World War I did not begin with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo. World War II did not begin with the German invasion of Poland. The kindling was set long before. All that remained was the inevitable spark.
Similarly, the political tsunami represented by the election of Donald Trump has been growing throughout the world. It signifies the end of conventional politics, the death of “political correctness,” the curtain call for the ideological struggle between left and right. The half-buried remnants of the industrial era have found new, uncertain paths in the transfer of power in our societies. The resurgence of nationalism and — even stronger — the tribalisms currently dividing post-industrial societies show us that politics will never be the same. And neither will the world.
Trump’s victory should not be seen as the traditional swing of the pendulum that we often see as we go from a center-left president like Obama to a right-wing one. The speeches by Sanders and Trump had much more in common than not, and both appealed to the same groups of voters, the same tribes: those left behind by globalization, a middle class that feels its comfort zone disappearing and young people who resent a political establishment that is deaf and blind to their needs. Trump capitalized on these people’s aversion toward what they perceive to be the excessive rights of “others”: minorities, immigrants, LGBT and other tribes they consider foreign to their own social fabric.
The same electorate, emboldened by Trump’s triumph in the greatest democracy on the planet, is heading for France, Germany and all of Europe in pursuit of the same prize: power through the same sort of tribal, identity-based, racial, xenophobic discourse. The walls have fallen, the gates are open, the crocodiles no longer bite and defenses lie riddled.
And what is happening inside of societies overlaps the values and principles that serve as the foundation to world order. Respect for human rights, the responsibility to protect and the idea of a free democracy as a system to emulate are making way for new authoritarians: the Putins and Xi Jinpings, the Erdogans and Dutertes, the Maduros and Ortegas, the new, growing breed of dictators in their pantheon. Democracy is left with fewer and fewer defenders; Angela Merkel, maybe the only remaining one, the last Mohican in a Germany that will return to play a central role in the world if it does not succumb to the same forces that seek to revive the cradle of Nazism with another facet.
The erosion of democracy brings us to a period of uncertainty in the systems of peace and security that have governed the planet since World War II and particularly since the end of the Cold War. The world may well be on the verge of returning to wars among states, something that had been replaced by conflicts between non-state actors. International organizations, starting with the United Nations, seem helpless in the face of these new global crises, concentrated on pointless matters, while others like UNESCO and the Human Rights Council dig their own graves through a pathological obsession with Israel and regional organizations rendered useless by differences between member states.
January 20 will be the turning point in a story that has been writing itself for all to see, but which many are choosing to ignore.