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Jefferson and Lincoln anticipated Trump. What’s next?

30 December 2016

Donald Trump is not a new phenomenon in the United States, just an extreme form of an ongoing one. For years theatre has been prominent in the country’s public life, although never quite like this. This latest farce may be entertaining, but it could prove to be disastrous. The so-called “leader of the free world” will soon be a loose cannon loaded with nuclear warheads.

The winner of the presidency loses the election (although not, conveniently, in four key states—kind of makes you wonder).   The great tax evader is expected to stop the evasion of taxes. He accused his opponent of giving speeches to the very bankers who are staffing his new administration. A hunt is already underway in the Environmental Protection Agency for whoever has dared to protect the environment. And please welcome ”clean coal” back to an atmosphere near you.

Donald Trump is not a new phenomenon in the United States, just an extreme form of an ongoing one. For years theatre has been prominent in the country’s public life, although never quite like this. This latest farce may be entertaining, but it could prove to be disastrous. The so-called “leader of the free world” will soon be a loose cannon loaded with nuclear warheads.

The winner of the presidency loses the election (although not, conveniently, in four key states—kind of makes you wonder).   The great tax evader is expected to stop the evasion of taxes. He accused his opponent of giving speeches to the very bankers who are staffing his new administration. A hunt is already underway in the Environmental Protection Agency for whoever has dared to protect the environment. And please welcome ”clean coal” back to an atmosphere near you.

This is quite literally business as usual. Just look at the stock market: it’s having a ball.

Business as usual began early in the Republic. It was barely a quarter century old when Thomas Jefferson expressed the hope that “we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial by strength...” A half century later, Abraham Lincoln “tremble[d] for the safety of my country….  Corporations have been enthroned and an era of corruption in high places will follow…until all wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.… God grant that my suspicions may prove groundless.”

Instead, two decades later, the Supreme Court granted corporations the right to personhood. Not your usual personhood, however: corporate persons do not go to jail when they commit a crime (otherwise the ranks of the great enterprises would have been decimated by now). More recently, for anyone who missed its message, the Supreme Court granted these persons the right to fund political campaigns to their heart’s content. Do you think Brazil is corrupt? Its corruption is criminal, and is being prosecuted. The corruption in America is legal, and therefore beyond challenge: the U.S. Supreme Court legalized bribery.

There is noble America and there is nasty America: on one hand, the America of World War Two, the Marshall Plan, and the upholding of basic freedoms; on the other hand, the America of repeated incursions all over Latin America and into Vietnam and Iraq, and at home travesties from McCarthy to Trump.  Yet even rather liberal commentators have been blindsided by noble America. “Somewhere in the back of their minds, a lot of people seem to be realizing that the alternative to a United States–dominated world . . . is a leaderless world” (Thomas Friedman).1 “To regain the identity it enjoyed during the Cold War, the United States ought to become the leader of a community of democracies…. [It] would still need to retain its military might, but this strength would serve to protect a just world order” (George Soros).2 Shall we all sit back and hope that Friedman and Soros will not have to eat their words?

Guess what? Nasty America is on its way back in. Indeed, 2017 is looking to be the year of the bullies: Trump, Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, and the rest. Will people around the world who care about this planet and our progeny finally realize what has been going on and do something about it?

What has been going on is imbalance. Private sector forces now dominate the “free world” much as public sector forces dominated the communist world of Eastern Europe. In the name of globalization, “free enterprises” ride roughshod over free people and sovereign nations. Something is rotten in the state of democracy.

No wonder so many people are angry about globalization. The trouble is that they don’t know where to turn, so they vent their rage indiscriminately—in favor of the likes of Brexit, Trump, and Le Pen. The world is on fire and the inclination is to pour oil on it (all too literally in the case of climate change). Many of the more  established people don’t turn to reckless leadership; they are just waiting for corporate social responsibility to fix it—as if CSR will compensate for all the CSIrresponsibility we now see around us. These people should be taking tranquillizers (on patent). 

How to escape what Albert Einstein defined as insanity: “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”? There may, however, be a silver lining in the Trump election: it issues a wake-up call, that we shall have to do things differently, sooner or later. Given his latest Twitter pathology about the American nuclear arsenal, sooner looks better.

Doing things different is possible. Imagine, for example, a council, a coalition, and communities.3 The Security Council of the United Nations is an insecurity council, arguably a war council. All five permanent members have large arsenals of nuclear weapons and histories of bullying—whether in the form of colonialism or belligerent incursions. They are also the five largest exporters of armaments in the world. Aleppo is their most recent accomplishment. Imagine instead  a Peace Council, made up of democratic nations with no nuclear weapons and no recent history of belligerence. Vested with legitimacy by concerned people all over the world, such a council could shift the whole thrust of international relations.

