Last year, I wrote this post. Worrying about a vortex of ever lower prosperity and policy rationality. It was in the aftermath of the EU referendum in the UK, which can be taken to be a vote against immigration and globalisation. That is the perceived grievance. The wrong-headed sop is the withdrawal from the deep, free trade structure of the Single Market, leading to immigration controls, non-tariff barriers restricting our trade in services, reducing prosperity and the feasible size of public services. Next round the grievances are felt even more acutely, and the policy sops worsen.
You can change some of the nouns and the story is the story of the US, or wherever.
Looking back, and taking in the Trump victory, and the way he and his associates have handled the transition, the story seems to miss something. The vortex described above is fallen into almost by accident, as a misinformed but pivotal part of the electorate demands something that will make itself worse off.
But the vortex we – that is the West – risk falling into is one that was partly designed. The perceived grievances did not arise by accident, but have been stoked and crafted ruthlessly. And in an environment where the media and expert checks on pernicious policy can be circumvented or deflected, the policy measures, [the wall, import taxes, trade agreement dismantlement], although they make things worse, can be sold as a success, whose ill effects are blamed on simply not punishing the imaginary villains enough. And the next round follows.
The vortex is stoked and our descent into it is piloted in the name of the ‘will of the people’. But in fact the journey is in the service of the populist-controllers who have managed to sell the people the bad policies. What do they get out of it? Publicity, gratification, media careers, control over policies that affect the net worth of companies they and their associates are connected with.
In the UK, the vortex piloters [this is not a spoof blog post, honest] seem more subtle than Trump & co. But the deliberation is still there. Repetition of ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and ‘we are going to make a success of it’ makes it easy for us to read that as ‘whatever we get, we are going to sell it as a success even if it isn’t’. And our desire to find something to substitute for the single market with the US makes us a supplicant to the US vortex, warping not just our trade, but our approach to defence, security and human rights.