7
Jun

Why I Write What I Write

In the last few weeks, I’ve written several articles on ostensibly different subjects – climate change, Vladimir Putin’s Russia, and the collapse of the Republicans’ domestic agenda – that actually share a much deeper underlying unity.

Part of that interconnectedness comes from the confluence of so many subjects these days:  I learned of Trump’s decision on the Paris accords, for instance, during a meeting on the “Future of Government” – the subject I teach at UChicago – with strategists at European Union headquarters in Brussels, where I was moderating a panel on the US presidential election at a conference on rising populism with many of the international political actors who informed my pieces on French and Russian politics (while also indulging my interest in the Napoleonic Wars that essentially birthed the modern state).

But mainly it’s because, rather than focus on the latest Trump tweet, Russian machination, or implosion of supposed Obamacare “repeal and replace,” I prefer to look for deeper factors and longer-term implications. At least – in a world of millions of journalists, bloggers and Twitter accounts – that’s where I hope I can make a contribution.

At the battlefield of Waterloo, on my recent trip to Brussels, where the fate of Europe was decided 200 years ago.

For instance, this week I tackled The Civil War Over Climate Change. To me, the key development here is not the “climate change” – Trump’s decision has no practical effect unless he’s re-elected in 2020 – it’s the “civil war”:

It’s hardly news that Americans are, metaphorically, living in two separate countries. But the reaction to President Donald Trump’s intention to take the United States out of the Paris climate accord moves us a step closer to making those two separate countries a reality….

Well over 100 of the nation’s mayors, as well as the governors of nine [now twelve] states, have announced that they intend not only to comply with the goals of the Paris agreement – which any jurisdiction (or, for that matter, individual) can do – but also to band together with scores of universities and even private corporations to form a new coalition of “non-national actors,” in the words of Michael Bloomberg, asking the United Nations to be treated on a par with, well, real countries on future climate progress.

This is remarkable both because of its claim to the treatment of subnational governments and businesses as equivalent and on a par with traditional nation-states and for its acceptance of the political break-up of even the strongest nation-state into its squabbling constituent parts. Both represent the future….

Those, of course, have been central themes of mine for the past several years. Trump’s old-fashioned “nationalism” will, in my view, ironically exacerbate the nation’s fraying:

Like similar creeping authoritarians elsewhere, Trump has steadily broadened his definition of “enemies of the people” from, first, ethnic minorities, to elite institutions like the media and court system, to now – mendaciously using the climate issue as his bludgeon – a probable majority of the country who, in Trump’s formulation, by definition (“Pittsburgh, not Paris”) favor foreign interests over America’s.

 

And meeting at the headquarters of the European Commission (executive branch of the European Union), where the fate of Europe is being decided today.

And that relates to another larger theme I’ve been pursuing: the growing cross-border global realignment, discussed last week in People Are the New Oil (the title comes from a line a Russian politician said to me recently). Drawing on the best-seller, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty,” by Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson, the piece focused on the “distinction between extractive and inclusive nations. Economies built on extractive industries – like mining or petroleum – tend not to produce either inclusive economies or inclusive political systems”:

The entire planet is now consumed in a growing economic, political and perhaps military struggle between extractive and inclusive spheres. As I have frequently written here, these spheres essentially overlap with the question whether the societies, economies, communities and individuals concerned are “connected” to the New Economy or not: Those that are connected are booming economically – and also are hotbeds of liberalism and democracy, in the broadest senses of these terms. Those that are not, are not. The distinctions cut across national borders, creating new inter- (and intra-) national fault lines.

The reaction of the reactionaries now running our own country is (at least to pretend) to return to an extractive economy and, like Putin, ignore investing in that more valuable commodity, human capital – to the country’s long-term danger…. [A] new perspective that embraces both the connected future and those left behind by it is sorely lacking and badly needed.

That “new perspective,” called for at the end of both aforementioned pieces, is discussed in Is the Party System Over?. In a recent book, “Once Within Borders: Territories of Power, Wealth, and Belonging since 1500,” Harvard historian Charles S. Maier notes that the distinction undermining our current parties is that between globalists and nationalists (or, Maier calls them, “territorialists”), of which there are both left- and right-wing versions. Uniting all three articles, then, and all three subjects, is this concern:

There’s one glaring gap perpetuating the current systemic instability: While it’s easy to identify globalists generally, and both territorialist Left and Right, there’s so far no “globalist Left” that pays more than mere lip-service to the equity and adaptation concerns of the territorialists. Until that emerges, we’re stuck with the current, crumbling party system.

Quick Links to my three articles:

– The Civil War Over Climate Change

– People Are The New Oil

– Is The Party System Over

As always, I welcome your comments.

 

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