Everyday there’s a new argument on the rise of Trump, or Bernie, for that matter…to a political scientist both are same, populists. There’s no qualitative difference between two old male, proposing free stuff to everyone, feeding on rage and nostalgia for a past that never existed, and blaming free trade for everything that’s ill in modern America. But is it prudent to attribute a chain of causality? Is the Rise of Trump and Bernia even monocausal?
It is interesting to see journalists, historians, and media pundits trying to draw parallels but as a political scientist, I have my doubts. First of all, it’s easy to call Bernie a socialist, he has fixed economic and social ideas, no matter how senile and craven they are. But to assert Trump is a fascist, or a racist, or a realist, or a mercantilist, is to ascribe a logical coherence, when there’s none.
It is not prudent as a political scientist to decide what factors gave rise to what, when the situation is ongoing, that’s why we don’t do research on current events. Deng Xiaoping once joked, when asked about the effect of the French revolution, and he said, we are still trying to find out. Imagine someone in 1970s thinking about if US won or lost in Vietnam, trying to imagine that in 2016, Vietnam and US would be in talks to balance against China? My point is, it is impossible to understand what might happen in future, and it will be foolhardy to ascertain why Trump chose to run this campaign and what was on his mind.
Does he feed on racism of a certain section of American population? Most definitely. Is he personally a racist? Maybe, anecdotal evidence might lead to that conclusion. Does his campaign strategy involve feeding on the rage machine including extreme xenophobic, insular, anti-semitic rhetoric? Absolutely. Is he an anti-Semite? We don’t have direct evidence, but we know his daughter married a man of Jewish faith. I don’t think David Duke would have allowed that. Is there a section of left, which blames Israel and Zionists for everything? Ofcourse. Is Bernie an anti-Semite? You must be joking.
It’s extremely contradictory, and fluid, and difficult to answer.
My hypothesis is Donald Trump is bigoted, yes, but he is more of an unhinged buffoon and a demagogue. He can say anything to win votes (or sell his book after election), but there is no logical coherence or principle in any of his policy, domestic or international. As of Bernie, he is stuck in a 1960s obsolete worldview. And his young supporters don’t care, as long as he promise to make everything free.
A far interesting academic challenge, and I am planning to build up on that later, is to find out the causes which led to the rise of this phenomenon, this perfect storm, obviously avoiding the trap of monocausality.
I came up with these three factors.
- Basic flaws in American education system, lack of knowledge particularly of history and economics. It is fascinating to see on twitter, the shocking knowledge level among today’s voters. If democracy depends on informed and conscious choice, then we in the West are completely off track.
Hyperdemocracy. Where anyone can say or do anything, mostly without consequences. Any outrageous claim can be made, any cocooned echochamber formed on social media, and it will snowball within minutes. There is no punishment, for any wrong choice or action. No gatekeepers or institutions are respected, nothing is bipartisan anymore. It leads to moderations and compromise seeming to be a crime, and extremism and righteous purity, a virtue.
Which is a direct result of two decades of Post-structuralism and social constructivism and identity politics. This one’s a bit wonky, and tricky to explain, but also the most important. Here’s the thing. Positivism ascribes certain facts based on evidence. Like gravity, or evolution, or biology is proven by evidence. That is being challenged in Western academia. Now, if everything is “socially constructed”, then nothing has any meaning, facts cease to exist, and public, who are not academics, don’t understand the difference between fact and opinion, and is suspicious of everything. One cannot argue or show facts about economic benefits of free trade, or alliance formation in International relations, for example. No politician can be critiqued neutrally, because there is no perceived neutrality. Therefore if you criticise Bernie, you’re a neo-liberal warmonger, if you criticise Hillary, you’re a sexist trying to mansplain, and God help you if you dare critique Trump.
I’m sure there are other causes as well, which my fellow Pol Scientists will be more than happy to point out. So, what did I miss?