern world arise from gigantic populations of tens and hundreds of millions, in some cases more, and growing exponentially. No good can be expected to arise from nations that have the capability of summoning huge armies; in turn, reduced communities related through common work and interest will shift their focus away from reductionist mass-thinking and reinforce real and functioning collectivity.
Education and the transmission of experience must be used as vectors for raising awareness of the responsibilities of democracy, not only to fuel the disparaged claiming of democracy’s implied rights. More than age, let alone gender or race, the cognitive capabilities of an individual should be the only decisive factor in their legal ability to vote. Voting has been usurped repeatedly throughout history, yet now that suffrage is universal in most developed nations, now that a new frontier for the legal rights of the historically oppressed had been reached, that usurpation has claimed unheard-of proportions.
Suddenly, most of the recent Hollywood sagas make sense in a global race for the polarization of the masses. Since 9/11, we have been tamed and trained, dumbed-down by media; our very customs have been swept in a mere decade by social media; police worldwide has become militarized and oppressive; laws have become intrusive, taxes unaffordable, justice unobtainable. Pharmaceutical companies have been pushing unnecessary drugs and vaccines to the world, inoculating Africa, fantasizing with pandemia; weapons industries have flourished, sparking contained, distant wars and destroying to obtain construction contracts and colonize, culturally and economically.
Nothing is new, except that through technology, this corporate neo-feudalism has become more aggressive and effective, although it has also become more exposed to the public, and this social awareness has been itself a cause for division. Hillary Clinton, as one of the strongwomen of U.S. politics in the past three decades, fully represents that establishment, which is completely oblivious to ideological or party alliances. Ironically, Trump is a corporate genius, although he has nurtured an image of financial and ideological independence and claims that nobody pulls his strings. As an outsider, he represents a break from a continuum of presidencies exhibiting adherence to this so-called New World Order: hence the link to Vladimir Putin, and their publicised and reciprocal admiration.
What will happen now? The only certitude is the absolute failure of all predictions. Most likely, geopolitics will enter a new and frightening era where stability – material and ideological – will be scarce. Polarization can be anticipated to progress in all levels of population, and the middle class will slowly begin to disappear; in developing countries, the emerging middle class will be culturally still-born and prone to behave emotionally to politics. The defeated establishment, already debilitated by war scandals and neoliberal ineptitudes, could be inclined to stage a crude comeback, accelerating their implementation of world government programs and population control.
Most of us grew up in a world where History was perceived as a thing of the past, where the relative importance of current events was dull in contrast to the exalted struggles and accomplishments of our ancestors, for all our gadgets and tech-savvy distractions. We seemed to be living a reasonably calm and prosperous era, or at least that is what we were being led to believe. In the same way as the concept of melancholy was born out of the boredom of medieval European court-life, a disillusionment began to seep into many of us, a sense of futility, a sense of disempowerment, and a strong feeling that democracy was not working any better than communism. Trump dug into this feeling and won, no surprise really.
Yet if anything, this is a time for ideas; this is a time for new thought to manifest itself, not in a defensive but in a constructive manner. Intellectuals worldwide must turn aside the navel-gazing and the critique-shocking poses and gather for a pedagogical brainstorm. Postmodernism is dead, and if it isn´t, it must be dealt with expediently. We need to be the “backward, quaint, naïve, anachronistic” anti-rebels described by David Foster Wallace in his visionary 1993 essay E Unibus Pluram: Television and U.S. Fiction. If intellectuals don’t succeed in this crucial civilizational quest to build a credible power alternative, a crusade of and for common sense and common good, only corporate sharks and illuminati pirates will stand between us and the barbarians.