For far too long, the world has seen Europe and North America as the epitome of libertarian utopia. The growth and prosperity witnessed after WWII was attributed to the superiority of free markets. Political stability too, was quietly attributed to either the ideological under-pinnings of Western democracies or free-market capitalism. This feel-good narrative was constantly sold by Western governments to their local populace and the world alike, but over the last few years, we have gotten several reality checks, and now: President Trump.
As Thomas Piketty argues in Capital in the Twenty-First Century, the economic growth witnessed in Western countries in the decades following WWII were exaggeratedly attributed to form of governance rather than the simple fact that economic growth played catch up after the wide scale global destruction in the first half of the twentieth century. Deregulation, which resulted from the exaggerated attribution mentioned above, increased income inequality. Combined with a slow-down in growth after the catch-up period, the opening up of huge economies such as Russia, China and India , and the inclusion of women and African-Americans in the economy created hitherto unknown competition for the white majority in Western countries.
Yet, instead of preparing their populations for these new realities, governments have repeatedly resorted to smoke and mirrors. A war against drugs and crime (read: Screw Black people); a war against terrorism (read: Screw Muslims); an uncomfortable alliance with countries like Saudi Arabia (read: Screw Women). White people, especially male and particularly without college degrees, the demographic that took Trump to victory, have not been told that the cushion of sexism, racism, and bigotry that gave them disproportionate economic prosperity for centuries is no longer there so they inevitably need to work harder to compete.
Some liberals take this to mean that we need to empathise with the “crises” being faced by the old guard of Europe and the United States, but that is yet another way to sugar-coat what is essentially a new bitter reality. By definition, the levelling of the playing field has a negative impact on the side that was previously benefitted from an unfair advantage. You will have to work harder, you will have to compete harder, and it is not unfair; the rest of the world has had it far worse to your advantage for a very long time, this is just the balancing of scales to a more sustainable level.
The problem is that the democratisation of media through the internet has ironically made it difficult for the most democratic nations to go on with the smoke and mirrors of propaganda that allowed them to beat about the Bush (ha ha). As the almost prophetic title of a book by Christopher Hitchens about Bill Clinton goes, there is just No One Left To Lie To.
So the greatest myth to be ultimately debunked yesterday was that economic growth and prosperity result from “freedom” and “liberty”. The reality is that the relationship between prosperity and liberty is much more complex. It is just as true, if not truer, that prosperity (perceived) allows liberty to flourish.
The cushion is gone, the sugar-coat has been licked, and the writing is on the wall: there are no rules, just interests. In the recent past, we have repeatedly compromised libertarian principles for populism; the cards are now out in the open, and the rest of the world wants to follow suit. Chaotic and dangerous, but we cannot work towards the world we dream of without realising that the world we live in, is rotten.