If the problem was just Trump it wouldn’t be happening in other places around the world, says political scientist Ian Bremmer. All sorts of advanced industrial democracies have people getting angrier and voting more and more against the establishment. Even when their economies are doing well, four factors exist that rip at the fabric of civic nationalism. What’s surprising, however, there is one developed country that isn’t having such issues. What can we learn from them?
Ian Bremmer: The problem is not Trump. Trump is a symptom.
If the problem were Trump it wouldn’t be happening in other places around the world. We actually see all sorts of countries advanced industrial democracies where people are getting angrier and they’re voting more and more against the establishment.
We saw that with the Brexit referendum, which was before the U.S. presidential election; We saw it in Germany with the rise of the Alternatives for Deutschland, an actively Euro-skeptic party for the first time since World War II; We have nationalists in the German parliament; We saw it with the recent Italian elections where they threw out all of the establishment parties and instead it’s the Five Star Movement and the League, again Euro-skeptic, anti-immigration, populist political forces.
This is very unusual and it’s not coincidence. So why is it happening? One reason is because you have lots of members of working and middle classes that feel like they are not doing well economically and no one in the establishment is going to help them. “So let’s vote for some change. Let’s vote against free trade. Let’s vote against the support of the establishment. Let’s bring in something new.”
Second point. A lot of this is anti-immigration. Demographics have changed an awful lot in the United States, in Canada and in Europe over the past decades and a lot of people feel – people that have come before say “Wait a second! You’re not taking care of me, but you’re going to bring in these new people and these new people who I don’t necessarily like or understand or trust? These new people who are getting benefits—but what about my benefits?! It’s going to cost a lot of money to bring them in. Are they going to steal my jobs? Are they going to cause crime?!” —Even though in the United States we know that first generation immigrants don’t actually cause more crime than those that have lived here.
Nonetheless the willingness to believe that those “other people are bad and a problem” goes up a lot when you feel like your government’s not taking care of you. So that’s been a big piece of it.
A third piece has been the military. You know the foreign policy establishment in the United States has been very willing to support the U.S. getting into wars around the world. But most of the sons and daughters of the foreign policy establishment don’t actually fight in those wars themselves—That’s also true of the political leaders that are responsible. As we know it’s the poor people, it’s the enlisted men and women. They get sent off, their families are left broken, their communities are hindered. They come back – Iraq, Afghanistan – billions upon billions of dollars wasted on these wars, enormous numbers of people that are killed or wounded or have post traumatic stress disorder. They come back they’re not seen as heroes. The Americans and the allies didn’t win these wars. The Veterans Administration doesn’t take care of them.
So as a consequence you see those people getting really angry and not voting for Hillary or Jeb. They’re voting for Bernie Sanders or for Donald Trump.
And then you have technology which is that technology today is increasingly driving people apart. We get most of our information in the United States from advertising companies that view us as commodities, products. They sell our eyeballs and our time on their sites to companies that pay money to ensure that we spend as much time as possible on Facebook and on Twitter and on the rest. That’s how we get our information.
We’ll spend more time on their sites if we are divided and we are narrower, and only follow the things we like, which means Democrats are watching pro-Democrat sites and conservatives and Republicans are watching pro-Republican sites. And there’s virtually no overlap. And so it’s fake news for everybody. It’s us versus them.
That’s happening across Europe. It’s happening in Canada. Those four factors are driving us apart.
They’re ripping at the fabric of civic nationalism across all of the advanced industrial economies. And by the way, it’s happening when the economy is doing really well. The United States today and the UK and Canada and Germany feel more divided than at any time in my lifetime. And yet that’s when we can spend a lot of money.
So if that’s true, what do you think it’s going to feel like when interest rates go up and growth goes down and we start laying people off and we don’t have the budgetary space to give everybody a tax break? It’s going to get worse.
So it’s very clear that this is a structural condition that we have been living with and ignoring for decades and it’s getting worse.
One interesting point. There’s one country among the advanced industrial democracies that’s not experiencing this problem at all, and that’s Japan. If you go to Japan you’ll actually find that the people are pretty much just as happy and trusting of their political institutions, their leaders, their media as they were 30, 40 years ago.
Now let’s look at all of the factors that I just described that are causing problems in our countries: Economic erosion of the working class. In Japan the population is shrinking fast. From now to 2050 it’s going to shrink by another 15 percent, which means that even though the Japanese economy’s not growing per capita they’re doing a lot better, so they don’t feel so bad.
Immigration. Japanese actually let in almost nobody, so as a consequence there’s no one that they really have a backlash against. It’s all Japanese, right?
Number three. The military. United States fights in lots of wars, so do our allies. Japan does not. Their military is constitutionally forbidden from going abroad and fighting in wars. When they did support us in Iraq, they sent a few hundred Japanese. They kept them far away from any fighting. Every soldier had like a million dollars of insurance. They made sure that they were calling their families every week. They really didn’t have backlash against the military.
And finally social media/technology, where the Japanese as a government has worked hard to keep social media out of the political space and the average Japanese adult isn’t on social media. Only about 39 percent of them are, compared to well over a majority in the West.
So the one country in the world among the wealthy democracies that isn’t experiencing a crisis of democracy is the one that kind of rejected globalism and its precepts over the last 40 years.