On this eve of Election Day here in the U.S., we citizens have a fundamental choice between continuing the social modernization of our country or creating political and domestic chaos with a racist, ignorant, reality star buffoon. That the racist, ignorant, reality star buffoon is even a consideration, much less a contender for the most powerful office in the world, is mind-boggling to those of us not mired in the extreme right. Just as mind-boggling is that there are enough persons supporting the racist, ignorant, reality star buffoon to become a contender. It is genuinely hard to fathom what these people are thinking by supporting him.
I’m not a sociologist or psychologist, and plenty of more knowledgeable people than I have analyzed the Trump phenomenon beyond the point where I could add anything meaningful to the discussion. But I do think it worthwhile to take in a much bigger picture of the Trump movement, with a view backwards into history and to other movements around the world.
The rise of Trump has been compared to the Brexit shock in the U.K., and other nationalistic movements in Europe. I would also contend that it should be compared to the fracturing of the Middle East into armed tribal sectors, and to the backward slide of Russia under Putin. Nations in Africa have also devolved into tribal factions asserting themselves violently. And make no mistake: the Trump faction is violent.
Note that word, “tribal,” because I think it underscores this time of unrest and unease. We don’t think of ourselves in the U.S. as tribes, but our social constructs are very much tribal. We identify ourselves by race, economic status, politics, sexual orientation, affectations, and through social connections such as religion. Here in the U.S., we even fracture into camps over what smartphone manufacturer we prefer! These groupings are usually loose, and don’t always lead to a narrowed point-of-view, but for many they do. So just as one identifies with Sunni or Shiite in the Middle East, so to here in the U.S. we are more and more falling into “liberal progressive” or “conservative right/evangelical” tribes – the moderate middle shrinking – with the same deadly, narrow, point-of-view failings that fuels violence and hatred in the Middle East.
Why are these trends becoming more amplified now? Technology and communications, and the aging Baby Boomer generation. Regarding the latter, that is especially true here in the U.S. The Baby Boomer generation has been a catastrophic failure – and please know that I am included in that demographic.
The Baby Boomers certainly did cause social revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s. In the late 1960’s this was primarily due to seizing momentum from the civil rights movement and applying it to the Vietnam War; when enough white baby boomer teens and twentysomethings started coming back in body bags, that caused the youth backlash against the war effort. (Not that the Vietnam War was even remotely justified; it was a needless war too.) That power derived from derailing citizen support for the Vietnam War unfortunately mutated into a me-first mentality: the Me Decade/sexual revolution (1970’s), “Greed is Good” (Reagan’s 1980’s) and the S&L bank failures, the tech entrepreneurial boom (Clinton’s 1990’s), the housing boom (Bush’s 2000’s) leading to the 2008 recession … all are the result of the Baby Boomer generation asserting their pleonectic tendencies on our society. Trump – a Baby Boomer – is the nadir of that sociological mindset, and represents one end of the extremes of the generation; the tribe of the aging Boomers that aren’t civic minded, and want what they falsely assume the Greatest Generation promised them: unlimited prosperity, freedom from responsibility, freedom from diverse thought, freedom from living with minorities, and prestige.
On the other side is the far left tribe, with aging Boomers sinking into a Luddite mentality that rejects scientific and economic progress as evil conspiracies trying to pollute their precious bodily fluids and minds, and that all political processes must result in absolute equality and a social propriety as defined by them.
Neither tribe feels any civic duty to cooperate or compromise with the other, causing the current decay of our political institutions. Technology and communications allow tribal members to communicate with other like-minded members regardless of location, and can also filter out diverse points-of-view, creating echo chambers for themselves to further convince one another of their pre-ordained opinions. It can isolate their thinking to the point where they can justify de-legitimizing those with other opinions to the point of dehumanizing them. That is when viciousness and violence can enter.
This is no different than the other points of unrest around the world. The Middle East was a bottled-up volcano of tribal unrest restricted by artificial national boundaries and brutal dictators and monarchs supported by economic and military super-powers focused on their own empirical goals. When those dictators and monarchs fell due to technology and communications, the tribes erupted and are in the process of erasing those artificial national boundaries – and each other.
The real question though, is why now. Technology and communications have opened up societies to each other as never before in the history of man. That immediate connection and transparency has a real positive benefit: it allows repressed or minority groups to communicate and organize into social movements that legitimizes them. It can deconstruct our rationales for narrow tribal mentalities, fostering a more open, just, and equal society. It can transmit those benefits and movements directly to the phone in our pockets, making it hard to ignore the natural cultural evolution of our societies. To those in more socially repressed societies, it can show by example what they can strive for.
That is an anathema to ascendant tribes trying to maintain their way of life and thought. Being part of a tribe connotes that your group is superior in some way to others; otherwise why would it exist? Yet an open, contemporary, multi-cultural society does not place preeminence on one group over another.
After centuries of industrial, economic, technological, and sociological progress, the genie is not going back into the lantern, and that is threatening the last gasps of the Baby Boomer tribes around the globe. This is their last play to maintain a social order that never existed naturally, and this is applicable around the world. It is disheartening to witness the Trump movement, watch Russia slide back into Stalinism, and IS slaughter anyone that isn’t IS. But the forward movement of human civilization facilitates the diminishing of these tribal forces, especially as the Baby Boomers die off. Those born today are being born into a world where a connected mankind is slowly evolving civilization towards equality, justice, and individual freedoms for all. Technology is greasing the wheels of that evolution. It won’t come in one generation or two, but it is coming: a global social order that is more equal, peaceful, free, and just, and much less tribal.
Unless Trump wins, our planet’s environment collapses due to climate change, or Skynet nukes us because we are nothing more than a mess of bickering tribes killing each other continuously. Then we had it coming to us.
Post-script: Trump has won, and the last gasp of the aging, white, middle-class and rich Baby Boomers intend to set the U.S. society back 70 years. The Greatest Generation has been subsumed by the Greediest Generation, and the supposed liberal bent of the Baby Boomers is just a sad myth; their feelings of societal entitlement will result in the suppression and repression of the growing cultural groups that had asserted themselves through the Obama presidency. Over the next few years we will likely witness more violent clashes – in words and actions – between the extreme right and the progressive left, with the political moderates caught between the cross-fire. Us Baby Boomers cannot die off fast enough in order to allow the next generations to build a true, equal, multi-cultural society.