Economics
Opinion Article
December 14, 2020

American lessons

Biden's election was welcomed by all those who believe in liberal values ​​around the world. Four years ago, with the election of Donald Trump, followed by the Brexit vote and the growth of far-right parties and governments in the western world, the threat of a "fascinating" turn scared the world's liberal Democrats. Even in Portugal, this wave has surprisingly arrived with the vote in parties outside the traditional right. By contrast, is Trump's defeat foreshadowing the end of this wave? What can we learn from the American electoral result, in Europe and Portugal?

The first factor to note is that the vote for Donald Trump was, in absolute terms, higher than it was in 2016, despite four years of his aberrant behavior and disastrous management of an exceptional scenario like the pandemic. What would have been the result without the pandemic, tweets and psychotic behavior, but with the same policies against the environment, expansion of debt, violation of the human rights of emigrants, destabilization of the world order, etc.? Possibly an overwhelming victory. The lesson to be learned is the growing appeal of these policies in some sectors of the population. The pressure of the shocks of globalization, technology, inequality, sustainability and the inability of our institutions, designed in reality very different from the second half of the 20th century, to generate new policies continues to create enormous anxiety in these populations, calling for solutions populist, ineffective, divisive and unsustainable. According to a 2019 Edelman Trust study conducted in 27 countries on job instability, 59% of workers consider themselves at risk of job loss because they lack the necessary skills, 55% fear being replaced by new technologies and 57% are afraid of commercial and tariff policies. The values ​​are higher for those who work in multinationals. Thus, it is essential to continue the work to find solutions to these concerns and to recognize that they must be different from the proposals of the 20th century, as the challenges are also different.

The second factor is the power of negative energy in times of anxiety. Donald Trump divided America, ruled only for his own, demonized political opponents as enemies, and had the biggest vote for an incumbent president ever. The art of victimization and conflict between the masses and elites as a political platform for the conquest of power again demonstrated its effectiveness, now enhanced by social networks. In their anxiety and in security, and in reactions often outside the elites' mental framework, the suffering masses should not feel isolated in the name of the "political correction" of the liberal ideological construction of the second half of the 20th century. When they are excluded, people do not change to be included, they become more radical, they stop listening and start working in a closed circuit. It is a very human reaction to denying reality. Thus, it is necessary to recognize the pain they feel, to dialogue to establish inclusive political platforms, to focus on what unites and not on what separates, and to speak with empathy and realism instead of intellectual superiority. In his speech, Biden focused on the need to be president of everyone - and it has to be everyone, not everyone who agrees with him.

Fortunately, Biden won. Many Republicans rejected Trump's divisive theses, supported Biden, and congratulated him on the result. It is a victory that fills the world and those who believe in the values ​​of a liberal, inclusive, and fraternal society with hope. Most of those who voted for Trump believe in these same values, or at least are not opposed to them, as can be seen from their modesty in recognizing their electoral choices in the polls' responses. The challenge for those who govern is to recognize the need to find solutions to the difficulties that afflict them and to find points of convergence that allow the beginning of a dialogue. The ability to include them on a moderate platform is Biden's big challenge. It is a challenge that is from the whole liberal western world, including Portugal. The sooner we learn the lessons, the sooner we create a new path for the future, with less anxiety and more hope.

This content was originally written in Portuguese and published in Jornal de Negócios.

Daniel Traça

Daniel Traça

Dean and Professor at Nova SBE

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