Opinion |

A Silver Lining in Trump's Clouds

What looks like an out-of-control pot of popcorn becomes logical when the political lens is replaced with a historical one. The president is the official liquidator of rapacious capitalism.

Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg
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U.S. President Donald Trump gesture as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House upon his return to Washington, U.S., after a weekend in Palm Beach, Florida, February 20, 2017.
President Donald Trump at the White House this week. He has mutated and became a wild weed, like Hitler and Mussolini and a long line of narcissistic tyrants.Credit: YURI GRIPAS/REUTERS
Avraham Burg
Avraham Burg

My late father, who was a discerning observer, once said, “History is the politics of the past, and politics is the history of the future.” The headlines that erupt every few hours from the United States threaten (or promise, depending on one’s perspective) to reshape the definitions and patterns of politics as we know it and, in the process, the history of our time.

The new politics – Trumpism – seem capricious, shot from the hip, populist, mendacious and extremely tribal. It appears that President Donald Trump and his devotees worldwide have made it their goal to consciously destroy the perception of the common good of all people who share the same values and behaviors, wherever they are and whatever their origin and beliefs.

But what looks like an out-of-control pot of popcorn becomes logical and significant when the political lens is replaced with a historical one. What is perceived as pessimistic in terms of current events is good news when one sits back comfortably in the easy chair of history and observes.

Here is the good news: It is unclear what will come after Trump and his grotesque presidency, but it seems possible to analyze what preceded him and draw encouragement and optimism from it. Trump is the official liquidator of rapacious capitalism. The 20th century – the most humane and secular of centuries – became a political boxing ring for the ideologies and movements that developed in the century before it. Some of these ideologies and movements survived into the 21st century. Fascism and Nazism came to an end as legitimate regimes in 1945, when the populist assassin Hitler became perceived instead as a monstrous megalomaniac.

Several decades later, the communist idea collapsed with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, with Russia’s then-President Mikhail Gorbachev landing the deathblow. Western capitalism seemed the big winner because, somehow, only it remained on its feet.

A few years later, the brief era of the “one superpower” was over, and new and rejuvenated forces returned to the ring: neo-czarist Russia; neo-Ottoman Turkey; the new Sunni caliphate, plus others. It quickly emerged that this scene rang hollow, though. The United States as we know it is collapsing before our very eyes, and with it quite a few parts of the concept and practice of capitalism.

Life often seems like a swinging pendulum. Now it’s here, then it’s there, and then back again. For many centuries, society significantly expanded in a single, clear direction: from tribe to state, to regional unification, to global alliances and international organizations.

The economy also grew to monstrous proportions: from the old family farm to the market, to the market economy, and from there to the global economy, which destroyed those familiar and intimate local businesses.

The internet giants sought with all their might to create a supra-state civilization – a rather arrogant class of privileged global citizens, in contrast to the locals, outdated and stuck in place.

For many years, nothing has had boundaries: neither countries, ideas, nor immigrants. Why, then, is it surprising that masses of people are furious, frustrated and frightened? That they once again seek to wrap themselves in something familiar and defined, with closed and controlled borders?

The need for a livelihood close to home with “people like me” is so understandable and natural. People seek intimacy and a sense of belonging, and kick away that which is global and alienating. This is what birthed Brexit, in which the citizens of the United Kingdom chose British intimacy over pan-European bureaucracy. That is also the source of the cries of “Hungary for the Hungarians.” And this is precisely the nationalistic motivation guiding the zealots of the “Jewish state” at the expense of other citizens.

The recent presidential election in the United States was actually a contest between two people who sought to change the “system.” One of them was Trump and the other was – no, not Hillary Clinton, because she was and still is the clearest manifestation of the ills that must be redressed. It was a contest between Bernie Sanders – who sought to bring elements of socialist solidarity to capitalist America – and Trump, who simply wants to bring everything down, along the lines of “the old world shall be destroyed.”

Raised in the heart of the capitalist garden, Trump mutated and became a wild weed, like Hitler and Mussolini and a long line of narcissistic tyrants before him – threatening the entire furrow.

If he succeeds, there will finally be room for a new movement, for the pendulum to swing back. Only one question remains: Will we be there? Will we be able to establish the alliance? Will we be able to link all the elements that are trying to connect with the solidarity movements and local protests into a worldwide coalition – one that will incorporate the common good of all humanity with the local interpretations and nuances of the local and “tribal” good? At that time, will we have the strength and the ideas, fresh and fleshed out, that will be enable us to take responsibility and rebuild the ruins?

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