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ANDERSON: Explaining the Trump- and Sanders-effect by looking at the history of Globalism

Image Credit: Contributed by author
November 08, 2016 - 12:01 PM



One could argue that globalism has been in effect as a western grand strategy since the Second World War, but that would be a reductionist reading of history.

It is true that a central theme of American postwar grand strategy has been free trade, not only for economic strength, but to ensure peace. A State Department Committee in late 1943 numbered amongst its reasons for a restoration of world trade "the success of an international security system to prevent future wars." Patrick Heardon, a scholar of the period, noted, "American leaders believed that a vast array of commercial restrictions and discriminatory trade practices had contributed both to the onset of the Great Depression and to the start of World War II. They hoped that a freer flow of trade, with all countries having equal access to raw materials and commodity markets around the globe, would provide the foundation for a peaceful and prosperous family of nations."

But while a sort of neo-Wilsonian proto-globalism may have been Roosevelt's original notion, it was premised on American economic and military hegemony. Indeed, two days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor he made the claim, "We are going to win the war and we are going to win the peace that follows."

In the event Roosevelt’s dream went off the tracks under Truman in response to Soviet intransigence, and what resulted was a sort of American-led containment-and-constriction in tandem with a very controlled rest-of-the-world order and regionally-based trade regime, with an important new distinction: finance became more centralized under the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

After the cold war new vistas opened up. With the threat of nuclear apocalypse at least temporarily in abeyance, the advocates of transnationalism/institutionalism gained ascendancy in western political culture.  As a result, the political culture of the United States and Europe, since the end of the cold war has shifted to a grand strategy of globalism - an ongoing process toward political, economic and social integration.

In terms of the economy, the globalism project has warped the nature of the IMF. Originally conceived as a mechanism through which to implement the Marshall Plan and regulate an American-dominated free trade regime, it's aims tend toward financial stability rather than political process, and are increasingly at odds with national democratic decision-making processes. Judy Shelton in the Wall Street Journal notes, "The IMF plays an instrumental role in global finance, and its innate disdain for the wisdom of voters helps fan widespread political dissatisfaction. It suggests that elites, as they pursue broad economic objectives, disregard the hardship that their policy decisions impose on many average workers. The fact that some people — global financial market participants — are enriched by those same policies fuels social and political tensions.”

Since the end of the cold war, things have changed in western (read: global) political culture as well. The European Union, while maintaining its economic union, shifted toward political union as well, overshooting by orders of magnitude the original thesis of European economic integration envisioned in the Coal and Steel Community. On top of that, the west has, since about 1990, elevated the fictional notion of the United Nations as a democratic global governing body to as close to perceptive realty as that perpetually ineffective institution can get, while using NATO as a military arm so that things can actually get done (instead of attempting to get things done via the operational paralysis of "UN peace-keeping/making" missions).

But to use a metaphor from Hollywood, globalism has reached for a bridge too far. The social and economic dislocation it is creating in the first world generally hasn't been seen since the Second World war, and it hasn't been seen in the US particularly since the rape of the postbellum South following the Civil War (not even the Depression created the same degree of structural disruption in the US, I would argue). A whole new class has come into existence, often referred to as "elites," but in my opinion this is a misnomer. The term gives them an aura they don't wear well, in the same sense "progressive" is often used as a boastful descriptive in the guise of an identifier. What the members of this new class are instead are perhaps best characterized as people who A) are well educated (or indoctrinated, as some might have it), and B) who benefit directly from a globalized economy.

A) Formal education, in any given time or place, carries with it certain basic assumptions, and a belief in the goodness of globalism has become, over the past couple of decades, one of the base assumptions of a western education. Indeed, because it is assumed, it is rarely even made explicit... it's just implicitly "there," like the knowledge that the sky is blue, or fire burns. Until very recently, the only people who openly disputed its benevolence have been the fringe left, from the theoretical vantage point of a Marxian belief system.

B) Making a living in the global economy is no longer confined to the very rich. One of my businesses, for example, exists entirely in cyberspace and spans the globe - something once reserved only for megacorps - and trades with businesses and individuals as far afield as India, Malaysia, and all the English speaking world. Sounds impressive, like a billion dollar corporation, but in fact it operates on a relatively penny ante scale. Many of the people reading this make a living in similar ways, giving us all characteristics of this alleged "elite," even though most of us would scoff at the notion that we are on top of the economic and social pyramid as the term "elite" implies. But we are them and they are us.

Naturally this new class believes that globalism is good, generally beneficial, and ultimately inevitable. But while many of us depend for our livelihoods on the march of globalization, a growing number of people feel only the negative effects. The left fringe have been joined by a large number of right-leaning centrists for very practical reasons... not because of a belief in some arcane bourgeoisie plot to dispossess the proletariat, but because the bourgeoisie are losing the opportunity to become successful bourgeoisie.

It is hard in academic terms to construct a coherent argument against the desirability of global free trade, because in theory it is a materially beneficial state of affairs for all, at least in its presumed end state. It is only in praxis, and only then when viewed through a non-ideological and holistic lens, that the social, economic, and political ills become apparent. But the effects are all too apparent to the legions of people following both Trump and Sanders, and that’s where the backlash originates, although for very different reasons. In the eyes of a growing segment of the western world, so-called "elites" of both the left and of the right are best described as carpet baggers, really, when juxtaposed against the guy who buys stuff at Walmart because it's real cheap, but at the same time loses his job at the local mill because the stuff he's buying at Walmart is cheaper to mill in China.

There is a widening rift between those of us who make our living from the global economy and those of us whose prospects suffer because of it. The old ideologies are dying and new ones are abornin', and no matter who wins the next election neither the Trump nor the Sanders effect will fade away anytime soon.

— Scott Anderson is an educated redneck from Vernon. His academic background is in International Relations, Strategic Studies, Counterterrorism, and poking progressives with rhetorical sticks until they explode. Not surprisingly, he is also an unashamed knuckle-dragging conservative, or so he's told all the time.

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