Situational Assessment 2017: Trump Edition
Jordan Greenhall

I previously wrote a laudatory comment. Now that I’ve carefully read through this piece a second time, I would like to add a critical response, which in no way detracts from my enthusiastic interest in this line of reasoning.

At the top level, I think there’s a serious danger of overestimating the strength of populism. It seems to me that historically what we’re seeing is actually a uniquely weak period for the left. That is, rather than looking single-mindedly at the surprising strength of Farage, Johnson, Trump, LePen, Wilders, and so on, we should also remember that Corbyn, Hollande, and Clinton are extremely weak candidates.

If we conclude that the left is historically unfortunate at this time in having a number of weak candidates standing in key national elections, it’s less tempting to postulate a phase shift of the sort that you identify. Classical political concepts and structures may not be quite as yesteryear as your bracing analysis indicates.

I think it’s easy to overstate the uniqueness and efficacy of Trump’s social media campaign, and to attribute that efficacy to the novel and outsider character of this campaign as a whole. However, Obama was also an effective user of social media. What stands out to me in 2016 is not Trump’s skill, so much as Hillary’s fecklessness with the medium. Review her Twitter and Facebook feeds, and she comes across as entirely inauthentic. I am quite certain there was a team of five running her social media accounts, and they typically just issued press releases.

We should not conclude from her inability to effectively utilize the form that it reflects a structural failure of the establishment per se. There’s a good chance the Clinton campaign made a strategic error and wanted to come across as “the professional, grown-up ones,” and ended up seeming fake instead. But Obama was the first “social media” president, right? He got it.

I do agree the Trump team have managed to capitalize on rampant media hostility and turn it into an asset, as they have been forced to do, but how much of an asset it turns out to be in the long term remains to be seen. Will people really take Spicer’s word over CNN, Time, and Newsweek month after month, year after year? We’ll see.

We also need to realize that social media channels are themselves very much part of the conventional establishment — they are owned and controlled by large-cap corporations. This election, the way that social media was used and abused took everyone by surprise, but big companies with their own interests and values are already responding. They are pushing back in technology and policy to avoid being exploited as megaphones for trolls. It is in their own interests to bring the channels of communication they provide under more control.

“For half a decade, the Trans-Pacific Partnership was an unstoppable juggernaut.”

Here I disagree. Obama could not get the TPP through Congress, and it was in limbo before Trump killed it.

“At this point, I see only two real moves available to the globalists. 1) economic destabilization hoping to turn ‘the people’ against the Insurgency; 2) some kind of some kind of social/military destabilization.”

Thomas Piketty and Jürgen Habermas have both cogently argued for a push toward an international left-wing coalition aimed at politically restraining the economic inequities of globalization — I believe this is probably the best long-term strategy, and it closely resembles the Sanders approach. Given his surprisingly tenacious performance, it may not be as far out as it sounds on the surface. For now, it is my long-term goal.

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