Feb 21st 2017

How Trumpocracy Corrupts Democracy

by Sandra Navidi

Sandra Navidi is CEO of BeyondGlobal, a consulting firm advising on macroeconomic and strategic positioning, and the author of $uperHubs: How the Financial Elite and their Networks Rule Our World.

MUNICH – American democracy is a complex, self-organizing system. In terms of network science, President Donald Trump is a “superhub”: the most well-connected human “node,” located in the center of the network. While Trump does not have control over the entire system – he himself is subject to its systemic forces – he has enough influence that he could cause it to fail.

Complex systems don’t fail easily. They are generally adaptive and self-correcting. When they become too skewed, circuit breakers kick in to restore balance. But if circuit breakers are disabled, the system will ultimately self-destruct.

The likelihood of such an outcome is hard to predict. But in situations of absolute uncertainty, it is advisable to assume the worst, and many indicators seem to point to a potential “hostile takeover” of liberal democracy by Trump and his cohorts.

The most effective way to destroy a complex system is, first, to manufacture chaos. Within a month of taking office, Trump’s administration has already employed shock tactics to paralyze and distract the electorate, while antagonizing allies, provoking enemies, and creating new alliances with dubious partners. He has gone so far as to create a parallel universe using “alternative facts.”

Trump has not taken these steps, as some claim, entirely out of ignorance or irrationality. In a 2014 speech, Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist, cited the Fascist Italian philosopher Julius Evola, who argued that “changing the system is not a question of contesting and polemicizing, but of blowing everything up.”

It is also a question of applying “divide and conquer” tactics. The “divide” part has been well underway since Trump launched his presidential campaign, which was based on divisive rhetoric, sowing mistrust, and polarizing policy promises.

Now comes “conquer,” through the dismantling of democracy’s institutional underpinnings. Trump has launched aggressive attacks on institutions intended to hold him accountable. This includes US institutions such as the judiciary and the media, as well as the international institutions that underpin our geopolitical and economic order, including the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union.

So far, democratic institutions, particularly the press and the judiciary, have proven resilient. But Trump’s willingness to abide by the US Constitution and Supreme Court decisions is far from certain. He seems to have no plans to adhere to basic rules and norms relating to his own conflicts of interest. And his fascination with autocratic leaders, such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin, has already translated into an eagerness to adopt their tactics and symbols of power, evident in his (unfulfilled) request for tanks and missile-launchers at his inauguration.

What if Trump openly defied a court decision and ordered civil servants to act in violation of it? What if he declared martial law, a possibility he seemed to be intimating when he threatened to “send in the Feds” to Chicago to deal with crime there.

Trump’s contempt for the law extends beyond the US. He has casually suggested that the US should commit war crimes, such as pillaging countries’ oil resources and torturing prisoners. He has also casually suggested defaulting on the national debt as a way to reduce it – a strategy he has employed with his companies.

Because the judicial system’s design assumes that everyone will operate within it, a powerful actor operating outside of it – and, indeed, actively undermining it – could produce a system failure. Even if the judiciary remains uncompromised, America’s international soft power and status as an economic safe haven may not.

Of course, Trump did not inherit a perfect system. But, rather than working to strengthen its resilience, he is exacerbating its weaknesses – and creating new ones.

Consider income inequality, already at record levels in the US. If Trump’s tax proposals are enacted, experts agree, the income of the top 1% of earners will increase by 13.5%, while middle-income household incomes will rise by just 1.8%. Financial deregulation will further enrich the wealthiest Americans, while making the financial system more fragile.

Trade protectionism won’t help, because trade is not a zero-sum game, and most US manufacturing jobs have been lost to automation, not trade. Worse, given the implications of trade for geopolitical and financial-system dynamics, the net consequences of protectionism will likely be negative.

Given his penchant for oversimplification, Trump not only fails to deal effectively with the problems at hand; his short-sighted policies will likely trigger unintended consequences, and possibly even the so-called butterfly effect, whereby remote minor events can trigger the failure of complex systems.

Although resistance has been forming, it is not yet loud enough. Trump’s administration – comprising largely white male billionaires – lacks the diversity and experience to advocate for policies needed to sustain a more equitable and stable system. Republicans in Congress have quickly fallen into line behind Trump, as have CEOs, even those who once vociferously criticized him. While the public is pushing back, complacency is already beginning to take hold, with previously unimaginable actions and events being rationalized, normalized, and accepted.

Eventually, network dynamics will kick in to recalibrate the US democratic system. Whether they produce gradual and orderly corrections or sudden, uncontrollable chaos remains to be seen. What is certain, however, is that, the longer we allow Trump to distort our system, the more difficult it will be to limit or repair the damage. All Americans are part of the system and, with their individual actions, they have the power to contribute to large-scale effects in defense of their liberal democracy.


Sandra Navidi is CEO of BeyondGlobal, a consulting firm advising on macroeconomic and strategic positioning, and the author of $uperHubs: How the Financial Elite and their Networks Rule Our World.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2017.
www.project-syndicate.org

 


This article is brought to you by Project Syndicate that is a not for profit organization.

