By Arab News
By Tom Fletcher*
I have a confession: I’m on Donald Trump’s mailing list.
It started innocently when I took his questionnaire on media bias. I am in the statistically negligible group of people who would both take a Trump questionnaire and disagree with him on every question.
But gradually I was sucked in. Like a potential extremist being radicalized. I got several emails a day calling me his key supporter. One asked for debate advice — I suggested a greater focus on tolerance. One arrived asking how to win in November — “change the candidate,” I offered. Even so, I got invitations to meet his daughter (well, make a $3 donation to enter a ballot to meet her).
I couldn’t unsubscribe. Partly out of morbid fascination, as someone curious about political communication. I recognized something: The language I had used as a 19- year-old door-to-door salesman in Indiana. “Everyone’s buying it.” The difference was I was selling aerial photos of houses, not snake oil and anger.
I also recognized something else. Us and them. All their fault. You have a duty to defend “us.” We are the underdogs. It is not fair. The radicalization of those most vulnerable to manipulation by targeting anger at those most vulnerable. The casual lies.
I recognized this because these are also the methods used by extremists in the Middle East, where I was an Ambassador. They also attack moderation — the “grey zones” where cultures interact. They thrive on western intolerance — the Trumps, the burkini bans — in the same way western extremism thrives on their intolerance. We are surrounded by pyromaniac firemen.
Let’s be honest. Many of us — especially men — have an inner Trump. A bit of us prone to narcissism, boastfulness, and that hits out at those we think are weaker.
But the difference, for most of us, is that this is not something we’re proud of. And most people learn to contain it at some point between the ages of three and five. We evolve.
And society also evolves to contain our Trumps. Mankind’s story is one of gradual — albeit with bad years, and sometimes bad centuries — evolution of reason over craziness, community over tyranny, and honesty over lies. As a species, our strength is that we know we are a work in progress. With great sacrifices, we built systems to restrain the dangerous individual who believes he has all the answers. And no country has done more for this noble effort than the USA. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
We also know from history that empires usually fall when they are corroded from within. After economic downturns, nations turn inward at the moment they should look outward. They become nationalist when they should be internationalist. Those who close off from the world end up losing. Yet here we are again, seeing countries at risk of stumbling if they cannot contain their inner Trump.
Trump, like Brexit, is a symptom of three wider trends. First, an Age of Distrust: Iraq, the banking crisis, social media and political scandals have made authority a devalued currency, and the 20th century scaffolding is collapsing. Second, we are in the birth pangs of the political and social change that will be unleashed by the Internet. Look at the impact of the printing press and scale it up. Third, we are massively underestimating the cost of growing inequality. We better mind that gap, especially in a century of huge migration.
2016 is still not done. For first time in my life, we can take nothing about the next year for granted, let alone the next decade.
And those still proud to call themselves global citizens need to fight back. We must marshal the best instincts and values against the worst. We have to manage our inner Trumps. The world is not becoming more intolerant or isolationist. The 21st century dividing line is not between Christianity and Islam, East and West, or even between the haves and the have nots. But between those who want to live together, and those who don’t. Between coexisters and wall builders.
November is the most important election in my lifetime. We are at that dangerous point in the rise of a dictator where some start hedging, just in case. This is the moment to speak up. Even diplomats, who shouldn’t normally take sides. After Ali’s death, I asked people not to judge Trump on his tribute to Ali, but how he would have treated him as a 20 year old.
Barack Obama is a humble man with much to be arrogant about. Donald Trump is the opposite. Maybe deep down he knows that. It’s just that he never learned to restrain his inner Trump.
I hope, desperately, that America contains its inner Trump next week. But there is a bigger battle at stake here: To ensure that it is harder for the next Trump to weaponize intolerance in the way he has done.
Perhaps the greatest danger to our species is not the nuclear bomb, environmental catastrophe, the superbug, the robot age or the crazed terrorist, terrifying as they all are. It is in fact the loss of our curiosity to learn from each other, the loss of the desire to live together. The greatest danger to us is that we cannot contain our inner Trumps.
*Prof. Tom Fletcher CMG is a former UK Ambassador, who now teaches at the Emirates Diplomatic Academy and New York University, and campaigns for educational opportunity and the creative industries.