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) each have their own cause: human rights for Amnesty International, the environment for Greenpeace, the medical consequences of calamities for Doctors Without Borders. Yet these problems share common cause, namely the imbalance that distorts the world today. Imagine if a coalition of respected NGOs issued a compelling vision forward—a manifesto for action to restore balance—around which these concerned people everywhere, left and right, could coalesce.

One message of the Trump, Sanders, Brexit, and other votes is that never before have so many regular people been prepared to act on the resentment they feel. With such a vision to replace the deceptive rhetoric of populist politicians, there could emerge a groundswell of people in communities, connected around the world, intent on restoring decency and democracy. They could pressure their governments to legislate and regulate for better balance, promote an international Peace Council, and support businesses that act responsibly while targeting those (and governments) that do not. We should be using the marketplace, with boycotts, to let the sellers beware.

Is any of this utopian? All of it is. But that makes none of it impossible, not when the alternative is to hope for the best. Everything in Donald Trump’s behavior indicates that what we see is what we are going to get.

It must have seemed impossible in 1776 that a popular groundswell could create a new form of democracy that would change the world. Thomas Paine, pamphleteer for that effort, did write that: “We have it in our power to begin the world over again.” And so they did. And so we can.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. Some of these ideas are elaborated in my 2015 book Rebalancing Society

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 Friedman, T. 2009, February 25. Paging Uncle Sam. New York Times.www.nytimes.com/2009/02/25/opinion/25friedman.htmal?

2 Soros, G. 2004. The bubble of American supremacy: The costs of Bush’s war in Iraq. New York: Perseus Books, pp. 167-168.

3 These were discussed at greater length in an earlier TWOG entitled “We couldn’t vote, but we can act.

 

Globalization or Democracy? Trade Pacts and Tribunals behind Closed Doors

7 December 2016

 Wallonian Farmer, photo by André Mouraux

Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, shed a few tears of frustration in October when the little region of Wallonia blocked the Canada-EU trade pact that she worked so hard to negotiate. Imagine that: a bunch of Belgian farmers standing up to the mighty forces of globalization. Next thing you know, Britain will be brexiting the EU and Trump will be trexiting the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). What is this world coming to? Its senses?

At the very least, the genie is out of the globalization bottle. Many people now realize the opaque consequences of globalization. Unfortunately, no small proportion of them have been convinced by demagogues to accept solutions that could be worse.

 Wallonian Farmer, photo by André Mouraux

Canada’s Minister of International Trade, Chrystia Freeland, shed a few tears of frustration in October when the little region of Wallonia blocked the Canada-EU trade pact that she worked so hard to negotiate. Imagine that: a bunch of Belgian farmers standing up to the mighty forces of globalization. Next thing you know, Britain will be brexiting the EU and Trump will be trexiting the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership). What is this world coming to? Its senses?

At the very least, the genie is out of the globalization bottle. Many people now realize the opaque consequences of globalization. Unfortunately, no small proportion of them have been convinced by demagogues to accept solutions that could be worse.

The Loaded Global Game   Economists have been telling us for decades that globalization is motherhood, as is free trade and free enterprise. After all, they insist, greed is good and markets are sacred while governments are suspect. Well, I am one of those who believe that governments are suspect when they buy into this nonsense. You don’t have to be bribed to be corrupted; you just have to be conned by dogma.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the sham tribunals that have been written into the trade pacts of recent years. These enable those free enterprises to sue sovereign nations whose laws or regulations—even in matters pertaining to health, culture, and environment—they deem to have affected their profits. So much for free people.

To understand why Trump and Farage as well as Sanders have been getting so much support, please notice two disconnected dots: the multinational enterprises that barrel ahead in the back rooms and the people in local communities who feel shut out. Something is rotten in the state of democracy.

This global game is loaded. The international trade pacts privilege large corporations that can move freely around the globe. They face no countervailing power, to use John Kenneth Galbraith’s forgotten phrase1—no global taxes, no global regulations to speak of (except for the ones they develop for themselves), no global government with teeth, just a set of international agencies, all of them economic—the IMF, The WTO, the World bank, the OECD—that act mostly as their cheerleaders. All of this has enabled these corporations to ride roughshod over governments, for example by playing them off against each other for tax breaks and by being allowed to enter the back rooms of the trade negotiations for their own benefit. 

