Identity in The Age of Trump and the Rise of Populism

In a world as complicated as the one we live in today, being able to sort through the madness is key. We are flushed with opinions, data, and stimulus constantly. In the wake of that information overload, maintaining a clear vision the future of humanity can be daunting. Simply sorting through the details can be difficult, sometimes we aren’t aware there is a debate or what questions we should be asking. Even if we had the inclination to investigate, few have the time or resources to do so. We lead busy lives, full of stress and responsibilities that consume our days. Who has the time to contemplate the future of our species? Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury to sit back. If the future is decided in our absence because we were too busy studying for a biology test, we still face the repercussions. Is this reality just or fair? Far from– but who said history was fair? Who sits at the table matters, because we can be sure that those who are contemplating the future will create our future.

What is happening right now? What are the greatest challenges of our time? What are the most important decisions to be made? Whos making them? What should we Pay attention to? What kind of world are we entering? And what kind of world do we want to create for our kids? Why is liberal democracy in crisis?

This thinky drama may seem distant, but I argue that it touches our individual lives in ways that we may not even notice. What we are doing on this campus every day influences the lives of people and animals halfway across the world. Davidson students are game changers, look our alumni some guy created plan-b. Who’s making plan-c. 
When historians wrote the textbook about the 20th century, they talked about the great ideological battles and the triumph of liberalism over fascism and communism. At the turn of the century, democracy, human rights, pluralism, free-market capitalism all seemed to be the next ideas to conquer the world and create an utopia world order. Yet today, we haven’t progressed as much as we were promised. So, where are we heading?

With this disillusionment with the liberal order, populism has risen. Populism first arose in the great depression and was largely associated with the failure of free markets. Despite economic recovery, the U.S. and abroad continue to popularize suggesting a deeper underlying cause to this political shift. Indeed the rise of extreme left and extreme right is the response to a multicultural, ethnic and religious world where our political identity has taken president of our general view of the world. I argue that the rise in populism is a direct effect from the rise in technology.Advances in big data, automation, artificial intelligence and genetic designing presents the world with a new set of challenges. The elite entrepreneurs and corporates who led the technology boom are not aware or equipped to deal with the potentially harmful consequences of their creations.

Biotech and big data will give humans unprecedented control of not only our outer world, but the world inside us. In not too long, we will have the power to manipulate and manufacture our genetics to make ourselves and our offspring smarter, stronger, and maybe even funnier or more successful. This power should not be underestimated. Just because we may have the ability to reshape our lives does not mean that we understand the complexity of our mind or our societies. It is exactly these implications that the scientists, and silicon valley techies are not considering. This task is left to an uninformed and unequipped government. Yet, technology development is barely in the political debate. In the 2016 election, conversation on technology didn’t go much further than questions over Hillary Clinton’s email leaks. Trump ran a campaign on fear of immigrants taking jobs without mention of the job losses that will be created as a result of automation. There’s no government shutdown over a spending bill on building a firewall.

The frightening speed of advancement in technology is scary enough, but what’s more depressing is that we are not discussing it or taking action. Currently, there is a divergence in state affairs and the interests of the people. People are finally starting to catch, and they’re getting angry. The anger is not limited to the radicals; in fact, people across all parties and socioeconomic status share in this frustration. Power seems to be accumulating into the hands of a small number. In the past, the rest used to fear exploitation; today, a bigger threat looms: irrelevance. The hero of the post-World War II society was the ordinary man. Posters and propaganda ensured the common person that they were the future. This belief is lost today. People increasingly worry that the future is passing them by.

In the lost of that felt agency, people increasingly feel irrelevant. As a result, political identity not only determines how we vote, but many of our other decisions like where we chose to shop, or where we send our kids to school. Political identity more than any other trait define our lives. This can be problematic. For example, dominate parities in Hungary and Poland define their national identity in exclusionary ethnic and religious terms. Across Europe and the U.S. Anti-Semitism and racism is on the rise. Populism is not as some claim “anti-establishment” or “anti-elitism.” The most important aspect of populism is that “they and they alone represent the needs and wants of the people” (Yath). In fact, populists often refer to themselves as “the real people” or “the silent majority.” The liberal story was one for the common man . Its appeal was intricately linked to the power of the people. How can this stay alive in a world of cyborgs and algorithms designed to replace less effective human-power.

The rise of Trump, Brexit, the election in Brazil and France are all spearheaded by people who still enjoy political power but feel they are losing their economic worth. They are right to fear this. The Populist revolution is not against an elite group of exploiters, but rather an economic elite that doesn’t need them anymore. In the twenty first century, the fight will be over irrelevance, and people will struggle to maintain their political position before they are entirely cut out. The battle against irrelevance is underway.

I don’t mean to feed these sentiments of disillusionment by describing them. The liberal worldview is not dead yet. It is the most important and successful political model that humankind has to deal with the issues of our time. That said, it has its limitations. However, we can adapt and improve current institutions if we put the effort to know what’s happening. We are Davidson Students, and that means something. What we do matters, and this goes beyond just our short four years on this campus. The first step to changing the world is being able to imagine what kind of world we want. 

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