Publicado el Juan Gabriel Gomez Albarello

Trump: Causes and Consequences

"Dios Perdone a América", front cover of El Periódico, after Trump was elected President
«God forgives America», front cover of El Periódico, after Trump was elected President

We already have an idea of what forces brought Trump to power and enough indications of how he might use them.

With a lot of self-complacency, the economic and intelectual establishment passed over the human drama associated with the lack of social and economic security that neoliberal reforms brought about. The advocates of the neoliberal creed supposed that “the creative destruction” of economic growth would give people enough compensations to accept a life lived under constant stress and that those compensations would prompt the same people to accept unacceptable social and economic disparities. When those advocates found that things were much more complicated and finally announced remedies, it was already late. In July this year, Christine Lagarde, the IMF director, said that considerable efforts had to be made to reduce inequality with the purpose of reining in the turn towards populist policies. However, people in Britain had already voted in the referendum on the Brexit. Then, the turn has been for the US where, after the results at the polls, the electoral college will anoint Trump President (strictly speaking, a bare majority across the entire country chose Hillary Clinton).

Yet, it is worth to notice that the success of the Brexit and of Trump, as well as the victory of the NO in the Colombian Peace Referendum, cannot be reduced to economic stress. What I learnt about Trump and about those who support him makes me believe that populism can only be understood in terms of an authoritarian disposition held by a considerable amount of people and by the way in which such a disposition is reinforced by peers who have similar personal characteristics, in contexts of pronounced social seggregation. The authoritarian disposition is a state of anxiety towards a social order perceived unstable or under attack, that prompts people who have it to favor a heavy-handed approach both in the private and the public spheres. If people with this disposition lack contact with those they think are different, divergent, alien, etc., and limit their interactions to those who they believe are similar to them, then their perceptions of being threatened by strangers would likely become reciprocally validated, no matter that those perceptions be mere delusions. A good example of these delusions is the imagined threat the “castro-chavism” posed to Colombia.

In a context of social and economic tribulations, one has to add just two other things to make the populist cocktail really explosive. On one hand, it is necessary to have politicians deaf to people’s concerns. Such a deafness provides prophets of change with an aura that otherwise they would lack. No matter that those prophets be rude and superficial, and actually ignore the real interests of the people. What matters is to succeed in being perceived as the great outsiders who question the establishment. On the other hand, populists leaders need to be promoted by media ready to increase people’s anxiety. Those media may have qualms about the seriousness of the threats to the established order. However, the important point is that those media know that incendiary claims sell and very well – they know that populist leaders are associated with high ratings.

Trump has the profile of a sociopath: an out-of-proportion ego, very low levels of personal empathy, high levels of aggressiveness, and a strong dispostion to manipulate others. He is a bully, like some people I know in the academic world. Yet, he is a bully that a good number of people find both funny and exemplary. Above all, he is one who has been able of channeling his followers’ anxiety and turn it into rage against everything they perceive as a threat. Rage empowers people. That is what many Trump’s followers have felt and that is why they are ready to support him almost unconditionally.

To have an idea of what lies ahead to all of us, it suffices to see how Trump and his sympatizers have broken all conventions about respect and decorum. I, for example, worry for one of my sisters and her son and daughter, who live in the United States, for Trump has given his followers a carte blanche to direct their bigotry against whoever they find strange. In his acceptance speech, Trump sounded sober and conciliatory, but I believe his tone would change just right afterwards some people would question the soundness of his policies. That is what sociopaths do whenever they are given a no as an answer or when someone tries to hold them accountable.

My conjecture is that Trump would simply ignore a good deal of his promises and that his followers would care less. Therefore, it is very likely that the wall with Mexico would not be built and the massive deportations would not take place. For good, Trump would look for a compromise with Putin. For worse, thanks to such a compromise, Assad would have his hands free to do whatever he wants in Syria. Who knows what Trump would do regarding Israel and Palestina, and regarding Iran. My deepest worry concerns his ignorance, his limited span of attention, and his irascibility. All this makes him unpredictable. Trump knows it, but he thinks of his unpredictability as an advantage.

Once being President, Trump may derail the common efforts to mitigate global warming and, in a fit of absence of mind, he may use the US nuclear arsenal. Such an use is taboo. Yet, he has no misgivings about trespassing limits of any kind. He announced that he would reestablish torture. I believe he would fulfill this promise. Gitmo will not close – just the opposite: it will continue to be filled with prisoners from around the world.

To make the US great again, he would set the external debt aside, emit a lot of dollars and Treasury Bonds, and export the US inflation to the rest of the world. I would not discard a devaluation of the dollar as a means to alleviate the burden of the debt and improve the commercial position of US firms. For a country like Colombia, this one may be the policy with the most pernitious impact. I am not too concerned about the current peace process for Trump might find acceptable the deal reached with FARC and the deal yet to be signed with ELN. I am mostly worried about the savings of the country, almost all of them held in US Treasury Bonds, for they might suddenly lose a good deal of their value if Trump goes ahead with some of his economic policies.

If I had a seat at the Board of the Colombian Central Bank, I would start to buy gold and sell US Treasury Bonds. However, I am aware that our ties with the US are quite tight and our margin of manoeuvre limited. Above all, I would extract a good number of lessons from Trump’s victory. First, we have to display a consistent and considerable depolarizing effort in Colombia. We should cross the barriers that divide us and put into question the prejudices that prompt us to dehumanize our neighbours. Second, we also have to hold the media that nurture polarizing dynamics accountable. Last, but not least, our task must also include a frank dialogue with the economic and political establishment for the tribulations of many of our fellow countrypeople cry for deep economic and political reforms.