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The future of nationalism: Gwynne Dyer on Trump, the media, and what our collective future holds

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Photo: Gwynne Dyer presents on Trump, and the rise of nationalism at UFV (Michael Hines/Contributor)

Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent Canadian journalist, syndicated columnist, speaker, and author. He served in the navy, held academic appointments at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst and Oxford University, and now runs a twice-weekly column on international affairs, published by over 175 papers around the world.

Dyer’s recent book titles include, “Don’t Panic: ISIS, Terror and Today’s Middle East” (2015), “Crawling from the Wreckage” (2010), and “Customers who viewed Climate Wars: The Fight for Survival as the World Overheats” (2011).

After presenting on the rise of nationalism, and the deeper issue of Trump’s presidency, we joined Dyer for a refreshment.

What do you drink?

Wine in the day and the early evening, starting usually with a glass of white and then to red, and whiskey late at night — scotch.

Do you find yourself drinking more now that Trump’s in office?

No, I don’t, because I drink quite a lot all the time. You know, there’s a limit after which you are not functional; I work just below that.

What’s the worst thing to come out of Trump’s election?

Racism. I mean, worse things could come out, like North Korea, that sort of thing, but those are only potential. It’s not that there’s more racists in the States than there used to be, but they are much bolder. And that’s what he’s done, is he has legitimized their rants.

And if you know non-white Americans, they’ll talk your ear off about it, they really feel it in the street.

The media was horribly wrong about both Brexit and Trump, does this suggests they’re out of touch with reality?

Well, certainly they got it wrong. First of all, in Britain there’s a very clearly defined political position most papers take. And so the papers on the right did actually predict a Brexit victory. So the Telegraph, and the Times, and the Daily Mail all said “Brexit victory coming, wait for it, here it comes — Look! Cheer now!”

Whereas the Guardian, the Independent, thought it was a really shitty idea. But in America where you’ve got the pretense at least that the papers are more neutral, they got it wrong. They got it wrong in an amazingly bad way, it was right down to the New York Times headline on election day, claiming that Clinton’s in the lead. I mean, that is going to follow you around for a long time.

Actually, what’s really gone wrong is that the opinion polls have consistently got it wrong, and that is probably a technical function. Because the things is, they only phone people with landlines. And to be truthful, the younger you are, the less likely you are to have a landline, so they were getting a seriously skewed response, and they are still trying to rebuild their models to get around that problem. Cause it’s very hard. I mean, when you had a phone book that everyone’s number was in it, it was easy! And you could sort of balance it in income, spread it through the income groups with everybody knowing which parts of town and which exchange numbers match those parts of town; that’s a working class district, and the rich over here, and the middle class — make enough phone calls, and there’s your poll. Not anymore.

Is there danger in an uninformed resistance to Trump?

There’s danger in being uniformed always, but yeah, in the sense that violence or even extreme language used against Trump reinforces the base’s support for Trump, you know, they circle the wagons, and “it’s us against the world.” Making fun of them has essentially the same effect, it confirms all their prejudices. There’s a lot of stuff that they don’t want to hear that the mainstream press will actually mention to them, mainstream media, so they’ve already retreated into an echo chamber where all they hear or see is their own media. And I think they’ll stay with Trump till the end, but they’re a dwindling group of people in demographic terms. They don’t have a lot of kids.

Have you uncovered evidence in any world history of how this may play out?

Well, demagogues — populists, if you like — do tend to run aground eventually because they never even mean their promises to be kept. Trump has no game plan, for not just bringing back the coal mines but bringing back jobs in general. I mean, if he is telling the truth and not concealing some greater knowledge, he is operating as though building the wall on the Mexican border will solve the trade problem, and that the American jobs had been stolen by foreigners.

If he doesn’t believe that, and does understand the real rust belt problem and the real manufacturing problem generally, which is the jobs going, there’s bugger-all he can do about it in terms of replacing the jobs. I mean, what you’ve got to do is turn it around and look at it from the opposite side, and say, “Okay, the jobs are going, what do we do about the people’s incomes, and their satisfaction levels?” I mean, it was pathetic during the election campaign. Hillary Clinton, who deserved to lose, she was so much the establishment candidate; some of the things she’d say were just incredible, the “basket of deplorables” comment — things she was talking about, not off the record, this was a meeting, a crowd, and she said, well you know there are some people you just can’t deal with: the rednecks, and the white racists, and so on, and all of these people are going to vote for Trump, they’re just a basket of deplorables. Lady! They’re not going to vote for you if you talk like that!

So what happens to demagogues in the end?

They generally come to a fairly sticky end, but it can take a long time. I mean, if you think about it, Hitler didn’t last very long, he lasted 12 years. Mussolini, because he wasn’t stupid enough to stumble into a war he was bound to lose, lasted from ‘22 to ‘45, he was in power for about 23 years. So it could be a long time before he runs out of rope, but I think generally he does in the end: demagogues do.

But you know this is not really relevant to a good discussion about the United States, because there’s a constitutional structure there that says eight years and no more, and you got to get re-elected in four. Would he get re-elected in three years’ time? I have no idea.

Harold Macmillan, the British prime minister in the early ‘60s, somebody said to him, “Once you got your power you can just put your policies through,” and Macmillan said, “No, it’s not that simple. Events, dear boy, events.” Events knock you off course, events take up all the energy and oxygen available, and you can’t do what you planned to do. And events will hit Trump, I mean, there’s always events coming down the track. You didn’t plan for them, you didn’t foresee them, but when they arrive you’ve got to deal with them, you’ve got to be the guy to sit in the chair. And he’s not going to perform well in that sort of thing I don’t think, look at him and Puerto Rico.

This interview has been length and clarity

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