Donald Trump’s appeal should be a call to arms

Daniel Sarewitz in Nature:

Donald-trump-medical-marijuanaIf, as the French counter-revolutionary Joseph de Maistre wrote in 1811, every nation gets the government it deserves, what might the United States have done to deserve Donald Trump?A well-functioning democracy should undercut the appeal of blustering, xenophobic demagogues by ensuring that most citizens have a stake in government and hope for the future. And although no single cause or problem can explain Trump’s appeal to a large part of the American electorate, his nomination as the Republican presidential candidate should be cause for serious reflection about what is going wrong in America. For many Americans, one thing that has gone wrong is that the promise of scientific and technological progress has not been fulfilled.

As Nobel-prizewinning physicist Leon Lederman put it in 1992: “What’s good for American science … is good for America.” Maybe not. Although Trump supporters are by no means a homo­geneous lot, a clever analysis in The New York Times in March showed that they can most reliably be characterized by two attri­butes. First, they identify their ancestral heritage as American, rather than any particular ethnic or religious stock. And second, they live in regions of the country that have not only failed to benefit economically from innovation, but have been harmed by it. Mainstream media analysis of the Trump phenomenon almost never links it to the science and technology policies pursued by the nation since the Second World War. Yet technological revolutions arising from these policies have contributed to more than 40 years of wealth inequality, disappearing middle-class jobs and eviscerated manufacturing communities in the places where support for Trump is strongest. Indeed, economic theory throws aside these millions of people as the inevitable losers in the ‘creative destruction’ that science catalyses, as if ruined cities and livelihoods are just side effects of the strong medicine of science-based innovation. These people are the cost of the prevailing myth of progress, and, given their core identity as ‘Americans’, it is no wonder they are susceptible to Trump’s jingoistic populism.

More here.