Local businesses, in contrast, are subject to the countervailing power of their own governments, comprising regulations and national taxes. They have no foreign tax haven where they can plant some phony headquarters. Instead, these businesses are rooted in local communities, which, in fact, they serve socially as well as economically. And make no mistake about their importance to us all: count the number of local businesses with which you regularly interact. I’ll bet they far outnumber the global ones. Yet the concept of community does not figure in mainstream economics, nor therefore in the trade pacts. It took the peculiar veto power of Wallonia to open the closed doors of this pact, thereby providing three million people with an 11th-hour deal for themselves. Is this any way to make some of our most momentous policy decisions?

The Sham Tribunals  Here is what was written about these tribunals in a spate of articles three years ago, as their consequences became evident. In the Guardian: their hearings “are held in secret, the judges are corporate lawyers, many of whom work for companies of the kind whose cases they hear. Citizens and communities...have no legal standing. There is no right of appeal.”2 A New York Times article and editorial pointed out how “big tobacco” had been using these tribunals to “intimidate” and “bully” poor countries into rescinding regulations intended to control the use of tobacco. The health minister of Namibia reported receiving “bundles of letters” from the industry about its attempts to curb smoking rates among young women.3

As for our rich country, Canada, with regard to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), one Canadian official reported seeing “the letters from the New York and DC law firms coming up to the Canadian government on virtually every new environmental regulation and proposition in the last five years” (in the Guardian article). Before the trade negotiations for the EU-US pact had even begun, according to another New York Times article, European officials were “consulting with business leaders on both sides of the Atlantic on how to structure a free-trade pact…. Among other things, the business community was seeking an active role in writing new regulations.”4 Cry for democracy Minister Freeland.

The recent Canada-EU agreement has removed the most abusive aspects of these tribunals. But not the tribunals themselves, whose very existence is abusive, as are some other aspects of the agreement. Here is what a prominent group of Canadians with extensive experience on this issue wrote in a open letter to the people and parliamentarians of Wallonia. This “agreement will impose new constraints in many...areas of public policy”, including “pharmaceutical regulations, public health, agriculture… [and] labor rights.”5 This undermining of democracy by democratically elected government is happening in Trudeau’s Canada, not Erdogan’s Turkey.

Time to use our own courts   Democratic countries have laws and courts dedicated to protecting all their citizens and institutions. We don’t need special courts outside our borders devoted to the protection of private capital. We should be challenging in these courts the self-assumed right of our governments to bargain away our basic rights as citizens. Strike down this travesty of justice in just one country and watch the whole house of cards come down.6

Globalization needs to be constrained, not further entitled. Continue to allow it to trump democracy and watch the rise of more Donald Trumps.

 

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. For more on global, local, and community, see my book Rebalancing Society...radical renewal beyond left, right, and center.

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.


1 J.K. Galbraith, American Capitalism: The Concept of Countervailing Power (Houghton-Mifflin, 1952)

2 Monbiot, G. 2013, November 4. This transatlantic trade deal is a full-frontal assault on democracy. The Guardian. www .theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/nov/04/us-trade-deal- full-frontal-assault-on-democacy

3 Tavernise, S. 2013, December 13. Big Tobacco steps up its barrage of litigation. International New York Times.

4 Hakim, D. 2013, October 8. European officials consulted business leaders on trade pact. New York Times. www.nytimes .com/2013/10/09/business/international/european-officials- consulted-business-leaders-on-trade-pact-with-us.html

6 As part of their deal, the people of Wallonia have set off a process that may accomplish just that, while judges in Germany are already questioning the constitutionality of the tribunals in the EU pacts.

 

We couldn’t vote, but we can act

23 November 2016

We in Canada, alongside other people around the world, did not get to vote in the recent American election. Yet we are meant to suffer the international consequences of it. Shall we sit back, as usual, and watch events unfold, including the possibly catastrophic effects of climate change left unchecked?

Moreover, shall we continue to look on, in Aleppo and elsewhere, as communities are blown apart while a few great powers maneuver behind the scenes? Now another of these powers will have a bully at the helm—a loose cannon with his finger on the nuclear button. Bullies may admire each other, but what happens when they cross each other?

On the other hand, perhaps Donald Trump has done the world a great service, by bringing to a head long festering problems that can no longer be tolerated.

We in Canada, alongside other people around the world, did not get to vote in the recent American election. Yet we are meant to suffer the international consequences of it. Shall we sit back, as usual, and watch events unfold, including the possibly catastrophic effects of climate change left unchecked?

Moreover, shall we continue to look on, in Aleppo and elsewhere, as communities are blown apart while a few great powers maneuver behind the scenes? Now another of these powers will have a bully at the helm—a loose cannon with his finger on the nuclear button. Bullies may admire each other, but what happens when they cross each other?

On the other hand, perhaps Donald Trump has done the world a great service, by bringing to a head long festering problems that can no longer be tolerated.

