There's a great deal of wisdom encapsulated by the idiom, "be careful what you wish for." The inevitability of unforeseen -- or perhaps just conveniently ignored -- consequences routinely popping up to bite humanity's collective posterior seems obvious.
Which brings me to the 2016 American presidential campaign. The connection? How about the human revolution we call globalization. Obviously, there is a religion angle here.
Sure, globalization gave American consumers cheaper foreign-made goods. But how was it not obvious to all that in return for T-shirts from Bangladesh we were sentencing American manufacturing to economic collapse? The ensuing loss of middle class jobs took quite a bite out of the American backside.
Love it or hate it, there's little doubt that globalization has reconfigured notions about the relationship between us and them. What was once foreign is now domestic. Their problems are now ours to an unprecedented degree.
GetReligion readers know that globalization has shaken up the American religious landscape. (Notice all the new mosques? That some American Episcopalians are now Anglicans loyal to African bishops?)
And politics? Immigrants and refugees, international trade pacts, overseas military entanglements and the limits of U.S. power, what constitutes authentic American culture and religion in a period of demographic transformation -- these issues loom large in the presidential campaign.
Perhaps the clearest illustration of globalization's influence on the candidates are the separated-at-birth outsider campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Think of them as polar-opposite reactions to globalization's unintended consequences, the confusing uncertainties impacting average Americans that undermine their sense of control over their lives, producing insecurity and its flip side, anger at the powers that be.
Unfortunately, the cacophony of daily campaign news stories churned out at an assembly line pace, and with no time for reflection, overwhelmingly ignore the forest for the trees.
Insults and instant polls hold sway. It's eyeballs or perish. The news, on the occasion when real news is actually involved, has become hyper-ephemeral.
You want context? Read actual transcripts. Then search out analysis and opinion coverage; that's the direction American news outlets seem headed anyway. Just make sure at least some of what you read contradicts your usual sources.
I came across three such essays and blog posts in the days surrounding the New Hampshire primary that underscore for me the link between globalization's rampant economic and social changes and the Trump-Sanders campaigns, both triumphant in New Hampshire.
The first piece was published by Al-Jazeera America (yes, it's still around, at least for a few more months). It ran under the headline: "With Trump and Sanders, European-style politics reaches America."
The second was published by The Atlantic, and headlined "Sanders, Trump and the War Over American Exceptionalism." The third one was a Religion News Service post, headlined, "The Tea Party/Occupy Wall Street Election."
Here's the top of the Al-Jazeera piece. It makes the point quite well.
In nearly eight years since the start of the 2008 financial crisis, European politics has witnessed a remarkable surge in left-wing anti-capitalism and right-wing nationalism. With the 2016 presidential election, this ideological shift has arrived on American shores. Its heralds [are the two] victors in Tuesday’s New Hampshire primary: Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.
Each of these candidates represents a particular political tradition that was, until recently, alien to national elections in the United States. Trump, whose disregard for the pieties of evangelical conservatism sets him apart from other GOP hard-liners, fits neatly into a European mold. His blend of hardline nationalism and ideological flexibility is similar to that of European right-wing populists such as Britain’s Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and France’s Marine Le Pen of the National Front.
Trump, however, falls to the right of his closest European analogues. Both Farage and Le Pen, for example, have publicly distanced themselves from Trump’s call for a temporary ban on all Muslim immigration. Farage, in particular, said that Trump had gone "too far" with the proposal.
Sanders appears to be a more distinctly American type, a veteran of civil rights marches and the 1960's student movement. But his platform and ideology would be right at home among the moderate social democrats of Scandinavia. His calls for progressive taxation, a stronger labor movement, and an expansive public health care system are already commonplace to the point of banality in Sweden and Denmark -- to say nothing of Germany, France, the United Kingdom, and other strong Western European states.
To his critics in the U.S., Sanders is a radical who threatens to ride a wave of popular discontent to upend the political establishment -- as Greece’s Syriza and Spain’s Podemos parties have. But a closer European analogue to Sanders might be Jeremy Corbyn, the old-school trade unionist who seized control of Britain’s Labour Party amidst the collapse of the centrist wing.
European-style candidates are resonating with voters now because political parties in the U.S. are facing some of the same pressures as those in Europe.
The pressures alluded to by Al-Jazeera's Ned Resnicoff, a New York-based journalist, are the social and economic pressures brought to the fore by globalization and our attempts to deal with the unintended consequences.
Trump's answers appeal to the political right, hence the Tea Party reference in the RNS headline, Sanders' to the political left, the Occupy crowd. Vote for either one or for another candidate, if you are so inclined.
But let's not forget that globalization has totally scrambled the game board in ways that both aid and degrade human progress. Religion-beat journalists whose work encompasses values and traditions should pay particularly close attention.
As I've said before, there's more to globalization than cheap clothes and fresh fruit in winter.