Find-the-Matrix: Global Radicalism vs. the Power of Citizens

What academics lament,
the power of community can overcome.

Transpartisan Note #148

by A. Lawrence Chickering and James S. Turner

In a recent NYTimes essay, Trumpism Without Borders, Thomas B. Edsall suggests that the “peculiarly American characteristics” of Donald Trump’s presidency has blinded us to the spread of radical disorder worldwide, writing:

“America is embedded in a world that is troubled by insidious parallel variants of the same structural problems — anti-immigrant fervor, political tribalism, racism, ethnic tension, authoritarianism, and inequality — that led to a right-wing takeover of the federal government by Donald Trump.”

Mr. Edsall goes on to explore this idea by examining the work of Stanford sociologists Michelle Jackson and David Grusky who see a “common thread to these seemingly disparate developments” as a “late industrial experience, in short, increasingly one of omnipresent loss and decline”.

“The authors elaborate in their paper, ‘A post-liberal theory of stratification.’ Loss like this, they write, can be experienced by children as a dramatic decline in their chances of achieving a standard of living as high as that of their parents. It is experienced by men as a decline in the gender pay gap, occupational segregation, and other types of loss relative to women. It is experienced by manufacturing workers as a sharp loss in the number of high-paying union jobs. It is experienced by “rust belt” families as a loss of employment and earnings to China and other countries.”

“The politics of loss have, in turn, empowered the populist right by encouraging the view ‘that disadvantaged groups have unfairly benefited from legal protections, egalitarian social movements and government and charitable assistance. These initiatives, far from facilitating fair and open competition, are instead seen as overshooting the mark and providing unfair advantage,’ ushering in “a new era of high grievance, high conflict, and high ideology.”


Edsall’s article is an interesting read, expanding beyond Jackson & Grusky’s assessment of this “ubiquity of loss” to include the Danish political scientist Pieter Vanhuysse’s elaboration on the issue:

“… a major strain on democracy is the rise of unequal life chances along multiple dimensions. Take education/human capital: as automation and digitization will also be major forces perturbing the world economy, it is likely that new divides will sharpen between human capital haves and have-nots at the level of both nations and persons. These inequalities, Vanhuysse argued, may be exacerbated by seemingly unfair practices. For instance, richer nations are likely to engage still more in poorer-to-richer nation brain drain practices, coming from the lower- or middle-income countries that invested massive public resources in producing these skills.”

Mr. Edsall presents plenty of examples corroborating Vanhuysse’s views with comments from Jack Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University; Daron Acemoglu and David Autor, economists at M.I.T; and three recent public policy publications on global trends including “Poverty and Shared Prosperity 2020” from the World Bank.

But it’s Daniel Esty, a professor of environmental law at Yale, description of “how tribalism, hostility toward outsiders, notably immigrants, and the emergence of what some call ‘exclusionary nationalism’ all serve to undermine prospects for global cooperation” which strikes a nerve:

“Global collaboration on concerns such as climate change has become more difficult even as the urgency of the issue and the inescapability of global-scale action with no nation free-riding off the efforts of others become ever more clear. The broad-based rise of tribalism/nationalism sharpens “us” versus “them” thinking and makes cooperative responses to any realm of international policymaking — pandemic response, climate change, and trade — more challenging.”

These arguments come from those who would see The Transpartisan Review in their camp, so to speak – their natural ally, supporter, and advocate. However, despite being important perspectives and based largely on shared factual analysis, we see these views as 180 degrees distinct from the realities and possibilities of the solutions available to embrace.

The structural problem of their analysis is a debasement of the process in a way that the vast majority of people (who have the good sense to see the problems and have ways to resolve them) are purposely and/or inadvertently excluded from the structures designed for decision making, both for themselves and their communities. Their analysis is necessary and comprehensive, but ignores the potential of the very individuals and communities struggling with these societal challenges their examinations set out to expose.

Likewise, their analysis ignores the positive impact that community-based solutions can provide to many of the issues they examine. In fact, we see, from a transpartisan perspective, a potential benefit from all issues when addressed by an engaged community. For example, seeking solutions to the loss of manufacturing jobs can lead to the creation of higher-paying jobs, modernized work conditions, and better education if addressed properly. These solutions are more likely to come from engaged citizens immersed in the issues affecting their lives than from decision-makers and lobbyists with political or financial agendas who make up an integral part of the system needing comprehensive change. Breaking down the barriers to citizen participation in daily living is at the heart of the transpartisan process as we see it.

Read this article and look for the Transpartisan Matrix we see. Whether you see a Matrix or not let’s discuss this article and its value/relevance to our Transpartisan undertaking in the comments below.

(Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels. Additional text and editing by Andy Fluke.)

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