By Javad Heirannia

Widening gap between upper and lower reaches of socio-economic scale in U.S.: Stuart Sim

January 12, 2018

TEHRAN – Stuart Sim, a professor of critical theory from Northumbria University, says “There is a widening gap between the upper and lower reaches of the socio-economic scale in America, and that is causing particularly deep resentment at the lower end.”

However, Sim tells the Tehran times that the “Trump does not appear to be the answer to this problem, however, given that his most significant piece of legislation so far has been a tax cut that benefits the rich more than any other section of U.S. society.”

Following is the full text of the interview:

Q: Francis Fukuyama the contemporary political theorist used to be an ardent supporter of liberal capitalism. But in 2014, he wrote “Political Order and Political Decay” to modify his earlier position. In regard with the U.S.'s presidential elections and the rise of Clinton and Bush families in the political scene of the country, Fukuyama believes that the U.S. is experiencing the decay of a political system which made people feel so disappointed in American democracy. What’s your opinion about this?

 A: The election of Donald Trump to the presidency certainly suggests that all is not well with the American political scene, and that liberal democratic ideals are in decline there. The fact that America could lurch so far to the right after the Obama presidency indicates that American society is dangerously divided, and the rise of the alt-right is a very worrying sign. Trump profited from the loss of faith in the country's economic policies, and the impact of globalisation in wiping out so much of American manufacturing; disaffected voters turned to him out of desperation as much as anything else. This impact can be seen in such dramatic cases as Detroit, where the population has shrunk sharply in the last couple of decades since the car industry largely closed down there. But Trump has no coherent policies to arrest the decline caused by globalisation, and that means his supporters are left looking for scapegoats amongst immigrant groups like Mexicans, as well as the Muslim world. If Trump was to be re-elected then this situation could only become worse, so that will be a significant test for the American political system.

Q: The Competition between the Northeastern elites and the Sothern populists led into the rise of Trump indicating that establishment slogans from both democratic and republican parties don’t sell anymore. In regard with Fukuyama's argument, shall we think of such developments as a sign of the U.S. political decay?

A: There is a widening gap between the upper and lower reaches of the socio-economic scale in America, and that is causing particularly deep resentment at the lower end. Trump does not appear to be the answer to this problem, however, given that his most significant piece of legislation so far has been a tax cut that benefits the rich more than any other section of U.S. society. America is not the only country that is experiencing this widening disparity between those at the upper and lower ends of the socio-economic scale, in fact it is widespread throughout Western societies and a direct result of neoliberal economic policies. It is, however, where this division is most marked because of its poor welfare provision. Unless neoliberal economics is reined in to a significant extent, and subjected to far more control and regulation by Western governments, then political tensions will continue to grow more serious. Again, however, Trump does not seem to be the one with either the ability or the motivation to take such action.

Q: Is ‘not the rise of far-right parties in countries such as Austria, Germany and France a warning hint that Europe shouldn’t raise false hopes in the current popularity of liberal democracy? 

A: Yes, it is a warning hint, and it is only just being kept under control. It is not impossible that there could be a further move to the far right in the next few rounds of elections throughout Europe. Far right-wing attitudes have clearly been on the rise in the UK since Brexit, which has encouraged extremist nationalist viewpoints to come to the fore.

Q: For the time being and even in the future, which school of thought is the main rival of liberal democracy?

A: The far right, or alt-right as they are known in America, represent a very significant threat to liberal democracy. White supremacism has become more widespread in America (although it is there just under the surface in many European countries as well), and increasingly is being endorsed by the Trump administration. There is a distinctly fascist character to much of the far right/alt-right, who want society to become far more authoritarian and less tolerant than it currently is. Western liberal democracy is finding it increasingly difficult to assert itself against such militancy, and the political situation at present is very volatile.

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