The “greed is good” desecration of the American dream, which began accelerating since the early 1980’s, has ended—Wham! Bam!—with the election of Donald Trump as president. Clearly unfit for the role, there is no doubt that he is going to fail big time, or “bigly”, if you will.
It is impossible to tell how the whole house of cards will come tumbling down—or, for that matter, when—but it is sure to inflict pain everywhere, and will definitively signal the end of the era of American cultural ascendancy. I’m not sure that this means you can safely short McDonald’s or CocaCola, but global aspirations have already started turning away from the Statue of Liberty, which, more than anything else, was the beacon of the American dream.
Don’t get me wrong—America is still a great country, but it has a lot of internal healing to do. America’s greatness has always been its effortless blend of individualism and empathy, extravagance and charity, iconoclasticism(?) and faith. Unfortunately, this elegant balance has been dissimulated over the past decades by the pounding of technology and greed and a more or less continuous failure of leadership.
America and, particularly, its politicians need to mature—become, indeed, more like Europe.
In a perfect pas de deux (pardon my French), Europe—mature, suave, sensible and rich—is coming into its own at just the right time. Of course, this belief my simply reflect the fact that I have just returned from a glorious ten days in Italy, which, to my mind, is—other to Goa—the most wonderful place on earth.
It’s not just that the Italians know about espresso and pasta and dark glasses and stylish shoes and Mama Mia! the women (and, OK, darling, the men are extraordinarily good-looking, too). It’s that they know how to live. Even though the economy is frailly limping along, the belief that everyone should be able to live reasonably well remains unquestioned. Society is happily egalitarian which means that salaries and costs are balanced so that even the manager of a retail store in Milan—hardly a high-end job—can afford to (and does) dine at the finest restaurants in town.
And Italy does not even have the best of it. The Scandinavian countries, the Netherlands, Germany, France are all richer and, since they share the same ethos, even more egalitarian. The great news is that the recent election in France, reconfirming as it did the essence of Europe—liberté, égalité, fraternité—signals loudly the upcoming renewal of Europe, both as a major economic force and, importantly, in terms of cultural influence.
Of course, it won’t be a smooth ride—it never is. Europe has its own share of populists/nationalists/fascists—Marine le Pen isn’t going back to the farm, for sure—and there are the Putins and the Erdogans, not to mention the real terrorists, like ISIS and friends who will increase their focus on upending Europe’s regeneration. But as the American giant turns inwards and as China’s cultural initiatives are increasingly seen as neo-colonial, more and more of the world will be looking for Europe to take on greater global leadership.
While Germany has always been—and will always be—the economic fulcrum, the EU has, till now, appeared ambivalent, lacking a global perspective. It has missed the hard-nosed diplomacy that could only be provided by a large country with no complex about its past, like Britain or France. Brexit has taken the UK out of the picture, which, given the election of Macron, is very good for Europe since now there can be a definitive partnership—Germany managing the economy and France the diplomacy and global relations. Significantly, the French would be perfect for this—they have always had a uniquely strong sense of humanism; equally, and of even greater importance in today’s world, the French have always understood unequivocally that technology exists to serve people.
I believe we are on the cusp of a real acceleration of the European project leading to deeper unification of core Europe. This suggests that in time the Euro must strengthen—I don’t know when, but it is worth noting that it has been languishing in the bottom third of its long-term range (0.83 to 1.60) for over two years now.
The UK, in its turn, could also be liberated by Brexit. Since there is no more an American lap for the lapdog to jump into, it will be forced to find an independent way to resurrect its historic “greatness”. While it will always be small potatoes compared to the US, the EU and China, it can—and should—become the global broker of choice. Teresa May doesn’t seem like the right person to drive this —he’s no schmoozer—but perhaps she is merely part of a grand transition.
As to the rupee, I am delighted it is so strong—I am planning another trip to Europe soon.