The NewYorker’s Susan Glasser finds a single word to describe the Trump era that really isn’t about underpants gnomes, even if it applies to most Trumpian policies, such as they are.
There must be one of those long German words for all that soul-sickening worry, right? Some tortured mouthful of consonants that captures the ceaseless anxiety and absurdity of Washington in the age of Trump? I asked my friend, the German scholar and writer Constanze Stelzenmüller, an astute observer of Trumpism at the Brookings Institution and especially of its toxic effect on the troubled transatlantic relationship. She said that, even in Trump-skeptical Berlin, there was no single, widely accepted word that describes this phenomenon but gamely offered up her own stab at it. The word she came up with is “Trumpregierungsschlamasselschmerz.”
My German is nonexistent, but a quick Internet search suggests that Constanze nailed it. In thirty-three letters, she managed to capture the whole damn mess. Her word has pretty much everything that has come to characterize this uniquely dysfunctional moment in America’s troubled capital: Trump and his Administration (“regierung” means government); the mess of constant controversies (“schlamassel”); and the continuous pain or ache of the soul that results from excessive contemplation of it all (“schmerz”). Sure, it’s a mouthful, but that’s the point: there should be one word that sums up the Trumpian disruption we are experiencing, not merely a jumble of different ones. It’s the tweets and the other stuff, too: the endless attacks on enemies, real and imagined; the torrent of lies; the eroding of the basic functions of government; and the formerly unimaginable assault on our institutions. It’s impeachment and the Mueller Report and migrant children in cages, the bullying of allies, and the lavish praise of adversaries. It’s the uncertainty and worry that comes with all of the above.
Disinformation campaigns continue the mess, as Russia tries to rewrite history in the US and in Poland.
The Soviet Union signed a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany on 23 August 1939. In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol that divided territories of Romania, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and Finland into German and Soviet Union “spheres of influence”, anticipating potential “territorial and political rearrangements” of these countries.
Both Poland and Russia had accused each other for their historical revisionism. Russia has repeatedly accused Poland for not honoring Soviet soldiers fallen in World War II for Poland, notably in 2017, in which Poland was thought on “attempting to impose its own version of history” after Moscow was not allowed to join an international effort to renovate a World War II museum in Poland and destroyed monument honoring Soviet soldiers fallen in the war. Meanwhile, Poland also accuses Russia for its unlimited historical distortion, notably back to 2014 when Putin signed a bill using any comparison of Nazi to Soviet crimes as a punishment, as the Poles were also treated brutally by the Soviets; although Russia's historical revisionism might have influenced Poland's Andrzej Duda over its Nazi war crime laws; and Poland also has concerned that Russia's political and historical revisionism might put Poland at risk.
— Anders ÃÂ slund (@anders_aslund) December 29, 2019
Trump is pointing the US into a possible mess at the waning of neoliberalism with increasingly limited democratic choices.
Neoliberal policies created gaping inequality, unleashing the economically powerful to reshape politics, markets, and society to serve their own interests. Neoliberalism’s radical individualism sapped society of community and solidarity, leaving people lonely and isolated, ultimately pushing us to retreat into tribal identities.
The central question of our time is what comes after neoliberalism. New political paradigms emerge in response to the challenges and failures of the preceding era, and today, four possibilities for the future are emerging.
The first possibility is reformed neoliberalism. It preserves the old ideology’s individualism and cosmopolitan sensibilities and keeps the basic structures of neoliberal capitalism in place, while reversing the worst extremes of its upwardly redistributionist economics. Some in this camp have a nostalgic wish to get things back to “normal,” though they recognize that incremental reforms are essential. Others, like those who see the Universal Basic Income as a paradigm for the future, want to correct the dislocations that neoliberal policies created—but they are hesitant to attack the root causes of inequality head-on. The real danger of this path is that it threatens more of the same: persistent disaffection, further erosions of trust and social solidarity, and demagogues waiting in the wings.
The second possibility is nationalist populism, which combines ethnic, religious, or cultural nationalism with economic populism. This approach, most associated with Steve Bannon, may be viable as a campaigning strategy, but it seems unlikely as a governing strategy, as political and economic elites oppose both the economic and social tenets of the framework. Indeed, candidate Trump campaigned in 2016 on this agenda only to abandon it as president. Because it is unlikely as a governing strategy, it is unlikely to define the next era of politics.
The third possibility, which many refer to as authoritarianism, has gotten the most attention. Scholars and commentators have argued that there is a global rise in autocracy. Political insurgents around the world are channeling popular unrest to win surprising victories. Strongman regimes are breaking constitutional constraints and norms. Meanwhile, constitutional democracies are on the ropes.
The final possibility is that a new era of democracy will follow the age of neoliberalism. Just as it is a mistake to reduce nationalist oligarchy to authoritarian politics, it is wrong to think that preserving elections, voting, the free press, and constitutional norms are sufficient for democracy. Democracy has always demanded much more of societies and individuals.