Project Syndicate brings original, engaging, and thought-provoking commentaries by esteemed leaders and thinkers from around the world to readers everywhere. By offering incisive perspectives on our changing world from those who are shaping its economics, politics, science, and culture, Project Syndicate has created an unrivalled venue for informed public debate. Please see: www.project-syndicate.org.

Should you want to support Project Syndicate you can do it by using the PayPal icon below. Your donation is paid to Project Syndicate in full after PayPal has deducted its transaction fee. Facts & Arts neither receives information about your donation nor a commission.

 

 

Browse articles by author

More Current Affairs

Nov 21st 2018
.......the Trump administration’s disruptive behavior has left the French and German governments furious. But, beyond fueling anger, Trump’s attacks on other countries’ sovereignty are adding momentum to a new push for European political unification...........Trump’s actions are actually something of a godsend, because they have forced Europeans to accept that they must stand together in defense of their sovereignty and prosperity. A union of almost 450 million people (after Brexit) cannot allow a country two-thirds its size to treat it like a group of vassal states.
Nov 20th 2018
The world’s central bankers have begun to discuss the idea of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs), and now even the International Monetary Fund and its managing director, Christine Lagarde, are talking openly about the pros and cons of the idea. This conversation is past due. Cash is being used less and less, and has nearly disappeared in countries such as Sweden and China. At the same time, digital payment systems – PayPal, Venmo, and others in the West; Alipay and WeChat in China; M-Pesa in Kenya; Paytm in India – offer attractive alternatives to services once provided by traditional commercial banks.
Nov 19th 2018
They came in the middle of the night. At about 2.30am on May 11, Amal Fathy, her husband Mohamed Lotfy, and their three-year-old child were awakened by Egyptian security personnel. For hours, a special forces detachment of seven armed men in uniform and two plainclothes officers raided their home..........Amal, a former actress and fashion model, had posted a Facebook Live commentary expressing her anger about being sexual harassed two days earlier. In the 12-minute video,....
Nov 16th 2018
For while Iran has been receptive to Chinese investment in the past, it has equally sought European investment to balance this out and to prevent China from playing too dominant a role in the country. The sanctions have now made China’s dominance all the more likely. ..........possibly the most significant implication is how sanctions have led to widespread de-dollarisation, whereby the dominant global status of the dollar has been challenged. Since sanctioned states are no longer attached to the established system, it is easier for them to adopt an alternative way of operating. An example is the Petro Yuan – whereby China’s oil imports have been priced in yuan rather than in dollars – which has been adopted by oil-rich states targeted by sanctions, most notably Russia and Venezuela. The sanctions on Iran will only exacerbate this process.
Nov 12th 2018
It is clearly time for New Deal II. Instead of promising more tax breaks for the richest citizens, a more equitable fiscal policy could pay for necessary bridges and other public goods and services that would improve everyone’s life. Affordable health care for all citizens is a mark of a civilized society. The US is still a long way from that goal. The same is true of high-quality public education. It is grotesque that so many people who stand to benefit from such “socialist” policies are still persuaded to vote against them because they are supposedly “un-American.”
Nov 2nd 2018
The cold-blooded killing of the journalist Khashoggi, however gruesome, pales compared to the brutality and gross human rights violations Saudi Arabia is committing in Yemen. The Saudis are deliberately preventing food and medicine from reaching areas where children are dying from starvation or disease. Their indiscriminate bombings are killing thousands of innocent men, women, and children, leaving whole communities in ruin. The saddest part of this unfolding tragedy is that the US and other Western powers are supplying the Saudis with the weapons they need to massacre the Yemenites, who are trapped in this proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran (which neither can win), and the Yemenites will continue to pay with their blood.............Out of a total population of 28 million people, 22 million are in need of humanitarian aid. Nearly 5.2 million children are starving to death, and nearly one million are believed to be infected with cholera. Over 8 million people are facing famine, and 2 million are displaced and deprived of basic needs.
Oct 29th 2018
The nightmare election possibility for the Democrats is continued Republican control of both chambers. In that case, Trump will feel vindicated and more liberated than ever. He might then fire a raft of officials, treat immigrants still more harshly, and try to shut down Mueller’s investigation of his campaign’s possible collusion with the Kremlin and Trump’s probable obstruction of justice. The conventional wisdom may prevail, with the Democrats winning the House but not the Senate. But the polls have been fluctuating. And since Trump’s stunning election victory in 2016, most observers have become more cautious about predicting outcomes.
Oct 23rd 2018
As the Brexit negotiations peter out this week in Brussels, fevered Brexit fanatics – from Boris Johnson, David Davis and Jacob Rees Mogg in the Telegraph, to many others on Twitter – are ranting and raving about the most sensible thing Theresa May has done in two and a half years of Brexit negotiations by suggesting extending the transition period in an attempt at genuine compromise. This would be a good opportunity to remind ourselves of some salient facts. These Conservative MPs are speaking on behalf of the hardest of Brexiteers, a collection of somewhere between 60-80 of the Tory MPs. That’s somewhere between 60 and 80 MPs out of a total of 317 Conservative MPs in the House of Commons. And while having 317 MPs means the Conservatives are the largest party at the last election, they did not win enough of the votes to form a majority. Therefore, for all their bluster and bloviating, let’s just state clearly what the members of this small group are: they are a minority faction, holding a minority view, in a minority government.
Oct 23rd 2018

A billboard at a construction site, with a photo of an Ottoman-style mosque with four minarets and the flag of Turkey, was erected recently in the center of Pristina, the capital of Kosovo.

