Desperate times call for desperate measures, like seeking vicarious reassurance from distant developments when the surrounding environment looks dark. Emmanuel Macron's emphatic triumph over the bellicosity of the extreme right-wing National Front's Marine Le Pen in the French presidential elections was met with astronomical, palpable relief in India by down-in-the-dumps liberals. Many were as acutely nervous about the electoral outcome as those frenetic supporters of the Les Bleus football team living in Paris. Earlier, the defeats of divisive demagogues in the Austrian and Dutch elections were met with equal jubilation.
Aggressive jingoism rules airwaves, backed by violent social media fusillades—this is the ugly manifestation of the new world disorder.
A few years ago, such cross-border engagement would have been unthinkable. But this is an extraordinary period; suddenly there is a vociferous anti-globalisation backlash worldwide, coupled with a specious hard-sell of hyper-patriotism that targets and "others" the minority sections and foreign immigrants. Nothing is the same, as the deadly cocktail of economic insecurity and social marginalisation usurps susceptible minds and drives them into believing that the non-resident neighbour is eviscerating their lives—sustained fear-mongering can psychologically brainwash anyone. It is happening everywhere. And it seems unstoppable. That's why Macron's victory cheered up liberals across the world. And then the South Korean presidential results sent them over the moon.
Ironically enough, three of the world's largest, oldest and most tested democracies are under gargantuan strain. Aggressive jingoism rules airwaves, backed by violent social media fusillades—this is the ugly manifestation of the new world disorder. The USA, Britain and India have a lot to explain for.
US President Donald Trump deployed a calculated arsenal of xenophobic paranoia and diminishing national pride to defeat Hillary Clinton in a stunning upset. Making America Great Again inspired the rustic belt of the Midwest, teeming with White blue-collar workers with conservative beliefs. The languid liberals, intoxicated by their intellectual snobbery, rubbishing Trump's chances, did not turn up to vote. Or just chose to hate Hillary instead and mourn Bernie Sanders. Post-truth, fake news, and social media trolls overwhelmed political discourse. The fact that Trump eventually surprised himself by entering 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is a telling commentary of the night of 8 November 2016. It took just 80,000 votes and three states in the flawed winner-takes-all electoral system of the USA for the orange-haired billionaire tycoon to send opinion poll analysts into near-extinction. Guess what? He was seen as a messiah of the working class!
Brexit was all about a once imperious colonial empire feeling asphyxiated by co-sharing national assets for a collectively good future even if with familiar White neighbors. Clearly, despite its love for chicken tikka masala, Britain remains deeply aware of its once formidable prowess, the unfettered booming command to subservient subjects. The pound weighs heavier than the euro. Brexit was a moment of truth; we saw a divided nation, perched precariously between the radically opposing choices of the bustling millennials in Canary Wharf and the fearful superannuated in the more modest Manchester. The European Union is headed for a structural adjustment of a significant magnitude sans Britain, which may have crippling long-term ramifications on both human capital and economic resources. Europe will need an Agony Aunt helpline.
When [urban social liberals] maintained an eloquent silence on rising inequality, social security distress, environmental degradation and crony capitalism.. they were giving Trump and Modi a red-carpet walk to the coveted chair.
India voted Narendra Modi (the BJP was just a collateral beneficiary) in 2014 with feverish optimism. The ruling Congress-led UPA had been badly mauled by so-called anti-corruption crusaders Anna Hazare and Arvind Kejriwal since 2011, coupled with a TRP-obsessed media suspecting an Arab Spring-style revolution. A belligerent Modi comfortably capitalised on the political vacuum. Conveniently, Modi's dark, damning past faded into the blue, and the ruthless pogrom of Gujarat 2002 was hurriedly dismissed. Several other serious shenanigans were insouciantly brushed aside. In India, an electoral victory is perceived to make past criminal cases and judicial trials irrelevant. Three years later, however, India finds itself in a dismal, despondent, depressing state, overwhelmed by a draconian overhang. Cow vigilantism and minority-hunting seem to be the new pastimes in BJP-ruled states. There are no jobs for the young, who are twiddling thumbs on their WhatsApp groups. A widening carcinogenic social chasm between Hindus and Muslims could prove to be insurmountable. State powers bully revolutionary young minds on college campuses and intimidate protestors on Twitter, while investigating agencies have become instruments of political vendetta. Democracy is being imperceptibly throttled, the Idea of India seems to be in a flower-decked coffin. India seems destined to become a formal majoritarian society under the BJP, a Hindu Rashtra, where the "other" must be systematically subjugated and then conscientiously ghettoised. All along, Modi talks of FDI, GST and digital pay-outs. Elsewhere, gau rakshaks are slaughtering innocents.
Good economics is intrinsically about trade-offs. In the gold rush of globalisation, several failed to recognise that we live in a society, not just in an economy.
What America, India and Britain have failed to fathom is that globalisation is a two-way street; it is not just about setting up sweat-shops in Bangladesh, establishing IT back-offices in Hyderabad and manufacturing computer motherboards in China. We are finally interlinked more by transnational human resources than foreign direct investments. If American software titans need to impress Nasdaq with high profit margins, then Indian software engineers will need H1-B visas. Open immigration is inevitable. Cheaper iPhones manufactured in China would entail fewer jobs in Florida. Good economics is intrinsically about trade-offs. In the gold rush of globalisation, several failed to recognise that we live in a society, not just in an economy.
Many of the urban social liberals are also free-market fundamentalists; it is their free choice. But when they maintained an eloquent silence on rising inequality, social security distress, environmental degradation and crony capitalism, among others, they were giving Trump, Modi and their ilk a red-carpet walk to the coveted chair. Your opponent rarely beats you, it is you who loses. It is a lesson that the beleaguered liberals must never forget. After all, tomorrow is another day.