It‘s Globalization, Stupid!

The coming presidential election is not about Trump. It‘s about the nation state vs globalization.

If the democrats don‘t get that; they will surely loose no matter who becomes their eventual candidate.

The recent rise of populist leaders and their nationalist agendas are surely the inevitable political reaction to the Neoliberalism of the last thirty years.

Globalization for globalization’s sake was an ideological vision of perfect markets and the alleged growth of individual freedoms mutually supporting each other.

It didn’t turn out that way.

Global flows of capital, technology, and to some extent, labor proved far more destabilizing for the majority of the planet who were less wealthy, less educated, and less willing to let go of regional, national, and local ties and traditions.

Global elites, whether in the shadows or upfront in the limelight, were for far too long oblivious to the disconnect between economic and, yes, cultural liberalization and deregulation as opposed to the growing disquiet about these global trends among the traditionally situated citizenry of the nation-state.

The global financial crises of the 90’s were, as it turned out, but a foretaste of what was to come. The “Great Recession” however was the ultimate comeuppance for detrimental ideological bullying versus more realistic assessments arguing for a more tempered globalization, one that would not exacerbate the living conditions of people necessarily tied to the boundaries of the nation-state.

Thus, for all his negatives, Donald Trump gets it. He gets the fears, frustrations, and animadversions of the vast multitudes of this planet who still inhabit and will continue to inhabit nation-states. As a practical consequence of all this, he pursues trade deals that favor the US, especially in relation to China. He gets, for example, that Chinese undervaluing of their currency cannot be tolerated anymore. He understands how politically explosive would be an agreement to end or at least significantly curtail such manipulation while simultaneously strengthening the national economic decision making powers of both countries as regards finance and trade. Such a deal would not only energize his base but would expand it.

If in private and for a long time, Trump was both a practitioner and beneficiary of neoliberal policies is not in question. For now, he presents and to a large extent practices the politics of national determination in economic, political, and cultural matters. He knows what the people want and what they fear most. In this sense, Trump is not only populist but essentially expressing the democratic will of millions.

The problem is of course is that he seeks to regulate the inherent problems of globalization in increasingly authoritarian and retrograde ways, while perhaps even managing to unleash the forces of an irrational kind of protectionism. Globalization, it should be remembered, has many faces: economic, technological, cultural, and political. In many ways, particularly for national minorities and women it has proven to be a net benefit and will likely continue to be so.

The question for the future (and for the Democrats) is not so much to extinguish the prolific and polymorphous nature of globalization but how to tame it so that it is more in harmony with the imperatives of democratic publics who are still, and for the foreseeable future, will continue to be self-inscribed within the static boundaries of nation-states. We must emphasize the good that is in Globalization while reducing the speed, impact, and range of its more destabilizing effects.

Dan Corjescu teaches at the University of Tübingen’s TRACS program.