Enough of the Great Global Powers    Imagine a city with weak government and no police force. Gangs would roam the streets, seizing territory and battling with each other for advantage. Well, this is the world we live in today. Three political powers roam the globe, exercising their influence, while an economic force called globalization empowers the affluent of the world to ride roughshod over everyone else.

We all know about noble America, the defender of freedom, as in World War II and the Marshall Plan that followed. Nonetheless, we had better not forget about nasty America, with its wars in Vietnam and Iraq as well as its repeated incursions throughout Latin America. Are we about to experience another round of nasty America—America made great again? Power does corrupt, whether it speaks English, Russian, or Mandarin.

We may not choose the leaders of the great powers, but we can certainly challenge the outsized control that they, and globalization, exercise over our destinies. Consider a council, a coalition, and connected communities.

A Council of Peaceful Democracies    Five countries dominate the United Nations: the permanent members of the Security Council. This should be called the War Council, since all five have large arsenals of nuclear weapons and histories of bullying—whether in the form of colonialism or belligerent incursions—and are the five largest exporters of armaments in the world.

Imagine instead a Peace Council, of democratic countries with no nuclear weapons, no history of military incursions in recent times, and relatively insignificant exports of armaments.  

Does this sound impossible? It could be made possible simply by creating it. Imagine if Pope Francis, perhaps the most respected leader in the world, convened an initial meeting of several such countries, to define the mission and determine the membership of such a council. This could include countries that have been particularly active in peacekeeping (such as Sweden and Canada), democracies in South America and Africa (for example, Uruguay, Ghana, and Brazil when it gets its political act together), Costa Rica (which got rid of its armed forces in 1948), and perhaps South Korea, from Asia (once it resolves its current difficulties).

Before ridiculing this collection of peripheral powers, consider how many such countries there are, and the influence they could have when working together for a safer world. Get your head around this form of influence—peace in place of power—and the ridicule could instead be directed at the obstinate permanent membership of the Security Council.

Such a council could take positions on issues such as the inequitable distribution of wealth in the world and the recent demise of so many democracies. With no official status, or even one day with it, the power of such a council would  depend on the efforts of institutions and people on the ground.

A Coalition of Engaged NGOs   Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) abound in the world, each with its own mission. Amnesty International deals with human rights, Greenpeace with the environment, Doctors Without Borders with the medical consequences of calamities. Yet many of these problems share a common cause, namely the imbalances that pervade the world today: the domination of all things economic over anything social, the capacity of global corporations to intimidate sovereign governments, and the lop-sided influence of the three great powers. Imagine, then, a coalition of engaged NGOs that could champion the establishment of a compelling, constructive vision—a manifesto for balance—around which concerned people everywhere could coalesce.

Connected Communities of the “good folk”   One message of the Trump, Brexit, and other votes is that never before have so many people been prepared to act on the resentment they feel. What they have lacked, however, is this compelling vision to replace the deceptive rhetoric of populist politicians. That could provide a groundswell of collaboration among what can be called the “good folk” of the world—people concerned with decency and democracy.

Collaboration happens in communities, not networks. (If you doubt this, ask your Facebook “friends” to help paint your house.) Thus, the real force for change exists in community groups on the ground, albeit networked around the world. If Amnesty International alone has seven million members, think about how many other people now function in groups in particular communities, and how many more groups would form given a clear rallying call for change.

Well, then, what are we waiting for?   All the necessary elements are in place for a groundswell of global action: Peaceful nations perhaps now ready to work together; the mass media to highlight the excesses of our imbalanced world; the NGOs to articulate a compelling vision for change; community groups of concerned people determined to make the necessary changes; and the social media prepared to connect these communities into a worldwide movement.

These community groups could pressure their governments to legislate and regulate for better balance, to promote an international Peace Council, and to support businesses that act responsibly while targeting businesses as well as governments that do not. Think of how powerful the tool of boycotting would be—so well-honed by international alliances—when executed at the grass-roots level, across the globe.

Is this vigilante justice?  Not at all. It is making good use of the marketplace, a concept that corporations understand well, as does President-elect Donald Trump, not to mention Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping. We do, after all, have the right not to buy, also to let the buyer be aware—and the seller too.

Am I dreaming in color? Sure, for good reason. The likely alternative could well be one of the nightmare scenarios that would destroy our planet and our progeny.

© Henry Mintzberg 2016. A similar version appeared in the Huffington Post on 22 November. See my book Rebalancing Society…radical renewal beyond left, right, and center. 

Follow this TWOG on Twitter @mintzberg141, or receive the blogs directly in your inbox by subscribing hereTo help disseminate these blogs, we also have a Facebook page and a LinkedIn page.