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

Added 11.07.2008

At the heart of the French advanced research program is a little-known project for a giant laser cannon -- not for shooting down satellites but for something potentially much more powerful.

Added 05.07.2008

The main French defense manufacturer called a group of experts and some economic journalists together a few years ago to unveil a new military helicopter. They wanted us to choose a name for it and I thought I had the perfect one: "The Frog".

Added 04.07.2008

"Would it not make eminent sense if the European Union had a proper constitution comparable to that of the United States?" In 1991, I put the question on camera to Otto von Habsburg, the father-figure of the European Movement and, at the time, the most revere

Added 29.06.2008

Ever since President George W. Bush's administration came to power in 2000, many Europeans have viewed its policy with a degree of scepticism not witnessed since the Vietnam war.

Added 26.06.2008

As Europe feels the effects of rising prices - mainly tied to energy costs - at least one sector is benefiting. The new big thing appears to be horsemeat, increasingly a viable alternative to expensive beef as desperate housewives look for economies.

Added 26.06.2008

What will the world economy look like 25 years from now? Daniel Daianu says that sovereign wealth funds have major implications for global politics, and for the future of capitalism.

Added 22.06.2008

Winegrower Philippe Raoux has made a valiant attempt to create new ideas around the marketing of wines, and his efforts are to be applauded.

Added 16.06.2008

One of the most interesting global questions today is whether the climate is changing and, if it really is, whether the reasons are man-made (anthropogenic) or natural - or maybe even both.

Added 16.06.2008

After a century that saw two world wars, the Nazi Holocaust, Stalin's Gulag, the killing fields of Cambodia, and more recent atrocities in Rwanda and now Darfur, the belief that we are progressing morally has become difficult to defend.

Added 16.06.2008

BRUSSELS - America's riveting presidential election campaign may be garnering all the headlines, but a leadership struggle is also underway in Europe. Right now, all eyes are on the undeclared frontrunners to become the first appointed president of the European Council.

Added 16.06.2008

JERUSALEM - Israel is one of the biggest success stories of modern times.

Added 16.06.2008

The contemporary Christian Right (and the emerging Christian Left) in no way represent the profound threat to or departure from American traditions that secularist polemics claim. On the contrary, faith-based public activism has been a mainstay throughout U.S.

Added 16.06.2008

BORDEAUX-- The windows are open to the elements. The stone walls have not changed for 800 years. The stairs are worn with grooves from millions of footsteps over the centuries.

Added 16.05.2008
We know from experience that people suffer, prisons overflow and innocent bystanders are injured or killed in political systems that ban all opposition. I witnessed this process during four years as a Moscow correspondent of The Associated Press in the 1960s and early 1970s.
Added 16.05.2008
Certainly the most important event of my posting in Moscow was the Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia. It established the "Brezhnev Doctrine", defining the Kremlin's right to repress its client states.