I want to remind people of Donald Trump’s words and what it means in the larger context of what is at stake in this election. This is from December of last year:
We’re losing a lot of people because of the Internet and we have to do something. We have to go see Bill Gates and a lot of different people that really understand what’s happening. We have to talk to them, maybe in certain areas closing that Internet up in some way.
Somebody will say, ‘oh, freedom of speech, freedom of speech.’ These are foolish people… we’ve got to maybe do something with the Internet because they are recruiting by the thousands, they are leaving our country and then when they come back, we take them back.
What Donald Trump is saying here is that he would be willing to use Federal power to order the private companies that own and control most of the basic infrastructure to curb free speech in the name of security. He is being very explicit here about what he believes are the scope of the power of presidency, which is essentially limitless. This is not unusual in right wing populist circles, but I want to take a few moments to place it in a broader context.
There is no greater invention that exemplifies the post-war world order than the Internet. Not even the semiconductor itself, essentially a very advanced tabulation machine of the industrial revolution, comes close to the impact and scope of the Internet. It exemplifies all the things we have upheld as the ideals of the men who shaped the post World War Two Western Civilization: It is global in scope. It is open to all persons. It is a platform for global trade. It is a medium for self expression of all kinds, good and evil. It changing the way we live, the way we think. It is disrupting the world economy, national politics, and our basic sense of identity as human beings. Globalization has no more prominent champion than the Internet, growing stronger and more pervasive by orders of magnitude every single nanosecond.
Naturally, anything this transformational is going to have negative side effects. Many of which we do not now know how to address. Our political leaders do not know what to do except watch it all play out. They’re bewildered. Our intellectual, moral and scientific thinkers can’t give us any guidance about where we should go with it or what we should do with it. They simply don’t know. There is vacuum of clear direction and clear thinking about the modern world and where we are headed. Into that vacuum, being human beings, will come fear. That is where Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin or any of the world’s historically bad ideas for leadership (Hitler, Stalin, etc.) comes in. Right at the apogee of uncertainty and fear.
The question for our leaders and therefore our voters, is what are we going to do about the changes in our world? Who are we going to choose to deal with it? Donald Trump is putting forth his vision. Dismantle our post-war institutions. Discard the idea of globalization and all that comes with it. ‘Close that Internet up.’ I don’t believe he can do that with any more success than any dictator from the past has in trying to stop the oncoming future. Plenty of voters here and abroad agree that we should unlearn everything we learned from the 20th Century. But I do know that if history is any guide, it would be a very ugly start to this new century to let him try.