At work today we had a Trump inauguration party. I wouldn’t call it a celebration of Trump, but it was a celebration of America. We brought American food and drinks and watched with heavy hearts as the Obamas departed, and a mixture of incredulity and derision as Trump embarked on his speech. A string of clichés. Undoubtedly with an appeal to his core support; but speaking from the other side of the Atlantic, where we admire America, sometimes depend on it, and sometimes despair about it, it was worrying.
Let’s make America great. Yeah, well, it may surprise Americans, but most of us think it is great already. It has its problems, challenges, like all countries, but it is an inspiration to the world. The place that people aspire to move to, more than any other. It is the economic leader, the home of all the great innovators of recent times – Google, Apple, Facebook, Twitter, etc. It is the cultural leader – film, music, literature, everything really.
America first. Of course this will appeal as a slogan, but what does it mean? Putting up tariff walls and causing world recession? Persecuting relatively poor countries like Mexico? Promoting the oil and gas industries and prolonging global warming, with deleterious effects around the world? Humankind has thrived most when it acts as a civilisation, cooperating, sharing. Life is not a zero sum game. If you approach it as if it is, fewer benefit in the end. Hitler put Germany first. Napoleon put France first. Islamic extremists put their beliefs first. Putting your own interests first does not help anyone in the long run. Putting the common good first does.
And what will Trump do as new technology like artificial intelligence transforms the world? It’s a fantastic opportunity to reduce the amount that people have to work. The challenge for governments, surely, is to find ways of guaranteeing people an income on which they can live well, not to preserve jobs that are obsolete, or can just be done hugely more cheaply in other parts of the world or by robots. Let people enjoy leisure. Give them reasons to enjoy leisure. No politicians yet appear to be addressing this inevitability. All the talk – in America, Britain, the rest of Europe – is about preserving the status quo or going back to some imagined halcyon era. This is a dereliction of duty by the politicians. They should be thinking about how to help the people of their countries thrive in the new technological and economic era.
It’s a depressing thought that Trump, Brexit Britain and a lot of Europe seem to be hankering after an imagined past rather than trying to address and make the best of the challenges and opportunities of the future. Unfortunately, most politicians can only really think about the next election, as opposed to long term strategy. So we just have to hope that economic forces will push them in the right direction. Or that the people will beat them to the realisation about where we need to be. It can happen.
Fingers crossed, and in the meantime, listen to Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and pray…