Donald Trump and Brexit may have globalisation on the backfoot, but don't expect it to go quietly

With the rise of the right-wing in America and the Europe, free trade and globalisation that marked the post World War II decades is on the backfoot. The surprise victory of Donald Trump in the American elections, his constant rants against free trade, immigration and linking refuges from seven Muslim countries to terror, has been a major morale booster for these forces.

 Donald Trump and Brexit may have globalisation on the backfoot, but dont expect it to go quietly

Representational image. Reuters

Much of the narrative, though ill-formed is populist. This is easy to understand in India where tirades against appeasing minorities by the larger Sangh Parivar family is accepted without question by the vast majority of citizens even though it is well documented that the vast majority of Muslims here are on the bottom rung of the social and economic heap.

In America too, Trump based his campaign on making America great again. According to Trump, the US, which had so long promoted multilateral trade pacts like the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) has suffered. This is not true. If anything, America has become rich through trade. The US continues to be the world’s foremost economic power with a 17 trillon dollar economy. In fact, the job market is improving and the US economy is looking up. But who cares for facts, these days it is the alternative facts of Kellyanne Conway and her ilk that dominate the narrative.

Considering the rise of these forces, it is clear that liberal values are under attack. Brexit showed the way and Donald Trump’s win cemented it. Middle America’s support for Trump echoes Britain’s Brexit referendum. There is a major gap between those who live in the major cities and its periphery and those who are in the rural heartland.

For instance, during Brexit, London voted differently from the rest of Britain. As in America, so too in Britain, the anti-foreigner sentiments, fuelled by job losses and resentment of immigrants, and the rise of ultra-nationalist sentiments are confined to the interiors. The cultural divide between the liberal sophisticated city folk and the provincial middle class has also opened up. There is the feeling that all the goodies have been grabbed by the urban population.

People’s frustration against the political establishment, represented by the Washington elite, both Republican and Democrats and their families and friends who profited from one another led to anger against politicians. Hillary Clinton was seen as the epitome of all that was wrong with the system. She was accused of helping the Clinton Foundation and using her position as secretary of state to get enormous financial support from foreign governments. Whether all the accusations were valid is not known but in politics perception is everything. Bernie Sanders, a little-known politician was embraced by the younger Democratic voters. Sanders, like Trump, was not seen as a Washington insider. The elite are not just the politicians, but writers, journalists, bureaucrats, the college educated, businessmen and Hollywood — they’re are all part of this system.

Globalisation has also had its downside. Free trade benefitted the conglomerates and big business, bringing them enormous profits but at the cost of jobs in the developed world. So a class of super-rich corporate tycoons, has left rural America poorer than ever. The 2008 financial crisis and a long period of depression accelerated the process. The rich were getting richer while the rest were stagnating. Liberal values, including free movement of people from poorer countries to US and Europe, are now being blamed for job losses in middle America. While there is point for free trade and equity, the constant passionate denouncement of globalisation does not match the facts.

Donald Trump’s rise in the US is encouraging right wing parties across Europe. France, the Netherlands and Germany have elections in 2017. In France, Marine Le Pen of the National Front is set to win the first round of presidential elections according to the latest polls. She needs to win the second round too. But, for the moment, Marine Le Pen’s conservative anti-immigration, anti-EU agenda is resonating among people. France has been repeatedly hit by Islamist terror: the Paris attacks, the Calais strike, and the Charlie Hebdo killings have frightened and angered people. So rise of a nationalist like Le Pen is understandable. She is promising a referendum to allow people to decide whether they wish to remain in the EU. France and Germany are two major European nations that have worked tirelessly for the EU. Le Pen also wants to restore the French franc and says that the euro has not helped the French economy. Again this is not a fact.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel is under attack by the right wing for her generosity towards Syrian refugees. Fake pictures of Merkel holding the hands of a Syrian refugee adopted by a German family that falsely implicated the teenager as a terror suspect went viral on the internet. The Syrian refugee and his adopted family have gone to court against Facebook for circulating false and dangerous propaganda.

In the Netherlands, Geert Wilders of the Party for Freedom is being dubbed the Trump of the Netherlands. He is anti-immigration, wants mosques and Islamic centres across the country to be shut down and headscarves banned. His anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rants are gaining traction among voters. His party is expected to do well in the elections and maybe even win. His populist and fiery speeches are being lapped up by adoring crowds. In the Netherlands, the economy is picking up yet Wilder continues to paint a gloomy picture.

So is globalisation on the run? While the world will become protectionist for some time, this cannot be the answer. Some self-correction is expected — for example there will be a move towards a fair and equitable distribution of wealth—but globalisation will continue to be a major force.

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Updated Date: Feb 12, 2017 21:12:07 IST