We live in remarkable times. 2016 was a momentous political year in the West, with Brexit and Trump arguably the high water mark of a global political backlash. Within this season of disruption and fear, I want to be in the question of whether there is any hope. Are there any opportunities the Trump era may offer us?
I do believe that Trump is being regressive in many ways – his commitment to build a wall along the Mexican border, his immigration policies, his dismantling of environmental legislation, But I also think Trump may create the counter-energy and dismay to – medium-term – upgrade the systems we operate in. We may have to think beyond the short-term pain here.
The first opportunity I see is for more multipolar leadership in the world. Principally, more European leadership, which I welcome, given I sense Europe still has the highest average values development in the world; more Chinese leadership, with their investment in renewables and clean energy, and their more than twice as high self-identification as global citizens than Americans; more Indian leadership – India has played a leading role in many international treaties and the establishment of universal human rights, and arguably it is uniquely placed given its huge diversity of languages and religion to imagine how to unite a world of diversity.
How about a more mature conversation on global security. Why should the US pay the global security bill? Why should the US be trusted to be the global policeman? We are now in the global age, not the post-WW2 era. So something needs to change. Europe only pays 34% of the basing costs of the US military presence in Europe. We need to update that arrangement. US leadership has been weak in Syria. A stronger Europe – UK or otherwise – could potentially provide more leadership in such security and humanitarian crises.
Another chance before us is to shape the conversation for what kind of global governance we want. Some people wince then you talk of global governance, without realizing we already have it, it’s just not democratic, transparent or accountable. It’s Davos governance. And if you don’t what Davos is, it kind of proves the point. We got a new UN secretary-general on Jan 1. No one even noticed. Our level of attention on the global will need to grow. And all while we keep plenty of attention on local, resilient communities. It’s not either or. It’s both-and. I am personally in favor of pushing a little bit of power up to create coordination for our global community and the majority of power down and into the hands of the people closest to the action. It’s a smarter way to run a company and in my opinion it’s a smarter way to a run a world.
Many of us have spent our time focussed on the outrage of the Brexit and Trump campaigns and their use of xenophobia and racism. Whilst I support drawing a hard line on racist behavior, I think those of us who consider ourselves liberal need to look at ourselves too. We have the chance to be better liberals, or maybe even post-liberal. As liberals, we have been soft (aka ‘woolly liberals’) on tough questions of terrorism and immigration. We lost the argument to straight-shooting ethnocentric conservatives – Farage in the UK, Trump in the US. It’s time to up our values inclusivity to include the value of cultural integrity. Time to be more robust about – and funding of – community standards of integration, including speaking the primary native language. Read the UK Integration Review if you haven’t, for good stimulus. If we are not tough on integration we get sub-communities who are hostile to our mainstream cultures and are ideal breeding grounds for discontent and unemployment, which are conditions favorable to radicalization and terrorist recruitment. I’m a global citizen, I love different cultures and languages and speak several, but when I walk down a London street with shops whose names I can’t read and hearing all languages but English, it can erode at my sense of belonging. So I wonder what it can do to someone who hasn’t travelled, isn’t multicultural and is feeling alienated in their own country. We need to distinguish between legitimate feelings and racism – if we confuse them, we start to become like the boy who cried wolf.
So what can we do to improve our current situation? Let’s channel our energy into creating better systems which are attractive to people, rather than slinging mud at what doesn’t work. Let’s be civic entrepreneurs and innovators. Let’s create a participatory self-governing system which makes you smarter just by being part of it. Voting once every 4 years for A or B, when B is deplorable to you and A is not even passable on a good day does not make you smarter. We are smarter consumers than we are citizens. Let’s change that. Let’s be part of the consumer to citizen shift.
How about re-finding a new patriotism, one for country and world together? To some of my liberal postmodern friends, America and the American government has almost become a thing to be ashamed of or even worse some kind of criminal imperialistic enterprise. I am not here to debate or justify any US military intervention or the sometimes rampant nature of unfettered capitalism. But I am here to say that healthy national patriotism is a good thing, it’s still the next stage of development for a lot of the world (who are still tribal, and arguably pre-national in their identity) and I don’t buy UK PM Theresa May on ‘a global citizen is a citizen of nowhere’. It’s both-and. It’s love of self, family, community, nation and world, and being able to hold those multiple identities. That’s a more evolved citizen. And without enough of us holding global citizen identities, we will continue to live in a world of ongoing moral travesty, with communities like I was in this time last year (Kibera, Nairobi) where 60% of the kids won’t make it to aged 5. We can care locally and globally. And I believe we have to.
My final point is a more holistic or spiritual one. I have a lot of perspectives on why Trump got elected, not all of them pretty. But at my best, I also trust the unfolding. I trust that it will make sense in the fullness of time. If you believe in a life force that is good, or evolution which brings better things or just in the depth of the human spirit, as Obama said in his closing address, we are going to be okay. That’s not to say don’t fight when we need to, that’s not to say don’t stand up for the people who may be shafted by poor policies, that’s not to any injunction to be passive. But it is to say that when we bring our trust in life into our politics, our courage and not our examined fear, our anger but not our acting out, we do better. So this is a great opportunity for us, in our full agency, power and discernment, to trust in the unfolding.
I look forward to being in it with you.