Author: Meghnad Desai
"Politic Shock" | Chaos within Order
From a world preaching ideas of profit and freedom to the world practising ideas of retrogressive preservation – the Liberal Order has had a tumultuous ride, yet the journey is far from over.
How did Donald Trump make it? The question that has been etching sharp arrows into the pride of liberals across the world. How did a misogynist, racist businessman, an alien to the fierce domain of politics carve a niche for himself despite being hated so vividly by the world at large and by Americans so close to his soil? What seems like an arbitrary outcome is quite the opposite. As Meghnad Desai reveals, the victory of Trump in the West, the referendum supporting Brexit at the heart of European supremacy, and the victory of Narendra Modi closer home have a common thread passing through them that corresponds to a global phenomenon we are now treading on. 50 years ago with the formation of the European Union, dissolution of colonies and an eventual farewell to wars (or so it seemed) we welcomed a new world. A world marked by freedom: freedom of thought, movement, trade, market -- you name it, the Liberal Order (LO) had provisions to accommodate it. Yet, 50 years later we are encountering a situation when this very glorified LO has created differences, uncertainties, and grievances which citizens have firmly held, and now expressed as a rejection in circumscribing a global community. The focus now has been reversed, what was then outward has now shown visible trends of turning inward.
‘Politic Shock: Trump, Modi, Brexit & the Prospect for Liberal Democracy,’ is yet another masterpiece penned by the master himself, known for his acute analysis and precise political and economic acumen. Not everyone’s cup of tea, the book makes a perfect brew for those positively inclined to understand how economies and markets function, and how politics is driven by astute thinking, not mere highhandedness. Boundaries do well to form virtual limits, much like our social media profiles, yet the limits do little to keep invaders or interested benefactors away, again, much like our social media profiles.
As the LO and democracy flourished through the 20th century, the 21st century presented the world with a new enemy, which had so forth been carefully swept under the carpet. Religious fanaticism was a thing of the past, not an element within the discourse of the LO. Yet, stepping into the 21st century, here we were, waiting to be embraced by our new enemy, terror, which would be gripping the world for the next few years. The twin tower attack on 9/11 was unapprehended even by the experts initiated into expecting the abnormal. It shook the entire world and placed a slap right across the face of the LO. Clearly, they had missed some signals of grievance which were carefully growing a little further away from home in Asia and the Middle-East. The Taliban projected a new challenge to the USA, not just a prided superpower but the very convenor of liberal thought. Since then the world over has witnessed the heinous backlash of radical terror outfits. The LO is also faced with a unique challenge of contradiction, on one hand, it strongly believes in the integration of all communities, religions, classes, etc, on the other hand, it propagates a vigorous postulate for tolerance. This two fork approach is in itself a continuous battle: of performance and ideology.
Donald Trump’s victory emanates from a disenchantment towards the liberal order which had taken away from America the growth rate which had marked its ascendancy as a global power. The opening up of markets and influx of Chinese goods did not fare well on the American manufacturing units. Notwithstanding global ramifications of this order, the intrinsic white American who had so forth held his ground strong begun losing relevance within his home. Trump emerged in this milieu, not as a saviour, not as a beacon, but simply as someone who didn’t herald this sacred order. He was an outsider, an unabashed American who promised to ‘Make America Great Again.’ He tapped on the sentiments that rejected the elitism pervading politics. As Desai writes, “Don’t take your political philosophy and try to convince them. Find out what they want and package your policy to maximise votes.” A classical postulate in business marketing, which, an astute businessman like Trump, would have been more than willing to adopt. Though Trump did win by votes of the Electoral College, Hilary Clinton was ousted as a rejection of the Liberal Order, an order that had failed to secure the home before conquering the world.
Further away from the West, Narendra Modi’s ascendancy to power was met with harsh criticism. He was castigated for being a communalist who had massacred Muslims in the 2002 Godhra riots. There were widespread media reports against him, as there were about Trump. Little was pegged on his victory; yet, Modi came to power in 2014 sweeping the Lok Sabha elections allowing BJP to form a single majority after decades of coalition governments at the Centre. Though Modi is accused of propagating a Hindu state his clarion call has been a development for all. He has emphasised on modernising the economy while forging strong international ties even with the seemingly enemy states of Pakistan and China. Though both emerged from a background of non-elite politics, Modi has gained his chair more by hard work and less by marketing gimmicks. His bold economic moves hint that he is not willing to placate, instead, he is rearing to go with his policies driven by an agenda of holistic development. In policy making, Modi is several steps ahead of Trump, who still has many promises to fulfil, yet their ascendancy has an uncanny similarity as it sends out strong signals of rejecting the established order, an order which celebrates elite politics.
Asia presents the future. China, Japan, Singapore and South Korea all have raging economies which have remained inward without subscribing to the liberal order. North Korea poses another threat which it carefully harnesses in its strict dictatorial regime. India which is now a raging economy after 40 years of failed socialist policies is probably the only Asian country carrying forth the liberal order. It is placed in the East with its eyes looking towards the West, as Desai would say.
The future for liberal democracy looks shaky. The growth of fringe right wing and left wing groups in France, Spain, Italy, Germany, and Greece, too exemplify this belief. Desai proposes a model for direct democracy which would enhance the role of the citizen in shaping their own political fate. While current possibilities, amplified by Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, or fancily Brexit, appear detrimental to the Liberal Order, change by now, we must know, is the only constant. The Liberal Order must turn on its head for the future to take its course. “Bad though it may sound, it is the devil we know, and though we may not admit it, love,” Desai poignantly concludes referring to change – the pinnacle of the order.