Mass Extinctions, Hedgehogs & Trump

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Donald Trump is president elect, and only Russia is happy. That, and of course millions of Americans. And Donald Trump.

There are many things I want to say about his election. One is that we had correctly read the sentiment last year and this year regarding citizen dissatisfaction and the likelihood of surprising or disappointing results in big electoral decisions. The other is to talk about the failure of “experts” and their inability to get much right, from big economies to statistical outcomes in elections.

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Instead I want to turn my attention to a recent lecture I attended at the ROM that discussed evolution and mass extinctions. In case you don’t know we may be living through a sixth mass extinction (insert Trump joke here), but aside from that the previous mass extinctions are not what we think. In fact every subsequent mass extinction has led to an increase in the bio diversity after it, and our lecturer concluded that mass extinctions help the planet cut down the time on evolutionary development, removing 50 million years of grinding it out overnight. Mass extinctions are big events but they aren’t the end of things, they are the beginning of far more.

 

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Yup, this is a graph of mass extinctions.

 

There could be something to this with Trump’s election. There are a lot of angry people out there who “cant believe this is happened” and are talking about it like it’s the end of the world. That’s obviously not the case. So what could it be the beginning of?

There is much right now to not be pleased about. While economic news for the United States is certainly better than most other countries, most people would hardly call it robust. Threats to middle class security loom large. The rust belt is a genuine and persistent problem for millions of Americans.  It also threatens to spread to more places with increasing automation. Many Americans, even if they are doing fine financially don’t feel like they can likely afford retirement. Globally the news is actually worse. Brexit wasn’t a great idea given the details of what it involved, but it wasn’t a crazy response given the total failure of the EU to manage itself or improve the economic situation for many of its members.

Other articles about Trump:

Donald Trump is my pick for Republican Nominee

Burning it all down: The Rise of Trump’s Conservatism

The Age of Breakable Things

But What if He Wins?

At some point in the last 20 years the term “technocrat” came into common usage, and refers to technical experts. Economists are technocrats. Nate Silver is a technocrat. Janet Yellen is a technocrat. The EU is a technocratic organization. It’s not a condemnation, but an acknowledgement that we have come to live in a technocratic society, one in which the levels of complexity keep rising, requiring experts with ever more refined skills to manage. 21st century complexity has seemingly killed the renaissance man, as subjects are far to varied and nuanced to be well understood. The 21st century seems to favour those of us that can know one big thing.

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But given the failure of technocrats to fix the problems they’ve made, we might ask ourselves what we’re getting wrong. The answer I think lays in the ancient Greek saying that “a fox knows many things, the hedgehog one big thing.” Technocrats are hedgehogs. They know one big thing, and they tend to assume that they are right so long as their one big thing continues to provide positive results. But the minute they are wrong they are without a clue as to what happened.

The 21st century may require more foxes, generalists that better understand the many things tugging at the world rather than the narrow and parochial focus of experts. And Trump, for all his sins (and I believe there will be many) may hurry up that need. His promise to take a sledgehammer to things like NAFTA, challenge the supremacy of persistent low interest rates and bring some realism to organizations like NATO, while terrifying, represent the mass extinction of a series of ideas that are too confident in their own self worth, too precious to be tested and too fragile to survive. Whether we come out the other side of this better off has yet to be seen but its a possibility we shouldn’t dismiss.

 

 

Burning It All Down – The Rise of Trump’s Conservatism

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Last August I wrote that Donald Trump was my pick for the Republican nominee, despite his incessant self-aggrandizing style and boorish behavior. I wrote that article because I saw something in Trump that reminded me of Rob Ford, a call back to an angry populism that favours the loud and obnoxious precisely because they are loud and obnoxious. Trump’s style of bombast is a snub to a political elite that adopt a façade of manners that suggest cordial rivalry, even while private donations and Super PACs flood the airways with crude, misleading and sometimes plain false advertising.

Despite a continued and coordinated assault on Trump by the core Republican establishment, Trump went from an outside contender to the leader of the pack. In fact the more that it seemed like the establishment was aligned against him the more support coalesced around him. And last night it seemed that enough of that support had come together to make him the presumptive nominee.

With Ted Cruz and John Kaisch now mathematically eliminated from any chance of a first round win, and the likelihood of a contested convention becoming more dubious as Trump narrows in on his needed delegates, it might be time for people to move past the look of Trump’s rhetoric and into what he’s actually saying. Because this election doesn’t bode well for anyone, but it is very much in keeping with the times.

The times, in case you’ve been hiding under a rock, are not being kind to the neoliberal world that has defined much of the 1990s and early 2000s. America’s foreign influence is waning, the middle class is shrinking, economies are floundering and the European Union is struggling to hold it all together. From a resurgent Russia to a migrant crises and angry middle class voters, this year is testing the resolve of political organizations and global partnerships to continue to do what they do; knock down borders, free up trade and move people across the planet. Citizens across much of the West now doubt many of the promises that have been made to them, notably that more free trade would make us all rich and that people from far flung lands are just like us with similar values.

That doubt about the modern world has been fueling the campaigns of both Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump, and a close look at their platforms shows some important overlap. But with Bernie Sanders also likely eliminated from any chance of the nomination the general election may come down to an establishment candidate in Hillary Clinton and the now (kind of) anti-establishment Donald Trump.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric is decidedly conservative in an old-school kind of way. His commitment to building a wall across the border with Mexico, to ignoring much of the Middle East and backing away from trade deals with China is reminiscent of a 1940s style conservativism and is a direct challenge to the current establishment view on all of these issues. I’m not convinced that Hillary Clinton, dragging her own varied and damning baggage with her, will be up to the challenge of convincing the voting public to continue to support the neoliberalism that she is so closely tied with. It seems even more unlikely that she could become the credible liberal standard bearer for an anti neoliberal platform at all.

