Donald Trump, for America as well as the world at large, represents the tip of the spear for an objectively misinformed and angry voting populace aiming to strike down the contemporary international system out of destructively impulsive faith in fringe political outsiders with wild promises to magically and wholly bring back a nostalgic, simpler time that never existed.
Why did this happen? The simple answer is that international elites squandered a monumental opportunity in human history. When the Cold War ended, so too did one of the most ideologically competitive eras in human history among adversaries with the potential to destroy human civilization on Earth many times over. Broad waves of democratization were sweeping over the iron curtain of Eastern Europe, and Communist China’s slow fade from communism seemed inevitable as well. America’s ideological victory ignited a wave of economic growth, and a technological revolution of sorts began to take shape alongside the seeming endless potential of the Internet. Consequently, it was also a time of global optimism for truly united nations and the United Nations backed by a lone superpower US willing to use its political, economic, and cultural authority to usher in a new era of human history described as the “end of history.”
But, in spite of the epochal idealism, the global economic elites greedily bribed governments with quid pro quo legislative corruption in order to enrich themselves at the expense of progressive economic equality and competent, democratic governance. Meanwhile, American leadership in unfettered ideological commitment to neoliberalism and the World Trade Organization’s insistence on pushing free trade and financial deregulation had no safeguard against First-World selfishness.
Developed nations used their economic power in the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to largely benefit themselves, and ignored the Third-World, renamed the “developing world.” The elimination of tariffs and other trade barriers stripped the poorest nations of the developing world of their legal rights to shelter growing domestic industries from dominant foreign multinational corporations, while the developed world maintained selfish, protectionist subsidies for their own domestic food production which directly led to significant economic catastrophes in agriculturally-dependent developing nations that had little else to export.
Countries throughout the Global South saw the collapse of their farmers’ livelihoods as poor farmers were unable to make money competing against the developed world’s domestic food subsidies and mechanical production, while developing nations saw their domestic manufacturing industries disappear as foreign corporations from the Global North dumped cheap, mass-produced goods that were beyond the ability of developing nations’ manufacturers to compete against.
As the capitalistic race to the bottom sped up and corporations utilized free trade laws to freely invest wherever they wanted (i.e. wherever had the cheapest labor) with the help of laissez-faire, neoliberal economic policy, factories moved to the developing nations and manufacturing in the West disappeared. Wages of the working class stagnated accordingly, and a disproportionate majority of wealth creation has gone to the economic elite ever since.
As cities across America experienced economic decline, conservatives slashed public benefits in the maliciously misguided expectation that tax cuts and the repeal of estate taxes would help matters, and of course they only exacerbated the problem. The ensuing budgetary shrinkage led to more starve-the-beast cuts in social programs, which began to make Americans’ lives visibly worse.
Donald Trump’s election alongside a Congress with Republican congressional majorities reflects an anger that American society is plagued with worsening economic inequality as well as a misunderstanding of the forces responsible. The voters who will feel the most pain in the years ahead of Republican governance, ironically, are rural Trump voters who continue to vote for the GOP even as Republicans cut as much public funding as they can. National-level Republicans do not live in small, rural towns, and neither do the economic elite who have inspired GOP economic policies since the Roosevelt-Taft split in Election 1912.
Also of ironic note is the fact that the Republican Party is chiefly responsible for global free trade laws, as well as the export of neoliberalism. Ronald Reagan was all about both. Donald Trump may have gotten elected railing against these Republican ideologies, but it has obviously put the GOP in an awkward place. Despite Trump’s successful presidential campaign, don’t expect the Republican Congress to abandon the politics of tax cuts, free trade, or neoliberalism anytime soon.
So why are we here with Donald Trump as POTUS? Because his voters do not understand the causes of their economic pain, and continue to vote against their own interests.