The doom and gloom forecasts about the consequences of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union are bewildering. Why all the storm and stress? The vote — Brexit, it was called — makes perfect sense. So does the sense of inevitability revolving around Donald Trump’s run for the presidency.
Trump’s campaign also represents an exit strategy, call it USexit, as in “stop the world, we want to get off.” We’re overextended, unable to meet domestic commitments, and not up to shouldering the burdens of empire, much less being lectured on what we owe the world.
“America first” is not the cry of a triumphant nation; it’s an angry plea. That so many refuse to hear this plea is akin to collective madness — thus distrust of the elites who scorn localism in favor of universalism.
Globalism, the rhetoric of untethered human rights, mass migration of peoples forever in search of better, or the best, possible lives — these are the forces shaping our time. None of these imperatives foster a sense of local community, of the felt necessity of a given time and place.
Sebastian Junger nailed it in a brief little book published just this year, “Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging.” We’re searching for a sense of belonging. Folks are often happier in hell with colleagues than they are alone in heaven.
Economic efficiency, guaranteeing the dignity of all, welcoming every stranger to share in a decreasing bounty — these are the empty promises of post-modernity. Brexit, Trump, neo-nationalism are reactions to a world governed by endless empty promises.
Of course, it makes sense to consider the world as one vast and interconnected economic entity. The logic of cost-benefit analysis will distribute the production of goods and services across the globe in ways that run roughshod over a sense of community. Labor costs are less in the underdeveloped world. It’s no wonder manufacturing jobs flee to countries where labor is cheap.
But this migration of employment opportunities decimates communities that used to produce things, leaving behind hopelessness, mass unemployment, and fear about the future. Our Midwest is today a wasteland.
When Britain’s midlands and America’s heartland vote against globalism, they aren’t engaging in nostalgia, they are demanding a future.
What of untethered human rights?
We’ve come along way from the eighteenth century’s proud declarations about the rights of man. Nongovernmental organizations now sit alongside nation-states claiming rights of uncertain origin for each and every inhabitant of the Earth.
Internationally, that means aid to every region; domestically, that means recognition and validation of every lifestyle. It’s an exhausting imperative. Each new international crisis, each new perceived slight to the newest group in search of validation — I think now of the transgender in our midst, comes at a cost to those expected to give.
It’s small wonder that those displaced by globalism now resents those claiming entitlement to their sympathies and support. When did human rights become an entitlement to the goodwill of those exhausted by watching the world slip from their grasp?
This leads, of course, to mass migration.
The world is interconnected as never before. Social media makes every crisis an event, and advertises the benefits of leaving one’s troubles behind in search of a better life elsewhere. Accelerate population movement by the ever-growing dislocations caused by global warming, civil war and easy transportation across borders, and world suddenly seems in flux.
German’s Angela Merkel meant well when she welcomed migrants to Germany by the hundreds of thousands. Exhausted Germans no doubt wondered where it all would end. Where do Germans go when they no longer recognize their homeland?
Community matters. A community failing to meet the needs of its members simply doesn’t feel a sense of generosity to strangers. We don’t feed our own, why should we then be expected to welcome more to the failed banquet? And why are we obliged to respect the values of everyone while placing our own on hold?
The young and affluent favored remaining in the European Union. If you’ve got money in the bank, or are making a living serving the human rights industry or global finance, the future is yours. The young always believe in tomorrow.
If your job has been exported overseas and you’re living on the dole, or on a fixed income, you’ve less to give to a person you never met, a person whose way of life, whose customs, are foreign.
Xenophobia, or fear of strangers, has become a term of condemnation these days. Yet, fear of strangers is entirely adaptive in a world of scarcity. Only a fool stands on the street corner emptying his pockets to strangers.
What of Donald Trump?
He has no experience as a politician. His claims to make us great again are hollow. He is crass, bordering on illiterate, and offends with speech that tends to be hateful. Just how is it possible that he has become the presumptive Republican nominee for president of the United States?
Perhaps it’s because Hillary Clinton has become the globalist, human rights, identity politics, and immigration standard-bearer. Everything she says is perfectly rational, in an attenuated, lifeless sort of way. She has the existential appeal of an ironing board. She wants to pay for tomorrow’s commitments with promises that failed a decade ago.
Trump, on the other hand, appeals to those who have lost their footing in the world. Trump supporters listen to Hillary lecture on what they must do for others with resentment: I must make room for a Syrian family in the community in which I cannot find work?
Despite all of Trump’s failings, his supporters remain loyal because he speaks about frustration they experience. While Clinton tells a tired people that they must do more for others, Trump promises to make a priority of those already here and in need.
It may be that neither Trump nor Clinton are what the nation needs now. But if forced to choose, I’d pick Trump. Sure, he’s a reckless gamble. But so, too, is the future. Until we care for ourselves, we cannot care for others.