The world’s ins and outs
As the United Kingdom’s debate about whether to withdraw from the European Union has heated up, “in” and “out” have come to define the stark choice facing voters in next week’s “Brexit” referendum. The British are not alone: the world is increasingly divided between the mentalities underpinning support for the “Leave” and “Remain” campaigns. Do citizens and their leaders want to work with others toward greater security and prosperity, or do they think that they are better served by isolating themselves behind real or virtual walls?
Those with an “out” mindset view the world through a Hobbesian lens, seeing everywhere the danger of people with unregulated passions, driven to do them harm. Only an omnipotent Leviathan can ensure order and security. This is essentially the worldview of Austria’s Freedom Party, Greece’s Golden Dawn, the UK Independence Party, Hungary’s ruling Fidesz party, and similar forces throughout Europe and the West, not to mention the world’s autocracies and outright dictatorships. Theirs is a politics of fear and dog-whistle incitement of the extremist forces that exist in every society.
And, as we’ve seen in both the UK’s Brexit debate and the United States’ presidential election campaign, neither facts nor reason will dissuade voters with an “out” mindset. As the Nobel laureate economist Daniel Kahneman recently observed of Britain’s Leave camp, “The arguments look odd: they look short-term and based on irritation and anger.” And yet they work.
In the US presidential election, the choice between Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee, and her Republican counterpart, Donald Trump, reflects an unambiguous battle between “in” and “out.” In response to the recent mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Trump boasted that he had been right all along about the threat posed by “radical Islamic terrorism.” Clinton, by contrast, offered words of support – in English and Spanish – to the victims, and focused on the community and on the need for gun control.
With his xenophobic rhetoric and fondness for despots like Russian President Vladimir Putin (a demagogue who bullies the neighbours he doesn’t invade), Trump epitomises the “out” mindset: hyperbolic, malicious, pompous, and hostile to all who defy or disagree with him (be it the press, which he berates and tries to block, or judges who preside over his lawsuits).
Some senior Republicans, to their credit, have disavowed this Pied Piper’s effort to lead Americans over a cliff of isolation and bigotry. But many others, confronted with his steady stream of insults directed at Latinos, Muslims, and women, seem to have walled off their consciences. Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, has called Trump’s comments racist, but continues to endorse him. So does Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and, perhaps most remarkably, John McCain, the party’s 2008 presidential nominee, whose military service Trump denigrated, saying that McCain returned from Vietnam “a war hero” only “because he was captured,” adding, “I like people who weren’t captured.”
Clinton, on the other hand, though widely perceived as a foreign-policy “hawk,” is still of the “in” mindset – someone who knows the value of trade, discussion, and compromise. She also understands the value of “smart power” – that bombs aren’t always the most valuable tools to use in pursuit of one’s goals. She would presumably seek to advance the legacy established by President Barack Obama, whose trips to Vietnam, Cuba, and Japan this year focused on moving on from a very difficult past to a new, more hopeful future.
This “in” mindset has proved its worth time and again. The world benefits from entering into treaties and embracing cooperative arrangements. By working in concert with other countries and through global institutions, countries become safer and more prosperous. A victory for the “out” mindset – which seems to regard compassion, truth, and integrity as if they were vestigial limbs – would be Pyrrhic, at best. Economies would whither, violent conflict would increase, and women, minorities, and journalists would suffer as “out” movements use scare tactics that encourage the extreme among them.
The irony is that all of this is coming at a time when technology companies in Silicon Valley and beyond, long criticised as inwardlooking, isolationist, and self-obsessed, are moving as fast as they can to be “in.” That’s why Tim Cook in May became Apple’s first CEO to journey to India, and a trip by Microsoft’s CEO, Satya Nadella, followed. Likewise, Facebook’s CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, devoted considerable effort to learning Mandarin ahead of his trip to China in March. Companies are investing in building more efficient translation software to make working anywhere, with anyone, simple and seamless. Multinationals worldwide know that, to grow and thrive, they must look to markets and relationships beyond their own home countries’ borders. And what is true of global companies applies to countries: those that are not “in” will inevitably be left out.