Near the end of the first decade of the millennium, the economic boom era imploded. Unchecked for nearly 20 years, pumped up by excesses of borrow-and spend-economics, it had it coming. Banks “too big to fail”, did exactly that. “Motown” closed down. General Motors went broke too, before the US government got to it. And Detroit as a city is still bankrupt. The American High Street, the quintessence of its smaller towns, teetered on the brink. The Obama administration pumped in money and bailed despair as fast as it could. It did not want the moral hazard enforcement of the 1930s that crippled the nation. Only the engines of WWII brought it back to life. Still, a diffused great depression like a nuclear miasma replaced the earlier exuberance, throwing its canopy over everything. And it took all the Obama years to more or less put America back on track.
Europe, conjoined at the hip, is still hurting badly and the EU is under considerable survival stress today. The economic stimulus, a life-support system, cannot be switched off, certainly not in Europe and Japan, even today. Entire countries, Iceland, Greece, Ireland, Spain, Italy, even Britain, all went technically bankrupt, almost simultaneously, post 2008. And they would be wrecked still, if it were not for the massive bailouts and stimulus packages. But, no one, on either side of the Atlantic, is ever going to be able to pay the bill for surviving the last eight years.
The power elites of the liberal-left, finance men, merchant bankers, high flying stock-brokers, far from being dislodged at first, had the effrontery to carry on as if nothing had happened. And they certainly took no responsibility for the debacle they had collectively perpetrated. In the aftermath, the old shibboleths of the liberal-left, its assertions of political correctness, an unbridled inclusiveness that tended towards letting the tail wag the dog, gradually infuriated the so-called silent majority.
Left out, mocked, vilified, victimised, forgotten as they were, after licking their economic wounds for longer than just these eight years, these faceless people have shuffled to their feet and worked up the dander to assert themselves. Americans have lost their jobs to people overseas and Europeans have lost their economic sovereignty.
To add insult to injury, the propaganda, name-calling, shaming and derision aimed at the right only intensified as the left-liberals lost traction. But great arbiters of taste and “right thinking” in the media could not influence the mass of popular opinion anymore. The right-leaning populace refused to go along with the failed dream of those who wrecked their jobs, pensions and livelihoods, anymore.
Economic troubles make for a hardening of the heart and emotions. Most people in America, the EU, including France, Germany, Italy, Britain are fed up of what they call leftist manipulation and untruth. In Japan, years of recession have ushered in the right-leaning Shinzo Abe. Thailand has been taken over by its military. In India, Narendra Modi is wiping the floor with the socialists, appropriating their agenda, whenever it suits him. In America, it was a boorish, sneering, Donald Trump who won. It came on the heels of the stunning Brexit vote, in the land of its closest ally. And now, right-wing candidates and parties are gaining traction in France, Germany, Italy, amongst the biggest countries in Europe and even in sedate Scandinavia.
It has become a topsy-turvy world when it comes to ideology. The Communists of China have not only been pursuing capitalist policies internally and externally for years, but under Xi Jinping, resemble nothing more than the old hegemon, imperial powers of the 19th century. China professes “free trade”, but implements vastly unequal treaties using their trillions to their ruthless advantage. And internally, it denigrates other countries to bolster its national pride.
The military juntas turned democratic socialists of Myanmar are carrying out genocide against their indigenous Rohingyas. In populous Islamic countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and even Turkey, fundamentalist winds are blowing most of their moderation away. There has been a churn in most parts of the Muslim world, few spontaneous, most induced, with matters far from settled between the fundamentalists and the ruling power structures. Monarchies and dictatorships have crumbled in places. But they have not been replaced by anything remotely liberal. Muslims slaughter Muslims in record numbers and not just across sectarian divides. Ancient tribal and factional animosities have surfaced, and are duking it out for supremacy. This is not left versus right. The left has been expelled from the fray. This is right versus alt-right.
Groups splinter and reform like amoebas. And so it goes on, in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Sudan, Ethiopia, Pakistan…
Is there then any hope of a comeback for the lib-left? Will the pendulum swing back after a spell, as it is wont to do? Or is this a tectonic shift to the right that will be a while in righting a world gone wrong?
There was a time, towards the afternoon of the Imperial/Colonial Age, when the world first discovered liberty, equality and fraternity. At first, these seemingly reasonable aspirations, well-reasoned by the political theorists that explained them did not give a foretaste of the overthrow of an entire world order to come. But that is exactly what happened, pushing the reality of it into revolution, first in France, then in America, as the rest of the colonial and monarchical world watched and began to dream. Unifications came out of it. And liberations. And two world wars that completely killed off the Imperial Age. France began it by destroying its monarchy with its divine right, then its aristocracy and finally even its own “revisionists”. Two centuries or so later, the Communists did the exact same thing. First in the USSR and again in China. But now it was on a grander scale, wiping out tens of millions, practically everyone, who wasn’t a born worker or peasant.
The original peoples’ revolution in France dissolved into a blood-soaked and paranoid chaos and took another longish while to actually come to democracy. In America, where the objective was to expel a foreign power, it settled down fairly quickly into a far less volatile thing. But it too had to endure a bloody civil war, not too long after. Britain of the Magna Carta and yet another beheaded monarch also helped its evolution.
Happily, democracy today brings about change through voting that purports to harness the “will of the people”. And for its maturing, it has also traced memory-markers going back to the city state of Athens and the vox populi of ancient Rome.
But even this modern democracy, dominated as it is to date by the rich, the privileged and educated, did not quite satisfy the cravings of the underclass, bent on securing their own turn to rule.
So, ergo Marxism. It came to power in 1917, but in a matter of a few decades Communism was broken. In shards and remnants it exists still but the great alternate system to a democracy fuelled by a moderated, welfarist capitalism has decisively failed.
Will the new right-leaning nationalists sweeping into power everywhere now do any better? The fact is, a great correction is in the works and the right has the mandate to execute it. Too much political baggage, too many lies discredited the left-liberal.
The right is being chosen for its apparent pragmatism, for its difference, but there is definitely an implicit, embedded warning of equal retribution, should it fail.