I had initially said that Trump was my pick for nominee because the Republicans had become a tired shell of their former selves, squandering elections by ostracizing women, minorities and urban voters in favour of curmudgeonly racists, the science skeptics and the frighteningly devout. The election cycle, spent pandering to this shrinking group of largely social conservatives, was handing the democrats election after election. As I said in the summer, one party shouldn’t be electable and the other crazy. This election may indeed offer some real alternatives about the kind of world that Americans may want to live in.

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You don’t understand Picard! Trump became president in my timeline! Mars is overrun with casinos, and not the nice ones from Vegas, the kind from Atlantic City.

 

So rather than wring our hands at a Trump election has the end of all things, let’s cast this election to something akin to Brexit, another insurgency by an increasingly unhappy and dissatisfied middle class that has come to suspect that their leaders no longer work for them, but for larger more self-interested groups that tend to congregate in Swiss towns and busy themselves with networking and back patting. If Trump is successful in his Whitehouse bid we may be surprised at the kind of world that is ushered in to being; one that is increasingly isolated, protectionist and introverted. If that isn’t a wakeup call to TED Talk speaker’s circuit, I don’t know what will be.

 

*** I’ve taken some time off of writing our articles to focus on work and family, but I’m feeling rejuvenated now and will be back with our weekly outlook on the world. Sorry if you’ve missed us!***

Donald Trump Is My Pick For Republican Nominee

Look at this guy. What color is that? Orange? Has he got orange hair? Remember when Lloyd Robertson had orange hair? I remember when Lloyd Robertson had orange hair.
Look at this guy. What color is that? Orange? Has he got orange hair? Remember when Lloyd Robertson had orange hair? I remember when Lloyd Robertson had orange hair.

The arrival of Donald Trump to the Republican primaries has been greeted with mock and outrage by much of the media. There he is, an unapologetic billionaire blowhard with something akin to hair on top of his head, now best known for telling celebrities that they are fired. He was an immediate subject of derision, an unserious pretend candidate who says offense things regularly and calls people he doesn’t like “dummy.” To Democrats he has been a welcome addition to the Republican lineup. For Republicans he’s nothing but a headache. And if one thing is clear it’s that nobody thinks he should be the nominee. Except me. I think he will be a great nominee, and importantly I think he may be able to change some fundamentally terrible aspects of the Republican Party.

Talking heads and professional media types tend to disparage people who they don’t think look or act like a politician should. Donald Trump talks at a grade 4 level. He says impolite things and doesn’t seem to care what people say about him. He talks about himself incessantly and, again, the hair. Stubbornly “the Donald” continues to do well in the polls despite this.

But it shouldn’t have escaped anyone’s attention that the Republican Party has been in a holding pattern for the last few elections. Winning the nomination has usually meant a grueling process of ratcheting up the rhetoric around a few hot button issues, important to a dwindling number of older voters and rural Americans and out of touch with the growing urban class that is increasingly defining the voter base of general elections. By the time a winner of the primaries is declared, the candidate now looks to be stuck in an Orwellian, “Shooting an Elephant” conundrum, theoretically in charge of the mob, while totally beholden to its will.

This has been good news for Democrats, who have been happy to have the Republican nominee become an ugly caricature of cruel populism; out of touch with a modern electorate, thumping a bible and alienating moderate conservatives who don’t believe they can trust their own party to lower taxes without forcing women to carry children to term, poor people to die without medicine, and science textbooks to be re-written in ways largely defined as “stupid.” Good for Democrats, but bad for a healthy democracy. One party shouldn’t be electable, while the other crazy.

There is a museum in Kentucky where this isn't a parody.
There is a museum in Kentucky where this isn’t a parody.

But “The Donald” has the power to change that. Unlike other politicians that try and position themselves as outsiders, Trump really is an outsider. He may not have impressed anyone with his talk about Mexican illegals, but on other issues he has had the ability to surprise. On campaign finance he has denounced the system as broken, highlighting his own political contributions in exchange for favours. He’s called Jeb Bush (the presumed nominee) beholden to his donors. He may not win points from Rosie O’Donnell, but he’s broken the traditional Republican line on Planned Parenthood. Fundamentally, Donald Trump is different from other Republican candidates, in no rush to distance himself from his urban roots, unapologetic about his more liberal leanings, but credible in the eyes of many on business and economy related issues.

As if to make my point, these two helpfully posed for a photo together.
As if to make my point, these two helpfully posed for a photo together.

Trump’s current lead reminds me of Rob Ford, another unapologetic, shameless, larger than life character who seemed to exist in spite of condemnation from the media and the established political class (I found this article after I wrote this piece, but it explains my thoughts well on the two). Yet the sincerity of Rob Ford’s belief that only he would fight for tax payers won many over, even in the face of more polite, more polished and more traditional politicians. You don’t have to love people like Rob Ford or Donald Trump, but their ability to change the political terrain, to question traditional assumptions about the electorate and undo the laziness of identity politics (the ultimately abusive and anti-democratic idea that these are “my voters” and those are “your voters”) is healthy for a democracy, even when you don’t like the messenger (I think the same might be said for Bernie Sanders).

So, whether Donald Trump wins, or implodes dramatically before the July 2016 Republican nomination, he’s my pick to be the next nominee. And he’s going to be big. Big. Uuuuuuuuuge.