Murray Dobbin writes that, appalled though we might be by President Trump, if we ignore the reasons for his rise, matters will get worse:
We tend to forget how he got there and the forces that overturned conventional politics in the U.S. If we are going to be obsessed with anything it should be this: how do we create a new politics that in the long term builds the basis of a citizen-based democracy to replace the hollowed-out institutions we now have in English-speaking developed countries? To do so we first need to understand the roots of Trump's popularity.
We could do worse than revisit the writings of the brilliant Hannah Arendt, still perhaps the most insightful analyst of the roots of totalitarianism. A recent essay by Roger Berkowitz, "Why Arendt Matters: Revisiting The Origins of Totalitarianism," reminded me of her renewed relevance. Berkowitz writes:
"Arendt's understanding of the origins of totalitarianism begins with her insight that mass movements are founded upon 'atomized, isolated individuals.' The lonely people whom Arendt sees as the adherents of movements are not necessarily the poor or the lower classes. They are the 'neutral, politically indifferent people…'"
They join, says Arendt, because they "[a]re obsessed by a desire to escape from reality because in their essential homelessness they can no longer bear its accidental, incomprehensible aspects."
Chris Hedges has spent a lot of energy describing that flight from reality. That desire to escape reality is on full display in the current Conservative leadership race. Dobbin hopes that the New Democrats will take a different path, having become "increasingly professionalized" under Jack Layton and Tom Mulcair.
That will not be easy. The CCF -- the party's parent -- started as a social movement:
The sad reality is that there are almost no social movements in Canada. While the global Women's March, the recent March for Science in the U.S., The Leap Manifesto and the Quebec students' strike were all significant and provided much-needed inspiration they are not sustained movement organizations. The women's movement in this sense has been moribund for over a decade, the anti-poverty movement likewise. There is literally no peace movement -- recall the days when every year 60,000 people marched for peace in Vancouver -- yet we are closer to nuclear annihilation today than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis. The labour movement has never recovered from the loss of hundreds of thousands of high-paying jobs because of NAFTA and is now all but irrelevant as a national, politically engaged movement. Only the environmental movement and a resurgent First Nations movement can claim a national presence.
There are no longer any social justice coalitions because their components simply no longer exist or are barely hanging on. The Trudeau government (and, later, most provincial governments) funded dozens of grassroots organizations. I once interviewed Gérard Pelletier, the minister in charge of this funding, and believed him when he said the government was responding to left criticism that many voices were not being heard, that our democracy was shallow.
The advent of the FTA and the other elements of the so-called Washington Consensus (deregulation, tax cuts for the wealthy, cuts to social spending, privatization) was the death knell for this kind of grassroots politicking. Neoliberalism -- adopted by all the parties to a greater or lesser extent -- was intent on giving democracy (and its incessant demands for more) a cold shower and dramatically downsizing the social state. The federal and provincial governments quietly tore up the implied "contract" between social movements and the state.
Will we develop an antidote to the disease Trump represents? Time will tell.