By ROBERTO SAVIO - December 28, 2017 @ 9:10am
PRESIDENT Donald Trump could be a good case study on the relationship between politics and populism.
Just a few days ago, the United States declared that it would withdraw from the United Nations Global Compact on Migration. This has nothing to do with the interest or the identity of the US, which has built itself as a country of immigrants. It has to do with the fact that this decision is popular with a part of the American population, which is voting for Trump, like the evangelicals.
I want to show the message they are circulating after the declaration of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. This is what is said in the Bible: If we recreate the world described in the Bible, Jesus will make his second coming to Earth, and only the just will be rewarded. Therefore, they think that Trump brings the world closer to the return of Christ, and therefore, he acts for the good of their beliefs. Evangelicals are close to 30 million and strongly believe that when the second coming of Jesus happens, he will recognise only them as the believers who are on the right path.
Trump is not an evangelical, and he has shown little interest in religion. But, like each of his actions, he is coherent with his views during his campaign, which brought together all the dissatisfied people, catapulting him into the White House. Everything he does is not in the interest of the world or of the US. He is just focused on keeping the support of his electors, those who do not come from big towns, academia, media and the Silicon Valley. They come mainly from impoverished and uninformed white electors, who feel left out from the benefits of globalisation. They believe those benefits went to the elite, to big towns and the few winners, and believe that there is an international plot to humiliate the US.
So, climate change for them, and Trump, is a Chinese hoax! During his first year, Trump had a shocking approval rating of 32 per cent, the lowest in history for a US president. But, 92 per cent of his voters would re-elect him. And, as only 50 per cent of Americans vote, he can conveniently ignore general public opinion.
Trump is a perfect example of why a large number of Europeans, or countries like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, are ignoring the decisions of the European Union on migrants, and why populism, xenophobia and nationalism are on the rise everywhere.
Fear has become a tool to get to power. Historians agree that two main engines of change in history are greed and fear. We have been trained, since the collapse of communism, to look at greed as a positive value. Markets (no man or ideas) were the new paradigm. States were an obstacle to a free market. Globalisation, it was famously said, would lift all boats and benefit everyone. In fact, markets without rules were self-destructive, and not all boats were lifted, only yachts, the bigger the better. The rich became richer and the poor, poorer. The process is so speedy, that 10 years ago, the richest 528 people had the same wealth of 2.3 billion people. This year, they have become eight, and this number is likely to shrink soon. Statistics are clear and globalisation based on a free market is losing some of its shine. But, meanwhile, we have lost many codes of communication. In the political debate, there is no more reference to social justice, solidarity, participation, equity and the values in the modern constitutions on which we built international relations. Now, the codes are competition, success, profit and individual achievement.
During my lectures at schools, I am dismayed to see a materialistic generation, who do not care to vote, to change the world. The distance between citizens and political institutions is increasing every day. The only voices reminding us of justice and solidarity are voices from religious leaders: Pope Bergoglio, the Dalai Lama, Bishop Tutu, and Grand Mufti Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, just to name the most prominent. And, with media, who are also based on market, as the only criteria, these voices are becoming weaker.
After a generation of greed, we are now in a generation of fear. We should notice that, before the great economic crisis of 2009 (provoked by greed, banks have paid, until now, US$280 billion (RM1.14 trillion) of penalties and fines), xenophobe and populist parties were minorities (with the exception of Le Pen in France). The crisis created fear and uncertainties, and immigration started to rise, especially after the invasion of Libya in 2001 and Iraq in 2013.
We are now in the seventh year of the Syrian drama, which displaced 45 per cent of the population. German Chancellor Angela Merkel is paying a price for her acceptance of Syrian refu-gees, and it is interesting to note that two-thirds of the votes to Alternative Fuer Deutschland, the populist and xenophobe party comes from former East Germany, that has few refugees, but an income of nearly 25 per cent lower. Fear, again, has been the engine for change of German history. Europe was directly responsible for these migrations.
But, what is shocking is that we have a new element of division now — religion, which is widely used against immigrants, but should instead unite us. Religion has always been used to get power and legitimacy. Common people have never started wars of re-ligion in Europe, they were started by princes and kings.
A few years ago, we commemorated the expulsion of the Jews, and then the Moors from Spain, where they lived in harmony and peace with the Christians, forming a civilisation of the three cultures. And weeks ago, there was a great march in Warsaw, ignored by the media, with 40,000 people from all over Europe and the US, who marched in the name of God, crying death to the Jews and Muslims.
Africa is going to double its population, with 80 per cent of its population under 35 years old, while in Europe, it will be only 20 per cent. There is no hope for Europe to be viable in a global economy and in a competitive world without substantial immigration. Yet, to speak about that in a political debate is now a kiss of death.
The writer is Inter Press Service founder and president emeritus. This op-ed is adapted from a statement he made as a panelist on Migration and Human Solidarity, A Challenge and an Opportunity for Europe and the Middle Eastern and North African region held on Dec 14 at the Geneva Centre for Human Rights Advancement and Global Dialogue