November 8, 2016, is a day that will live on in infamy. At least that is what those of us who do not support the politics of populism will like to believe. This was the day when Donald J. Trump won the race for the US Presidential elections.
The fact that this actually happened has left many on my side (the side of science and reason to be precise) in sheer disbelief. At the time of this writing Trump has been President-elect for a month. The disbelief led to demonstrations and protests in the United States and elsewhere. It also led to celebrations in the United States and elsewhere.
While I wasn’t on the side of those celebrating I can see why they feel the need to celebrate. The candidate that resonated with them won the election.
I am on the side of those in disbelief and dismay because the President-elect of the United States has publicly denied climate change citing his hairspray to a packed audience clapping and laughing to their heart’s content.
Many of us fear that this event will further push climate change denialism and undo previous efforts at least in the United States. While POTUS does have global influence I doubt that Trump will be able to convince world leaders to change their existing pro-climate change policies.
Now that the US elections are over, I think we need to discuss the future of global politics. Populism in politics has always been in the news but now it seems to be the most dominant factor in shaping not just election results but even public policies.
“Many observers have noted that populism is inherent to representative democracy; after all, do populists not juxtapose ‘the pure people’ against ‘the corrupt elite’?” — Cas Mudde
In the UK it reared its ugly head by capitalizing on the “I want my country back” sentiment. To any thinking person Brexit was a clear case of xenophobia and racism outnumbering, or at least outvoting, the progressive and liberal sentiments of the UK.
In the 2017 French elections, far-right National Front leader Marine Le Pen is feeling pretty confident about her chances after Brexit and Trump. If she wins, she is determined that Frexit happens.
In Italy, anti-EU sentiments have gained momentum. The discussion on what sounds cooler — Quitaly or Italexit — has begun.
In the Netherlands a man far more dangerous and cynical than Trump will ever be is leading a hate-filled campaign against EU and an entire segment of the Dutch population. Geert Wilders is far more dangerous than Trump because unlike Trump, Wilders actually means what he says. If Wilders wins the 2017 Dutch general elections, he is going for Nexit full throttle.
It’s not just the Americas and Europe that are witnessing the rise of sentiment based and fact-free political populism. The trend is very much global.
Here in India disagreeing with the politics and the policies of the government is increasingly being frowned upon. People have begun labeling others based on their political affiliations.
If you do not agree with the Prime Minister’s surgical strike or demonetization moves, you will be branded an ‘anti-national’.
If you agree with him, you will be branded a ‘bhakt’.
In the science community we often say “What a time to be alive!” because science is making breathtaking progress every single week. No, I am not exaggerating.
The current global political landscape can use the exact same phrase while evoking entirely different emotions.
We have a responsibility to make sure that we lay the ground work for reasonable debate and well-informed opinions for the future.
If populism is the only way to shape the future then I suggest we begin by popularizing science, reason, discussion, debate, cordial disagreement, and critical thinking.
We have no idea how our world will look like 5 years from now but by vowing to bring these ideas to the forefront of society we would be well prepared to challenge the other side’s misconceptions and prejudices while also keeping ours in check.
When the next wave of change comes about the precedent we set now is what will count.
Anti-science, pro-hate, and fact-free rhetoric? Not my precedent!