If history, human psychology and Stephen Bannon being the de facto president of the United States are anything to go by, our species is heading for nuclear self-destruction.
I have never in my life written an analysis that I hoped was fundamentally and utterly wrong, but there is a first for everything, I guess.
What gives me hope that I am mistaken, though, is that we are in charge of history and can choose how it unfolds, and that we know more about both history and psychology than any previous generation. At a more hands-on level, my hope rests on the fact that the United States is the oldest constitutional democracy on the planet with some of the strongest democratic institutions and checks and balances. The American people also have the biggest expectations of freedom, justice and democracy in the world, and they are highly resourceful and have access to every tool in the democratic toolbox. Furthermore, Hillary Clinton won the popular vote and the party holding the majority in both Houses has been eager to spread democracy in such faraway places as Afghanistan and Iraq, and thus there is every reason to believe they will fight for democratic principles and their constitution at home as soon as they wake up.
My final reason for hope is that not only Americans can tell that something is utterly wrong in the White House now; political leaders and citizens around the globe are aware of it. There are Putin and Trump supporters around the globe too, but what is encouraging is that there seems to be an emerging awareness that the development in the United States is not an American problem but a human problem and a problem of our time: a similar development could happen anywhere. The anti-Americanism that used to flourish among the European Left is suddenly very, very quiet. The left-wing loathing of America attached to Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush has been replaced by confusion, sadness and solidarity with the American people. The far Right, in the meantime, is uniting behind Trump and Putin but not behind America as such.
In this tectonic shift in the Western political fabric, I see a unique opportunity for a global development towards rule of law, emancipation and democracy. What is happening in Washington can be a catalyst for a democratic surge and global changes for the benefit of humanity—if we choose so and approach it wisely.
Among the first visible signs that a global makeover towards more freedom and democracy is a possible outcome was the more or less global Women’s March on January 21st. Then followed the Australian Prime Minister Turnbull toning down the troubling aspects of his phone call with Trump, and European politicians waking up on behalf of Europe. Before that, German Chancellor Angela Merkel had been politely clear about the expectations of the president of the United States and on what grounds there can be collaboration.
Finally, starting with a Dutch satire video, a wave of Trump satires from countries as different as Germany, Namibia, Iran, Finland and many more insisted that if America wants to be first, they want to be second. In two weeks, Trump and satire crews from Portugal to Australia connected Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania culturally in a way the UN, EU and other organizations have failed to do. Apart from Trump parody voice-overs, the videos share three common denominators: self-ironic exposure of national dirty laundry and corrupt politicians, adherence to rule of law and democratic principles, and a warm sense of humor. Around the globe, there are young people who are capable of gracefully and playfully showing love of country, principles and humanity, all at the same time. This gives me hope.
The millions of people voting for Trump and national chauvinistic parties are in the process of undermining our liberal democracies, no doubt about it, but they are also acting in a very understandable and healthy way. For the past 30 years, governance has increasingly moved towards multilateral political institutions in order for the institutions of governance to match the technological development, not least the internet, which is global. But our meaning-making and feeling of identity relate to the nation state; that is where we have our voting rights, can engage ourselves in the public debate and build personal relationships.
Our sense of belonging has not been able to keep up with globalization and as a result, the moral fabric is falling apart. Political and financial decision makers have deliberately tried to minimize the power of the nation states without providing a moral fabric and opportunities for global civic engagement that can match the new seats of governance. The process has not provided us, the people, with the cultural and educational institutions that could allow us to make sense of the new power structures and the technologies driving the development. Instead, culture, aesthetics and education have been seen as luxuries, not as necessities for meaning making. As a very sensible answer to this deprivation of meaning, people are voting for the moral entities that provide identity and meaning and allow them to engage: their nation and their religion.
Instead of seeing this as a problem, we ought to see it as a resource. People actually do want democracy; they want power over their own lives, they want to engage and to have a say. However, we have created a world so complex that the means of governance necessary in order to guarantee our freedoms and our local and national democracies are out of tune with the people and we are not investing in the education and enculturation that are necessary.
In order to address this and in order to provide a model with which to see the big picture and the patterns in what is going on, I have written this book in five parts:
- The perspectives and analyses where I am going to analyze the current political situation in the US from seven perspectives: complex systems theory, history, moral meaning making, developmental psychology, moral psychology, moral complexity, and the development of modernity. Each of the seven represents a pattern of development that can be used as an analytical tool.
- The application of the analyses, where I shall bring the analytical tools together and take a closer look at Stephen Bannon, Mike Pence, the Trump family, their cabinet, Congress, and a few other political figures and suggest who is in fact capable of handling the complex challenges that our species is facing.
- Suggested short-term efforts to help prevent the implosion of American governance and democracy. The list is in no way complete but there are things we can do to help, be it as US citizens or US friends and allies. I am not claiming that all my suggestions are going to work (or work as they are intended) but I am willing to suggest some fresh ideas; if nothing else, disagreeing with them may lead to better suggestions.
- Suggested long-term efforts: Whether there is a Trump administration or not when you read this, the challenges to democracy explored below go deeper than one administration and do not just concern the United States. As a species, we are at a crossroads concerning the future of governance and technological development.
- Why there is hope – because there is, and we can choose that path, yes we can.
I am neither a mathematician, a historian nor a psychologist. I am a business economist who studied theology and dropped out of that program when I converted to Judaism. I am Danish and worked as a scriptwriter for Danish television before I became a futurist; my current profession is analyzing patterns in society and history in order to provide a better understanding of current development.
Parts of the text below will also be found in my next book, The Nordic Secret, about the history of adult education in Denmark, Norway and Sweden. I am writing it together with my Swedish colleague, Tomas Björkman, and we currently plan to publish it in May 2017.
This was not intended to be a book; I meant to write an article or a long blog-post. It has been written in about four weeks and would have been more thorough (and longer) and better documented, had I planned to write such a book right now and not just started writing due to a sense of urgency. I admit that there are simplifications and generalizations that do not do their topic or the people involved justice. Consider this the first draft of a map that we have to construct together; the main rivers and shores are there, but the details are waiting to be filled in.
The overall picture of what is happening in the US is clear and consistent, the concrete events change from day to day; I could have kept adding examples and changing details in this book but at some point, the script had to be ready for publishing. There are updates, links to sources and more information online at:
Stockholm, March 15, 2017