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Trump’s victory speaks to a crumbling liberal order
north america / mexico | anti-fascism | opinion / analysis Thursday November 10, 2016 15:38 by Jerome Roos - ROAR
Only a reinvigorated left and radical-democratic movements can clear away the ruins of the political establishment and defeat the proto-fascist right.
A political earthquake has just ripped through the world. There can be no doubt that Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections marks a historic breaking point for American politics and the liberal international order established in the wake of World War II. Things simply won’t be the same after this. And yet it’s crucial to remind ourselves that this moment has been a long time in the making.
Ultimately, the “frustration, disillusionment and justified anger” that fed into Trump’s victory has its roots not only in the botched handling of the global financial crisis and the Great Recession that followed it, but goes back to the four decades of economic globalization and neoliberal restructuring that preceded it. This is a crucial point. After all, if Trump were merely a symptom of the financial crisis, a sustained economic recovery could eventually undermine him. But if, in contrast, his rise is actually the result of a much more deep-seated set of contradictions in global capitalism and liberal democracy, the factors that fed into his electoral victory are likely to persist — and the anti-establishment backlash is likely to further intensify.
In The Great Transformation, Karl Polanyi famously identified a very similar set of developments leading to the breakdown of the liberal world order in the early-twentieth century. As he pointed out, the rise of fascism was not just a result of the Great Depression, but more importantly of the extensive liberalization of world markets in the first wave of globalization of the late-nineteenth century. For Polanyi, it was the “disembedding” of economic relations from all social constraints, the commodification of spheres of life that had hitherto been protected from the “vagaries of the market,” and the intense social insecurities generated by this “great transformation” that finally propelled the rise of nationalist countermovements to economic liberalism — a popular backlash against cosmopolitan haute finance, personified by the racist stereotype of the greedy Jew, and against the political establishment of the day.
Donald Trump, the billionaire real-estate mogul with his lavish and unconventional cosmopolitan lifestyle, is clearly not a straightforward fascist or national-socialist of the 1930s variety. But while history may not literally repeat itself, there is at least one important respect in which today’s situation at least rhymes with Polanyi’s times. What we are witnessing at the moment appear to be the early stages of a long drawn-out process of political fragmentation, ideological polarization and institutional decomposition that will be marked by intensifying systemic chaos and an escalation of political conflict across the board. It is not altogether unlikely that these developments will eventually culminate in the gradual breakdown of the Pax Americana, just as the global disorder of the interbellum period lauded the end of the Pax Britannica.
This crisis, however, is structural — and Trump should not be viewed in isolation. Between Brexit, Le Pen, Alternative für Deutschland, Golden Dawn, Geert Wilders and Viktor Orban, the nationalist far-right is on the rise on both sides of the Atlantic. If we include the constitutional coup in Brazil and Erdogan’s counter-coup in Turkey, we can even extend that same line of analysis to emerging markets. The political disorder predicted by Arrighi and Silver is steadily becoming generalized. Clearly the crisis of national democracy and the revival of economic nationalism are international phenomena. The political economist Mark Blyth rightly refers to it as “Global Trumpism.”
This groundswell of anti-establishment anger will continue to spread, and we should expect further shockwaves in the months and years ahead — perhaps most acutely in Italy, where Prime Minister Matteo Renzi looks set to lose a constitutional referendum later this year, possibly resuscitating the Eurozone debt crisis that has been lying dormant ever since EU governments crushed yet another short-lived anti-establishment government in Greece last year. There is little doubt, then, that 2016 will go down in history as the political corollary to 2008. The crisis of global capitalism and liberal democracy will continue to deepen, and things will probably get a lot worse before they get any better.
Our response to this crisis must be guided by Walter Benjamin’s observation that the rise of every fascism is always an index of a failed revolution. Now more than ever we need a radical, independent left and strong social movements to build collective power from below. Only a radical democracy can clear away the ruins of a decaying liberal order and defeat the proto-fascist right before it wreaks irreversible damage on our planet and the world population. This is the point at which we get organized and dramatically intensify our struggles.