Thursday April 20, 2017

The Rise of the Anti-Establishment: Where do we go from here?

A protester holds a sign during a demonstration against unemployment benefit cuts on July 11, 2012 in Oakland, California.

A protester holds a sign during a demonstration against unemployment benefit cuts on July 11, 2012 in Oakland, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Listen to Full Episode 53:58

"It is a deep tragedy, bordering on calamity, that we have come to this point," says Robert Reich of the Trump presidency. In a lecture at the University of British Columbia, followed by an interview with Paul Kennedy, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at University of California at Berkeley details how understanding the circumstances that led to the election of Donald Trump can help shape a new democratic political sensibility.



 

"Globalization seemed to be part of the problem. In reality, it is less globalization and more technological displacement."

Robert Reich

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor and Professor of Public Policy at University of California at Berkeley.

Robert Reich details the economic circumstances in the United States over the past thirty years that set the stage for the election of Donald Trump. Over these decades, "half of Americans have not had any raise, even though the economy is twice as large as it was", says Reich.  And to make things worse, the jobs of Americans became less and less secure.

When the housing crisis blew up in 2008, people started to understand that there were fundamental flaws in the economy. As the government bailed out the banks, Americans began to see the unfairness of the economic system.  

Where did all the money go? To those already at the economic top of the heap. The anger and indignation of average citizens allowed for the rise of what Reich calls an authoritarian populism. And Donald Trump traded on this phenomenon by blaming immigrants, both legal and illegal, people of colour, Muslims and anyone who did not look "typically" American.

"Donald Trump pretended to be anti-establishment, pretended to be the voice of the common working person."

Trump's xenophobic notes appealed to people who felt they were going nowhere and that the system was rigged against them. Stop globalization, stop immigration, stop trade. Reverting to isolationism gained currency by offering hope to the disenfranchised.

Reich doesn't think that the majority of Americans believe the rhetoric of the Donald Trump. He finds hope in the new-found levels of political engagement and challenges, and concludes that the Democratic Party has to understand why U.S. citizens are so angry, and create policies to level the economic playing field.


Robert Reich is a Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, the former Secretary of Labour under Bill Clinton and the author of fourteen books on economics and public policy.


Further reading:

  • Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few by Robert Reich, published by Penguin Random House, 2015.

** This episode was produced by Anne Penman.