What's Tony Thinking

Whatever Happened to Globalism?


Two memories: 1995 General Synod of the UCC. Jim Crawford, Pastor of Old South Church in Boston and Chair of the Hymnal Committee, was preaching as part of the introduction and celebration of “The New Century Hymnal.” Linda served on that Committee so we were in on those events.

Jim began his sermon with a lengthy recitation of how many of the different things we were eating and wearing, the technologies we were using and the music we were hearing had come from all the different corners of the globe. As in “lettuce/ avocados from Mexico, computer chips from South Korea, shoes from China, wines from Chile,” etc. It was a celebration of globalism that linked to a hymnal that incorporated music from many different cultures of the world. The underlying idea was that we were coming together as one world, that barriers between us were being overcome, and that a new global family was being born.

Second memory: twenty years later on the eve of the 2016 election, I sat in on a panel sponsored by Seattle-based Folio. One of the panelists, Bob Merry, a historian of the Presidency who had recently moved from D.C. to Whidbey tried to help us understand the Trump phenomenon. Bob, like his fellow panelists gave us a prediction: “Clinton will win the election,” but he went on to say that Trump is part of a world-wide backlash against globalization to which attention must be paid. This helped to explain Trump’s emphasis/ exploitation of immigration as a core issue, as well as his bearing down on “America-first.” Merry’s run-down of the wider backlash to globalism was, in many ways, sympathetic to globalization’s critics. As such, it was to me a notable departure from the generally shared assumptions of a place like Seattle and of an the kind of audience that would come to a Seattle Folio event.

The first memory reflects the optimistic, even utopian, hopes attached by many to globalization in the 90’s and into the first decade of the new century. There was also a strong sense of inevitablity about globalization. Get on board or get out of the way. By the time of the second memory, two decades later, the shine was off globalization as its downsides had begun to create serious social impacts and disruptions. The Clintons really embodied the optimism about globalization, while Trump embodied globalization’s discontents.

One of you, my good readers, responded to my blog of yesterday on “Popularism” by reminding me of David Brooks recent column on the end of globalism.

In that piece, Brooks wrote:

“Looking back, we probably put too much emphasis on the power of material forces like economics and technology to drive human events and bring us all together . . .

“The fact is that human behavior is often driven by forces much deeper than economic and political self-interest, at least as Western rationalists typically understand these things. It’s these deeper motivations that are driving events right now — and they are sending history off into wildly unpredictable directions.

“First, human beings are powerfully driven by what are known as the thymotic desires. These are the needs to be seen, respected, appreciated. If you give people the impression that they are unseen, disrespected and unappreciated, they will become enraged, resentful and vengeful. They will perceive diminishment as injustice and respond with aggressive indignation.

“Global politics over the past few decades functioned as a massive social inequality machine. In country after country, groups of highly educated urban elites have arisen to dominate media, universities, culture and often political power. Great swaths of people feel looked down upon and ignored. In country after country, populist leaders have arisen to exploit these resentments: Donald Trump in the United States, Narendra Modi in India, Marine Le Pen in France.

The money quote here is this: If you give people the impression that they are unseen, disrespected and unappreciated, they will become enraged, resentful and vengeful.

In 2008 Obama was able to speak to at least some of the people feeling this disquiet but in a way that was hopeful rather than exploitive, “Hope and Change.” By 2016 Trump was all in on exploiting and magnifying the left behinds twin senses of grievance and resentment. This is a big part of the larger context to which the Democrats need to pay heed in upcoming elections. David Schor’s “popularism” mentioned in yesterday’s blog is an attempt to get out of the bubble of educated/ global elites. In 2022 and 2024 people not among such elites will need to feel that the Democrats are listening to them.

Who are the Democratic Party leaders who might do that? Among those who have run for the Democratic Presidential nomination I would say that perhaps only the Colorado senator, Michael Bennet, and the former Montana governor, Steve Bullock, appear to have this capacity. Cory Booker might.



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