Crazy Times

Early reports from the massacre of 26 people outside of a Wal-Mart in El Paso Texas indicate that the terrorist was killing Latinos in response to what he felt was a hispanic take over of Texas. While President Trump called the attack “an act of cowardice” and condemned the violence, he has deliberately politicized the issue of immigration and de-humanized illegal immigrants as “thugs”, “rapists” and “animals”. At a rally in Florida Trump reportedly asked “How do you stop these people” and did not make a similar condemnation when one of his supporters shouted “shoot them”.

I have come to see Donald Trump as a symptom of the what is wrong with the United States and much of the world rather than an independent actor in the what seems to be the craziest times I can remember from a political, ecological and geo-political point of view.

Viktor and Donald

Trump is just another of a number of unconventional and possibly dangerous, right of center, politicians who have come to power in countries all over the world. In order of their taking office I would include Trump in the following group:

  • Viktor Orban, Hungary, 2010
  • Narendra Modi, India, 2014
  • Rodrigo Duterte, Phillipines, 2016
  • Jair Bolsonaro, Brazil, 2019
  • Boris Johnson, United Kingdom, 2019

What truly worries me about all of these people is that they appear to have limited respect for the democratic traditions of their countries and mobilize at least part of their political base by demonizing segments of their own or neighboring populations.

What is truly disturbing is that the real problems facing ordinary people stem from the impact that globalization, digitalization, and in some places climate change is having on our society. One thing that ordinary people can see it the rising levels of income inequality as shown in the chart to the right showing the Gini coefficient for the United States over time.

The rise in inequality is clearly the result of long term changes to the american economy including globalization and digitalization and not the result of any single policy of this or any other american administration. In the U.S. what is particularly annoying to normal people is that a number of government services such as airport security and even some highways have reserved pathways for people who pay more money. The fact that government pays more attention to privilege is nothing new in the world but to make it so obvious is a reflection of how far things have gone in this direction.

In other countries the problems also have to do with underlying economic and social issues but their leaders offer simple ideas that only mislead and divide the country. Viktor Orban took advantages of fears of immigration and has attempted to unwind many of the democratic safeguards of Hungary’s Democracy. Modi has used Hindu nationalism as a vehicle to gain and then maintain power. For Duterte the issue was drugs resulting in the killing of over 12,000 Philippines according to human rights watch. Jair Bolsonaro disparages women, blacks, immigrants and gays in his remarks and for Boris Johnson leaving the EU will solve all of the United Kingdom’s problems.

Although I have discussed his work in other posts, Dean Williams, has written about what he calls real leadership. In his view real leaders help people understand the challenges facing them and rally them to make extraordinary efforts to overcome them. Donald Trump is not to blame for the problems facing the United States but he is responsible for seeking the highest office in the land and then using it to tear apart the social fabric and encourage acts of violence like the shooting in El Paso.

Looking ahead the United States and other leading countries nead real leaders to bring out the best in us and make the world a better place.