President Barack Obama stopped by Canada’s House of Commons last week to offer a patronizing lecture on globalization and the inevitability of progress.
Free trade is the way of the present and the future, he said, even as his aides were informing the Prime Minister’s Office that getting a new softwood lumber deal done in 100 days won’t happen, nor will it occur within the life of the Obama presidency.
The global marketplace benefits all nations, he said, even as the results of the Brexit vote show how fragile, unstable and unsustainable these markets are.
The result of one vote in one country is enough to wipe out hundreds of billions of dollars in wealth around the world and foster economic uncertainty and paranoia.
Obama would have everyone forget the beginning of his presidency almost eight years ago, when the collapse of a single sector of the U.S. economy, the housing market, and the demise of just one Wall Street investment bank was enough to bring the world economy to its knees for years.
Globalization is a house of cards built on a hill of sand on the shore of a stormy ocean, but the global ruling elite of political and economic leaders continue to sing the praises of their rickety construct while ignoring both its painful side effects and its risk of collapse.
The majority of the world’s masses have not benefited from open markets and free trade, unless the definition of benefit is creating a small ultra-rich global class holding an increasing amount of the world’s wealth and forcing billions of people in developing countries to abandon their fields and rural lives for mega-city shantytowns.
In Europe and North America, meanwhile, the middle class has been gutted, their jobs shipped to the factories built around those shantytowns in the developing world.
Obama and Trudeau, Bush and Harper, would all agree this is progress. The mainstream political parties debate where the deck chairs on the ship should be but are in full agreement of the boat’s direction.
These same politicians then express surprise as radicals surface on both sides of the political spectrum — the Trumps and the Sanders — to question these sacred beliefs and then express dismay at the unexpected popularity of these malcontents.
Their messages have traction because they articulate the truth and the reality so many have felt. The world is not getting better, it’s getting worse.
Most people are not getting richer, they’re getting poorer. They might be living longer but they’re getting sicker. They are as entertained and as bored as ever. They communicate constantly on social media but are as antisocial as ever.
They are more educated, but they make the same stupid mistakes. Their homes and their cars are bigger, but so is their debt. The streets are safer, but the guns and the drugs are more rampant.
There are rules and laws and protocols and policies shaping every aspect of daily life, but child molesters and murderers are treated as victims while the true victims are blamed for what happened to them. Corporate crooks get richer while car thieves get prison.
Our lives are more sanitary and diseases are being wiped off the face of the earth, even as the water and the air become increasingly polluted. More and more keystone species become extinct and once-arable land turns to desert or gets paved over.
Trump, the Tea Party and their anti-immigrant xenophobic compatriots in Europe have exposed the flimsiness of Obama and Trudeau’s sunny ways.
Hate, intolerance, racism, sexism and homophobia are not retreating, because the fear and narcissism that fuel those emotions never went away, nor have the individuals who would harness these sentiments to seize power.
Globalization has brought humanity closer together while dividing communities and pushing individuals further apart.
The forces of change are unrelenting and continue to accelerate modern society toward an uncertain world where the latest marvels of human ingenuity will co-exist with previously unreached depths of depravity. There is no promised land, just a new frontier. No one, not even the so-called leader of the free world and his audacious eloquence, can avoid that harsh truth.
Neil Godbout is managing editor of the Prince George Citizen.