When I was 8, I remember first wanting to go to the U.S. I had been watching DVDs (or probably just VCDs back then) and most of them showed large landscapes of New York or San Francisco or Chicago, and I remember having a sense of awe at this country. The US was fed to us in various forms as the epitome or the ideal country. But when I came here as a 21 year old, I was matured by the realities of travel and the military, and I quickly realized this country was two systems in one.
I had an interesting question at an interview recently, by none other than Craig Calhoun who headed LSE, and he asked me if I saw a future of more fragmentation than cohesion. Do you think the idea of global cooperation is at risk? It took me a quick second, but I had to answer yes. In the short term, we are going to see people protect their own interests before they offer compromise for long term growth.
This post is not about the U.S. elections as much as it is about leadership. I have always reserved my opinions on the political processes of other countries, especially so because context always fails when you do not live in a country, just as when others critique Singapore and its politics.
I think we are seeing a megatrend play out in the larger theme of globalization. This is literally the most connected and interdependent the world has ever been, and it cannot be surprising that we are seeing inertia act to return it back to a state of familiarity.The promise of global cooperation is beautiful, and something I believe in both economically and philosophically, but as with most things beautiful, there are costs to achieving them. Were those costs forecasted, managed and equally distributed, we would see a slower acceleration to this beautiful dream, but still movement forward.
Instead, what we see across the globe now, are sub-populations lashing back at the dearth of hope facing them. Short-sighted thinking? Perhaps, but can you really blame the human nature to want prosperity as soon as possible, as easily as possible. You see wealth being flouted day to day both by your elected leaders and next door neighbor and cannot help but feel cheated. Willonia lashed out in CETA, Rural UK lashed out in Brexit and now Central US, where the bulk of blue-collar Americans work lashed out against a system that was taking away from them more than it was giving. There is a lot that is tied to the idea of privilege and social identity in this conversation that is incredibly important, especially because Trump as a person is abhorrent. He himself probably would admit he does not attempt to be Mr Nice Guy. But in the minds of the cheated, all of these do not matter anymore, and that is where leadership has failed.
I am afraid to paint with such broad a stroke the foundation of this megatrend as leadership failure, but it seems more and more convincing. The idea of globalization and working with other countries and flouting economic prowess seduced so many leaders that they failed to help their own people level up for this new future and worse, be ready to deal with new challenges. The scary side-effect is that people may see this economic and political reversion as just as much an opportunity for civil rights and social reversion, which would undermine every good work done till today.
So what do we do? We can start by holding the fort on social and civil progress, recognize that we must change our economic and political model to be more equitable and take a deeper dive into the true reality of what global living means for the future. I am a global citizen, and ironically I am invested more in the future of the world than any one country (with a natural bias towards Singapore), but damn if I see what happened last night and not recognize that in my dream to connect the world, I must seek to understand all, especially when I am afraid to.