Since 2014, my belief on my understanding of politics has taken a serious, near fatal, beating. First, it was the election of Narendra Modi in India. Then the near decimation of the Indian National Congress in the State elections. Then Brexit. Then the rise of Trump. The cremation of my self-belief happened in November 2016 when Trump beat Hilary. I have now acknowledged that I do not understand any politics whatsoever.
I am also struggling with trying to understand the rise of strident Nationalism in India, and elsewhere too. I am appalled when I keep running into youth who argue that they would prefer an efficient dictatorship over a bumbling democracy. Youth born after India opened her economy in 1991. Youth who have neither seen life in socialist India nor even heard of the loss of liberties during India’s (Indira Gandhi’s) flirtation with autocracy.
It is in this mood that I picked up The Retreat of Western Liberalism. I wanted to understand what Luce’s analysis of the events we see was. Many years ago I read Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods.. Even then I remember being struck by the depth of understanding of Indian society and customs that shone through. I have been following Luce’s writings since. Luce does not disappoint. While focusing on the United States and the Trump phenomenon, he does link what is happening to the rise of China. His analysis explains a bit of Brexit as well.
All through the book, Luce is unsparing of Donald Trump. “Trump’s animating spirit is to make a demoralised American middle class feel better about itself. His goal is to channel rage, not cultivate knowledge” he says. There is no hope that Trump will behave differently in the future. His learning of what his constituents want is finely honed. He has, after all, learnt from the master – Putin. Divisive agenda, diversion for the masses is what will continue to rule is Luce’s prognosis. He says “Trump will operate as a kind of Ku Klux Kardashian, combining hard-right pugilism with the best of postmodern vaudeville.”
Even as the USA under Trump continues to abdicate leadership, there isn’t anyone in the western world who can step in. The pressure on Angela Merkel is just too much. Germany after all is the force that is keeping the European Union together. Of course, Trump and his associates have been disparaging of Germany and of the EU. Overtime, Luce says, power will move eastwards, to China and India. What that means to liberal democracy, is anybody’s guess. While China continues to remain autocratic, Indian democracy is also moving towards consolidation of rule by a single party whose motto is “Opposition free India”.
If you want to try and make sense of the changing politics in the world, you should pick up this book and give it a read.
The book paints a dark picture. However, I am still of the belief that it is not the end of democracy. It may change in nature but democracy will still thrive in a different avataar. May be not the one that we have seen in the recent past. But then that is what evolution is all about; one adapts and thrives.