“Was last week’s U.S. presidential contest between Joe Biden and Donald Trump the first global election?” That’s the question posed by the American economist Tyler Cowen in his latest column for Bloomberg.
The quick answer is ‘no’ — as America’s politics has been globalised for decades now. Though I’m British, my earliest political memory is of Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in 1977. The reason why I remember it is that my parents insisted on watching the live coverage on BBC2 instead of the children’s programmes on BBC1. I was furious.
Still, who needs the Magic Roundabout when you’ve got the spectacle of American politics? The fact is we’re hooked — and have been ever since the Kennedys.
2020 is the continuation of a trend, not a new departure. Nevertheless, Cowen is on to something when he says that “political coalitions will, over time, be defined globally rather than nationally and locally.”
Social media internationalises political debate — at least among speakers of the same language. In recent years, we’ve seen publications from one country acquiring significant online audiences in others. And so tweet-by-tweet, link-by-link and clip-by-clip, we see a flourishing of public discourse between nations not just within them.
Cowen wonders where this is all heading: “What if much of the world ends up with a common, one-dimensional political spectrum, rather than each country having its own (mostly) independent politics? We may be about to find out.”
We’re halfway there already — because one end of the new political spectrum represents the interests and values of an increasingly globalised knowledge class. In many ways, a Biden supporter in New York, a Remain voter in London and a Macroniste in Paris have more in common with one another than with their respective compatriots. College-educated liberals who live and work in well-connected global cities are pretty much interchangeable — and thus so are the political movements they support.
However, the same can’t be said on the other side of the argument. A Trump supporter from Kansas, a Brexiteer from West Yorkshire and a Le Pen voter from Lille may face some of the same economic challenges, but otherwise have little in common. The differences between the worldviews of the politicians that they support are much greater than those between Joe Biden, Keir Starmer and Emmanuel Macron.
Of course, if the new spectrum is about the universal versus the particular, that’s exactly what one would expect.