Now is the time for elites to come to the aid of a world out of joint. The losers are inheriting the earth. Anti-establishment, anti-globalisation, anti-immigration, anti-women, anti-Muslim, anti-everything sophisticates hold sacred, the unwashed masses, already whetted by their triumphs in Britain and Hungary and Poland and heartened by prospects in France and Germany, have just wrested the jewel in the crown, the US of A.
This must have been how the Romans had felt when the Visigoths sacked and pillaged their magnificent conurbation and signalled the beginning of the end of what Pliny the Elder had called the "immense majesty of the Roman peace". Certainly, no such thing has happened in the last hundred years or so. Not even in living memory for and I have been around long enough to know.
The 60s were turbulent, yes, anti-establishment was the name of the game then too, children were rounding on their parents and the worldview they treasured, but the move was towards greater liberalism, greater equality of races and women, greater faith in people of intellect, culture, science. Precisely the soft power that made the West victors in the Cold War even before the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Today, the anger across the Western world reflects just the reverse. His obvious riches haven’t made those left behind by globalisation turn away from The Don, his blatant sexism hasn't meant women in middle America voting for woman power, his patronising attitude towards blacks didn’t stop him from getting more black votes than earlier Republican candidates. He hasn’t even come up empty-handed with the Mexican vote despite his infamous promise to build a wall to keep them out.
But then, as commentator after commentator has stated, the movement that has propelled Donald Trump to the most powerful job in the world is more cultural than economic. Things have been improving for the American economy in recent days, nor are most of Donald Trump’s supporters the poorest and destitute of America.
But they are traumatised by their known world collapsing around them with non-white nations forging ahead and threatening America’s pole position in the world, with non-white immigrants into their country finding their place under the sun, with a black man in situ in the White House and a woman laying claim to be commander-in-chief and, to top it all, with terrorism scaring them out of their wits. No wonder they were primed to lap up a rank outsider echoing their darkest sentiments.
Because, in the final analysis, someone had to voice their angst and anguish. And this is where the old elite failed miserably. They erred on the side of reason, decency, progress, liberalism, historical precedence or, if you will, political correctness. A theme song that fell flat on the audience, inspired few.
As respected American columnist James Traub wrote in Foreign Policy shortly before their undeniably historic elections, "The schism we see opening before us is not just about policies, but about reality. The Brexit forces won because cynical leaders were prepared to cater to voters’ paranoia, lying to them about the dangers of immigration and the costs of membership in the EU. Some of those leaders have already begun to admit that they were lying. Donald Trump has, of course, set a new standard for disingenuousness and catering to voters’ fears, whether over immigration or foreign trade or anything else he can think of. The Republican Party, already rife with science-deniers and economic reality-deniers, has thrown itself into the embrace of a man who fabricates realities that ignorant people like to inhabit."
The Pied Piper, as always, has come up trumps. And never before has the world needed good sense to prevail. The extremism symbolised by Donald Trump cannot create a better, safer world. True, President Trump could be different from the Trump of the campaign trail. His victory speech was exemplary. Many have already started seeing merit in his deal-making ability in carrying diverse points of view along.
But his energised, emboldened supporters may not feel the need to be so temperate. We in India know what happens when base instincts are given a free rein, when groups close to ruling dispensations feel encouraged to take the law in their hand and dictate terms to minorities and weaker sections of society, when anti-intellectualism is seen as a badge of honour.
Hillary Clinton’s description of Trump supporters as "deplorables" indicates the utter incomprehension of well-meaning liberals of the mindset of these irate masses. There was this illuminating piece in a recent issue of The New Yorker on 'Hillary Clinton and the Populist Revolt' that describes how Hillary and her husband, representing the new-age Democrats in the 80s and 90s, "instead of speaking for the working class, the Clintons spoke about equipping workers to rise into the professional class. Their presumption was that all Americans could be like them". It was a hop, skip and jump from white collar to Wall Street, which has now sunk her.
Elite is such a loaded word; so politically incorrect. It conjures up images of people in ivory towers, living off the fat of the land, pontificating with no fears of having to face up to the consequences of their failed prescriptions. In sum, the select few who made a pilgrimage to Davos every year and told those who couldn’t make it what was best for them. It isn’t that long ago that books like the End of History and The Olive and the Lexus Tree were treated as bibles of the new globalised world.
But their very failure makes it all the more important for new ideas, new thinking, new heroines and heroes to emerge. A new elite is desperately needed to make the world great again. Fingers firmly crossed that it’ll happen in my lifetime.