Sunday, February 12, 2017

Is it possible to fight Trump with grace?

The Canadian academic and politician Stéphane Dion visited Barcelona in 2014 and explained to Catalan federalists his experiences in democratically fighting secessionism (successfully) in Quebec. He told us that we had to fight nationalism with arguments and with grace, meaning that we should never fall into the temptation of using insults even when we are overwhelmed because of our indignation or anger. Is that possible with Donald Trump? It must be very difficult, but there is an ongoing interesting and necessary debate on how to fight him, or how to fight the Brexiters, or how to fight Marine Le Pen: institutional checks and balances? collective action? Among the people I follow, some would like to focus relentlessly on the flaws of the new President and his team (like Paul Krugman?), whereas others seem to be more concerned about scrutinizing the limits of the center and the center-left that have created an opportunity for the national-populists to conquer the vote of the middle and working classes in the developed world (like Branko Milanovic?). I guess both strategies are not incompatible. Two social scientists I have been reading recently come to my mind to qualify or extend both types of arguments. Amartya Sen, in his new expanded edition of his classic book on Social Choice makes an appeal in favor of "government by discussion", as well as an appeal for trying to reach national and international agreements in favor of partial solutions, not necessarily waiting for perfect solutions. I guess that an application of this would be to try to reach out to at least part of the national-populist voters, convincing them constructively (that is, avoiding that they feel insulted) that some of their legitimate fears would be better addressed in a better democracy. Elinor Ostrom joined Sen in her last years in trying to argue that many of the tragedies and impossibility results in economics and social science are not unavoidable results, but to avoid them we should not rely on what she calls "panacea thinking." That is, there are no easy solutions to complex problems, but solutions to social dilemas must come from experimenting with different practices in a modular and polyarchic way. The translation of this to contemporary events is that although we should keep a critical mind with the center and the center-left we should at the same time be aware that liberalism and social-democracy are probably the most successful imperfect ideologies precisely because they do not propose any panacea.

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