Politica – A cultural detective's view of the US elections


I posted to the SIETAR Europa LinkedIn page an analysis of the US election done by a colleague using the Hofstede model. I would like to attempt a similar review, this time using the Cultural Detective® USA. Since Eun Kim and I are co-authors of this instrument, the current events are challenging. They certainly beg our attention in checking the ongoing validity of our work at this critical moment in history. Besides doing regular updates, which is both normal and necessary", on such instruments, we and our end users may be asking, "Is our current presentation of US core values tilted, upset or is it confirmed by current events?" Is there another, different USA that should be represented in our work to take into account what has been happening now?

Let's do some sleuthing. US Americans of most political shades are likely to agree when it comes to getting what you want and making things happen, "It's up to you," which is to say that individual responsibility is a top value. Almost all, on both sides of the electoral debate, would insist that this is true. Contexts and events have often led to US Americans to the point of "taking the law in their own hands." While history shows that this is been done repeatedly both by those on the left and on the right, the vigilante approach seemed to cohere more with Trump's rhetoric and that of his followers' behavior. We've just seen the perfect cowboy screenplay acted out, this time, not on the silver screen but on the world stage. The man in the white hat strode into town and chased the rustlers away.

Cowboys, usually armed with peacemakers (guns/Second Amendment), are the quintessential US heroes, often acting contrary to the sheriff or the government, which are seen as failures or even corrupt. Now, with the current government being pilloried as out-of-control, the discourse of "take charge," fit the mood of a vast number of people who are angry, threatened or fearful about their condition. We need to remember, of course, that the gap between rich and poor in the USA is significantly greater than in other developed Western countries.

In addition, the sense of entitlement, represented by the metaphor of the "Promised Land" echoes the biblical notions of "Chosen People" and pictures the "New Jerusalem", as a destiny destination, whose "streets are paved with gold" (well maybe with stock options these days). These images are widespread in the USA and not just the property of religious groups. They have spurred immigration from the beginning and undergird what is described as "American exceptionalism" in international relations, as well as projecting the "American Dream" of success and prosperity. They have done so since the beginning of the nation. Calvinistic theology remains at the root of capitalism in the US mentality whether one is a practicing believer or not.

"Play by the rules" represents an important discourse in US culture, and when something feels amiss, "Telling it like it is," echoes in the US mind. The demand for justice and fairness, for "Leveling the playing field" are value statements that were solidly intertwined, though in different ways, in the electoral campaign and its results. Both candidates sought to undermine the legitimacy of the other with accusations of illegal activities, pointing to each other's wrongdoing, whether emails or taxes were the topic. Both spoke of equity in the sense of improving the condition of the less fortunate. USians tend to right wrongs by making laws and going to court (or to war) rather than addressing causes and engaging in dialogue. Constituencies on both sides demonstrated that they are capable of speaking out in protest, particularly when their sense of entitlement to "The American dream", is being frustrated. The decision to blame the other is easy to make, though deciding who is to blame is the result of different perspectives. Notice, that when it comes to economic well-being, political security and success, blame easily falls on others who are seen as the "bad guys" in our perpetual black and white cowboy movie.

Like him or not, it is abundantly clear that Donald Trump is an extremely skilled cultural mediator, in the strictest sense of that role. He is able to take ideas, and express them to match the inner identity discourse of his public in concrete language so that they bought them as their own.

In short the exceptional nature of this election made it the exception that proved (tested) the rule and the rule stood up to the test. Of course, we will continue to update and improve, our Cultural Detective® USA but this test gave us confidence in the discourse and values that it identifies as being substantiated in the here and now.

The lesson here for intercultural research and training using such models should be obvious, namely that a cultural discourse in two diverse groups may be identical and have similar roots, and yet the life context of groups and individuals within the same cultural space may arrive at quite different conclusions about how to carry out the mandates and behaviors sensed as part of their identity.


Aux urnes citoyens, formez vos bataillons...


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