Our revolutionary past gave us Trump

Wednesday, November 9, 2016
Karl-Gustel Warnberg


Two hundred and seventeen years ago today, Napoleon Bonaparte was brought to power as First Consul of France, thereby ending the French Revolution according to most historians. To those who know history, the election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th President of the United States should not come as a total surprise.

The French Revolution brought a new system into being, putting the old elites of the ancien régime out of power. On the other side of the pond, a few years earlier the Americans had had their own revolution, aiming to take control over their own affairs, thereby breaking their bonds to the British system, and hoping to set up their own system based on the old British principles of the balance of power and the rule of law. Instead of a Monarch, they opted for the Presidential system. And about a century later, civil war ensued.

The point, although not presented in full length above, is that when a system has a revolutionary foundation, it is intrinsically unstable and bound to encounter trouble. All revolutions want to change society and then stabilize. However, when the old elites have been dethroned, a new elite will inevitably take its place. And so it goes on. It is in the nature of existence that there will be rulers and ruled, the difference now being that we believe we control who rules us. And to a certain extent we do, which Trump's success bears witness to. He managed to excite his voters to go out and vote for him, while Clinton didn’t manage to do the same with the segments of society she would have needed in order to be elected.

Trump represents the new elite. The ‘establishment’ has become stale, representing the old and powerful. People now want change, as is the revolutionary nature we have chosen to live by. The old ‘new money aristocracy’ that became the elite of America has never fully accepted Trump into the fine dining saloons and high society clubs. He has fought his way there from Queens. And now he, the new money aristocracy, is taking their place.

From this election we should learn at least two things; the first being that we cannot take polls seriously. Secondly, and related to the first, is that we cannot take political analysts seriously. They are both incapable of explaining modern politics. Politics is changing, and we have a hard time keeping up with the ever-changing system we have created for ourselves. 

We may never be able to recover the prelapsarian past, the fall in this case being ‘the age of revolution’ as the Marxist historian Eric Hobsbawm called it. We might just have to learn to live with the consequences of the society we have built. A society like America, which gives one the choice between Clinton and Trump. What we can do is to recognize the need for traditions, customs and shared values, before we throw them out and suffer the unintended consequences, and also try to regain a manner of relating to each other in a civilised way.

The conservative thinker Joseph de Miastre, touched upon a perennial truth when he said that we get the rulers we deserve. But I prefer the old saying that the chickens eventually come home to roost…      

Karl-Gustel Warnberg is an Intern at the Bow Group