July 25, 2018, New York City
Over recent years, the rise of populism has created great uncertainty across the globe as political leaders and candidates increasingly rail against the establishment, the elites, globalism, and the media. Last month, Concordia Members were joined by Dr. Ian Bremmer, Concordia Leadership Council Member and Founder & President of Eurasia Group, for a signing of his new book, ‘Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism.’ Following the signing, Dr. Bremmer and Concordia Co-Founder & Chairman of the Board Nick Logothetis sat down to discuss Bremmer’s perspective on the key political fault lines in the world today, the forces driving them, and what we can do about it.
Comparing himself to the climatologists who decades ago tried alerting people to the growing dangers of climate change, Bremmer began the discussion with his basic premise: that globalists, referring to those political and business elites who support and benefit from globalization, have not adequately provided for their people. He explained that this has created a reality in which traditional American values, such as openness to migrants and commitment to free trade, have become outdated for many Americans who feel these policy values have done nothing for them. In an environment where people do not feel policymakers have their interests in mind, they cast protest votes for populist candidates who seem to more authentically capture their grievances. And there is real reason for Americans to be concerned. Though globalization has resulted in the increase of global growth, there are many who have not shared in those gains and feel like they have been left behind by policymakers who support globalist agendas at their expense.
But this is not just an American phenomenon. Across the world, we are seeing political results that show the staying power of populism: Brexit, the Five Star Movement in Italy, and the establishment Angela Merkel’s shrinking hold on power in Germany come alongside the election of Donald Trump. For Bremmer, the forces leading voters to cast their ballots in favor of populist candidates and parties are not all unlike those driving Palestinians to throw rocks, or those leading revolutionaries to light themselves on fire in North Africa. In advanced industrial democracies like the U.S. where people have the ability to vote and do something to try to get elites to care about them, Bremmer said, “you might not set yourself on fire, but you might vote for Trump.” When promise after promise goes unfulfilled, people protest in the way that they feel they are able to.
When asked to speak on the dividing lines in America today, Bremmer highlighted the role that the news and social media play. He explained that part of the problem lies with the media corporations themselves, as companies must do more to push us to our better impulses. But we must also look at how we use social media and consume the news. Bremmer contended that, “If your [Twitter] bio says #Resist or #MAGA, I think that you’ve already lost the other side,” and that as a consumer of news, “you need complexity, you need nuance. If all we’re doing is watching Fox and CNN, we’re going to kill each other.” What’s more, if we want to reverse this trend toward populism, political elites need to engage more authentically with the concerns facing the population, as when globalization started leveling the playing field, some people truly did lose out.
A final theme of the conversation related these issues to the position of America in the world. Asked if Trump’s ‘America First’ slogan means ‘America Alone’, Bremmer held that America is not alone, despite President Trump’s heavy criticism of American allies, because the U.S. remains the most significant global power today. Countries must work with the U.S. regardless of whether they like the president in office. But for Bremmer, Trump’s alienation of many countries has played greatly into Chinese strategic outreach around the world, and accelerated the ending of Pax Americana. Contrary to what many in the foreign policy establishment claim, the era of American global indispensability is over, with or without Trump in office, or as Bremmer put it, “Trump sped up the G-Zero world, but it was already coming.”
To attend more events like this one and to continue to be a part of the conversations Bremmer started last month, we encourage you to consider becoming a Concordia Member and attend our 2018 Annual Summit on September 24-25 in New York City.