November 9 2016: the day the 21st century began

Nicolas Tenzer @CatchNews | First published: 28 November 2016, 18:27 IST
November 9 2016: the day the 21st century began
AFP Photo/ Martin Bureau

Donald Trump's election was a lightning bolt in already ominous skies. "Winter is here," tweeted Russian dissident Garry Kasparov, alluding to the title of his latest book Winter is Coming. This was also a clear reference to ties between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Trump's team.

As New Yorker editor David Remnick passionately wrote, this is "an American tragedy", with global ramifications. For the French Ambassador to the US, GĂ©rard Araud, it is "the end of an era". He tweeted, "The world is falling apart" and "Anything is possible now..." - words he later deleted.

After the initial reaction of incredulity and panic, time is needed to carefully analyse current events, which go far beyond the rejection of Hillary Clinton, the abandonment felt by a section of the American middle class, or the international rise in populism, which are all only partial explanations.

While Trump's election was by no means a certainty, it was entirely foreseeable. The conditions that enabled it were already in place, as were those for Brexit, and the rising popularity of extremist political parties in many European countries. Trump's election is a scandal, but not a surprise. It has ushered in a new 21st century political order that is now part of the very fabric of the planet's most influential democracy.

We are witnessing the results of a widespread trend, summed up by the epithet "post-truth politics", that can be understood through studies of disinformation in Putin's Russia.

This new political order is the culmination of existing developments, both within nation states and internationally. We need to come to grips with this new era.

Politics without moderation

After the fall of totalitarianism in Europe, it was widely thought that democracy had entered a new era of moderation. Except for a radical fringe, and despite occasional tense disputes among politicians, a certain restraint reigned over political life. While often obtuse and demagogic, political discourse more or less adhered to some form of rationality. Personal attacks were rare and disinformation limited.

Different ideologies often cropped up, but major political conflicts fell between largely recognisable camps. Promises could be broken, but they still had meaning. In spite of an excess of "showbiz politics" embodied by Silvio Berlusconi, basic decency appeared to win the day. Even the much decried rise in celebrity politics did not entirely put a stop to rational debate.

Donald Trump's campaign and, in its own way, that of the Brexiters, broke with this tradition. The use of insults, constant fear-mongering, scapegoating, open - even ostentatious - disrespect for the facts and truth, brazen contempt for expertise that led to the vilification of "elites" and the advent of crudeness as a campaign weapon have become the new norm.

The very idea that politics can and should obey certain rules and, therefore, be in any way moderate, has been rejected as outdated - a trick played by the "establishment" to maintain its grip on power. To counter the ideal of the "right-thinking" person (hypocritical though it may sometimes be), we now have the right not to be "right-thinking".

New values could lead us to forsake liberty, democracy and the rule of law, whose legitimacy is being undermined, once again, by the claim that they are simply tools of the loathed "elites".

A new political order

Hillary Clinton supporters and those from the Remain camp in the UK tried to fight back. They tried to counter the fierce attacks against anything representing regulated, stable, harmonious order, based on principles of dignity, moderation, restraint and respect.