Why Trump's Win Isn't So Shocking: The 6 Year Global Crisis Of Political Legitimacy

11/28/2016 04:29 pm ET

Well, except for a few professors, a documentarian, a pollster, a cartoonist and a 2000 episode of The Simpsons, we all got it flat wrong. Billionaire Donald Trump will be the 45th US President from January 20, 2017. But wait a minute - is his victory really so shocking? Not at all. Yes, low voter turnout (millennials, where were you?), the FBI's repeat email inquiry (Comey, what was the point?), Trump's strategic use of data analytics to tailor his rhetoric and perhaps a few other factors (here are 24 more from CNN) likely contributed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's November 8 electoral loss. But Trump's victory really boils down to growing numbers of frustrated citizens wanting to challenge the political status quo, no matter the outcome - this in fact reflects a global trend visible in democratic and nondemocratic countries all over the world since 2010. The US experience is actually not so exceptional after all.

In countries like Egypt, Brazil, Greece, Thailand, Ukraine and beyond in the past six years, we've recurrently been witnessing the decline of state-society relations in which citizens believe in their leaders, political systems or certain policies less and less - and they have been speaking out in violent and non-violent ways. There's a recurring feeling among more citizens that there must be a better, more legitimate way to govern. Perhaps technology has made them more aware of and more reactionary to their public officials, but this has also created a chronic crisis of political legitimacy globally. Frustrated citizens have done everything from outright slapping their politicians for their failings, to launching protest movements against certain policies and even bringing down entire political systems through their violent movements to show their anti-status quo conviction. They simply expect more - or at least something different - from their public officials.

Let's consider a few specifics. Perhaps the first example of the frustrated citizen challenging the political status quo was the self-immolating fruit seller in Tunisia fed up with government corruption back in 2010, which sparked revolutionary protests against dictators in some countries in the MENA region; yes, it didn't necessarily lead to an improvement in the material position of these protesting citizens, but they did challenge the status quo by bringing down certain autocrats. In 2011, the US saw its own anti-status quo movement with the Occupy protests against government corruption that coincided with similar protests in everywhere from Nigeria to Chile and the Philippines; and politicians in India and Nepal were even getting slapped by citizens frustrated with government inaction.

In 2012, we saw citizens in the EU start massive movements specifically against their governments' austerity policies, particularly in Greece and Spain. Yes, it didn't lead to a change in policy but citizens continue to make their disappointment known. In 2013, the mass protest movement in Egypt against President Morsi led to his ouster (the second since the Arab Spring), as it did in Thailand with the removal of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. Around this time, citizens began their anti-government protests in Venezuela that persist today and the Euromaidan protests ousted President Yanukovych in Ukraine. Since 2015, citizen protests targeted President Rousseff in Brazil that led to her impeachment and now demonstrations continue against the new government's austerity policies. And of course earlier this year, we saw some British citizens effectively vote against the political status quo with the Brexit referendum; currently, frustrated citizens in South Korea and Malaysia are demanding change, calling for their leaders to step down.

So, the US anti-status quo moment is not so exceptional and Trump's victory as the anti-establishment candidate isn't really so shocking after all. It's part of a global, six-year trend against the political status quo, whether frustrated citizens have been dissatisfied with specific policies, leaders or entire political systems. Perhaps we are headed for a new type of government that somehow leverages technology (eg crowdsourcing) so public officials can be more aware of and responsive to a more demanding citizenry? Let's see.

For now, the greatest challenge for most political leaders and governments will continue to be how to regain the confidence of an increasingly angry citizenry such that they can effectively govern. For now, the six-year crisis of political legitimacy globally will likely persist for a seventh year into 2017. Unless of course a few professors, a documentarian, a pollster, a cartoonist or another episode of The Simpsons can somehow show us the way forward?

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