Oct 17th 2018
Yemen is a country of some 29 million persons, but over a third of them are at risk of starvation if Saudi and UAE bombing campaigns continue.
Oct 14th 2018
Now the Trump administration is eroding the dollar’s global role. Having unilaterally reimposed sanctions on Iran, it is threatening to penalize companies doing business with the Islamic Republic by denying them access to US banks. The threat is serious because US banks are the main source of dollars used in cross-border transactions. According to the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication (SWIFT), dollars are used in nearly half of all cross-border payments, a share far greater than the weight of the US in the world economy. In response to the Trump administration’s stance, Germany, France, and Britain, together with Russia and China, have announced plans to circumvent the dollar, US banks, and US government scrutiny. “Plans” may be a bit strong, given that few details have been provided. But the three countries have described in general terms the creation of a stand-alone financial entity, owned and organized by the governments in question, to facilitate transactions between Iran and foreign companies.
Oct 5th 2018
There are a lot of oddballs in US President Donald Trump’s entourage, but few are as odd – or as sinister – as 33-year-old Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser. Miller resembles a type on the far right that is more common in Europe than the US: young, slick, sharp-suited, even a trifle dandyish. He is a skilled rabble-rouser, whose inflammatory rhetoric against immigrants and refugees – “We’re going to build that wall high and we’re going to build it tall !”– drives the crowds at Trump rallies into a frenzy. One of his crowd-pleasing notions is that migrants will infect Americans with terrible diseases.
Oct 3rd 2018
.....here we are in 2018, 40 years after Camp David. The Palestinian dream of an independent state is not only unrealized but is most likely unrealizable. With many Palestinians now favoring a one state solution......the once "Arab minority"  is now a majority.....
Sep 25th 2018
The US stock market, as measured by the monthly real (inflation-adjusted) S&P Composite Index, or S&P 500, has increased 3.3-fold since its bottom in March 2009. This makes the US stock market the most expensive in the world, according to the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio that I have long advocated. Is the price increase justified, or are we witnessing a bubble?
Sep 23rd 2018
Global debt recently hit a new record high of 225% of world GDP, amounting to US$164 trillion. The world is now 12 points deeper in debt than the previous peak in 2009, with advanced economies’ ratios at levels not seen since World War II.
Sep 18th 2018
To understand them, it is worth looking at three reputable leaders who died this summer: former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former British Foreign Secretary and NATO Secretary-General Peter Carrington, and US Senator John McCain. Having worked with Annan and for Carrington, I can vouch for their grace, honor, and commitment to truth. McCain plainly had the same qualities, not to mention a level of personal bravery far beyond what is expected of most of us (though it should be noted that Carrington was also a war hero). These leaders’ combination of honor and commitment to truth – two attributes that are intrinsically connected – is nowhere to be seen in Trump or Johnson.
Sep 18th 2018
From controlling the media to stoking nationalism, Russian President Vladimir Putin has always known how to keep his approval ratings high. But Russians’ lives are not getting any better, especially after the latest round of Western economic sanctions – and Putin’s declining approval rating shows it.
Sep 15th 2018
As we mark the decennial of the collapse of Lehman Brothers, there are still ongoing debates about the causes and consequences of the financial crisis, and whether the lessons needed to prepare for the next one have been absorbed. But looking ahead, the more relevant question is what actually will trigger the next global recession and crisis, and when. The current global expansion will likely continue into next year, given that the US is running large fiscal deficits, China is pursuing loose fiscal and credit policies, and Europe remains on a recovery path. But by 2020, the conditions will be ripe for a financial crisis, followed by a global recession. There are 10 reasons for this. First, the fiscal-stimulus policies that are currently pushing the annual US growth rate above its 2% potential are unsustainable. By 2020, the stimulus will run out, and a modest fiscal drag will pull growth from 3% to slightly below 2%.
Sep 12th 2018
Next month, a judge in Oregon will begin hearing a case brought against the United States government on behalf of 21 young people, supported by the non-profit organization Our Children’s Trust, who allege that the authorities’ active contributions to the climate crisis violate their constitutional rights. The government defendants have repeatedly tried – so far without success – to have the case thrown out or delayed, and the trial is currently scheduled to start on October 29.
Sep 5th 2018
Wars are expensive, as the Russian people are now learning. The Kremlin is pursuing military adventures in Eastern Ukraine and Syria, and though these conflicts are limited in scope, one wonders if the country can really afford them.