I want to take a moment away from post-election coverage to look at some of the other big picture issues impacting the world right now. Specifically I’d like to discuss six aspects of human society in 2016 currently impacting global trends. They are:
4. 24-hour corporate owned news and social media
5. Economic inequality
6. Climate change
The interplay between nationalism and terrorism is at the heart of today’s global politics. They are so common they have transitioned from variables to constants in any reasonable equation predicting how the world will look in ten years. There WILL be more terrorist attacks and there WILL be nationalists scapegoating demographics they feel are culpable for those attacks. One follows the other in a toxic ouroboros of hatred, fear, and violence that serves both sides quite well, leaving everyone in between with an unpleasant choice: supporting the cesspool of culture and thought in closest proximity to their identity, or attempting to navigate an ever-shrinking and besieged middle ground that calls for humanity to ignore its natural instinct for revenge.
This is where democracy enters the equation. The type of terrorism we are discussing has never sought to defeat its adversary’s overwhelmingly powerful military forces. That is simply not possible. The existential threat this terrorism poses to the world is found in the impact its attacks have on the delicate electorate of a democratic society. Though I am a committed egalitarian and do truly believe in democratic principles, it must be said that the greatest weakness in any democracy is that everyone gets to vote. While this can be a strength in a diverse, well-educated, equal, stable nation, terrorist and nationalist forces exploit this weakness in order to advance their own agendas and enhance their power in nations with electorates susceptible to their tactics.
Though these three factors have coexisted in the past, the addition of the 24-hour news cycle and the proliferation and ubiquity of social media as a source of information has fundamentally changed the magnitude of the impact these forces have on the electorate of a democracy. As readership dwindled and the majority of the population of many democracies came to expect free news either online or from television, the bottom-line for independent news organizations collapsed. The fact that hard, impartial news gains far fewer eyes and attention (which translates to clicks and dollars) than sensationalism, bombastic opinions, and puff, is not lost on the corporations that snapped up and conglomerated large parts of the journalism sector. With agendas in place and an unstable budget to protect, citizens of many democracies have been exposed to the constant drumbeat of what amounts to common propaganda in search of the greatest number of eyes (read: clicks). One of the most powerful drivers of clicks is the ability to evoke an emotional response in your reader, listener, or viewer; and one of the easiest ways to do this is through fear. The use of fear, particularly in the face of this brand of terrorism, is one of the defining features of today’s media culture. Through this fear, nationalists and their supporters around the world have established a banner to rally around: “You should be afraid. You need protection. We will protect you.”
This alone, however, is not enough to explain the incredible rise of nationalism on both the right and left. There have always been xenophobes sowing fear of the other in response to real or perceived threats, and the modern 24-hour news cycle and social media outlets may have boosted their megaphones, but this is not the single determining factor in their ascent. Here is where the age of massive global economic inequality comes into play. While the topic is expansive, suffice it to say that inequality within the global economy has increased to an incredible degree. I’ve written previously on the extent and structure of this increase, but I encourage you to explore the issue for yourself as it is one of the defining features of our time. The use of tax-loopholes, esoteric financial investment products, international tricks like corporate inversions, race-to-the-bottom tactics, and the use of tax shelters like art and real estate, all legal and even promoted by the governing bodies of democratic nations, has seen the consolidation of extreme wealth into smaller and smaller portions of our society. With this consolidation of risk and the subsequent crises it has caused and will cause again (2008 being the clearest example), the electorate of these democratic nations, who have time and again voted against their own economic interest due to the propaganda of fear and misinformation produced by a media controlled by these same self-interested corporations, has reached a breaking point in its anger. This anger, however, is not aimed in a specific direction, as the sources of information the electorate relies upon either do not wish or are mandated not to point the finger at their own corporate owners who use these very same methods. Therefore the energy and anger is repurposed by opportunists interested in creating the narrative of an ominous “other” and directed outward towards this supposed source of their woe. Rather than result in a call for greater equity in the global economy, the hardship and suffering created by economic inequality in a democratic electorate becomes more fuel for the cycle of violence between nationalists and terrorists.
Finally, with the world already facing the bleak prospect of an inevitable rise of nationalism as electorates respond to these inputs, we have already crossed a point of no return for climate change. Climate change will serve to exacerbate these issues in an already tense world as weather patterns become more extreme and ocean levels rise. This will create millions of refugees in need of resettlement. As we have already witnessed through the Syrian refugee crisis, even a world not yet replete with nationalist forces in power is incapable of accommodating such a massive scale of human movement, thus creating fertile ground for terrorist organizations in need of new recruits. By ignoring these humanitarian crises, wealthier parts of the world promote resentment within suffering populations, which in turn creates individuals susceptible to the siren call of the radical. If their life is full of stark suffering in need of immediate relief and all the nations of the world close their doors, the refugee is at the mercy of the few organizations willing to take people in, regardless of their politics.
I say this not to predict doom and gloom, but rather to encourage my fellow voters to understand what is happening in the world, and what is at stake. Politics neither starts nor ends with presidential elections, regardless of who wins. Politics is not something we do once every four years and then forget. Politics is ongoing, every single minute of every single day. We, as voters, must understand this and educate and participate accordingly. There are still quality sources of information in the world, and ways to circumvent the constant hum of fear and corporate shilling present in nearly all major media outlets. The best defense is knowledge, action, awareness, and the ability to educate others. We are standing on a precipice now, not just in America but the entire human race. Nationalism is on the march across the globe with nothing standing between it and the destruction it seeks but electorates capable of nominating Donald Trump, voting for Brexit, rejecting the FARC peace deal, voting for fascists in Austria, Germany, France, and other EU nations, installing Duterte in the Philippines, removing article 9 from the Japanese constitution, demanding war with Pakistan from India’s Modi, et cetera et cetera and on and on. The point is we have a lot of work to do, and not much time to do it.