Gold Card Politics

Donald Trump, remember him? He recently asked his supporters to help choose the design of a ‘Trump card’ which they would carry as proof of their allegiance, and of course, their patriotism. Following several failed projects (blogs, radio shows) this lurid tactic represents the further gamification of politics and reflects Trump’s instinct for marketing and his aim to turn politics into a consumer goods subsector. No doubt donors of differing levels of generosity will be offered platinum and gold Trump cards.

There are two other, more serious implications. The first is that such a move, together with recent eye-popping fund-raising rounds by Trump, will deepen the divide in the Republican Party, and set the political agenda for the next midterm elections and 2024 presidential race. The first and main issue any Republican candidate must make is how to position vis a vis Trump (the Missouri Senate race for Roy Blunt’s seat is a case in point).

The second is that in the post COVID world (we are slowly getting there) we are seeing a range of new markers of political behaviour and values. The most striking and deadly is the difference between those who wish to get vaccinated and those who do not (sadly many in emerging countries don’t have this choice).

I have seen many versions of a chart that plots the proportion of people in each US state that have been vaccinated together with the predominant political affiliation in that state – Republican states have low vaccination rates whilst those in Democratic states have a much higher rate. I presume that any of those who will carry the Trump card, do not have a vaccination pass.

Similarly, in France vaccinations have become a political issue but what is not generally remarked on is that the number of people who have signed up to be vaccinated following Emmanuel Macron’s speech (where he declared cinema, restaurant going conditional on the production of a vaccine certificate) vastly outnumber those who protest against vaccines. What is now interesting is the way in which this ‘marker’ or divide is quickly becoming institutionalized  – many companies will only allow vaccinated employees to return to their offices and governments across a range of countries are tilting incentives towards those who are vaccinated.

I don’t disagree with this and think that as regards the COVID pandemic it is for the good. As a policy exercise it has lessons for how governments can shift, or ‘nudge’ to use the popular term, popular behaviour in positive ways. At the same time, it has obvious dangers in the sense that some governments may take the vaccination template and replicate it for other problems. Will it for example be applied to healthcare where those who drink, eat and smoke too much will be denied state funded healthcare or forced to pay a higher price for it?

What is equally interesting is the way in which the political climate will be shaped by the policy response to the COVID pandemic and the various trends (i.e., digitization) that it has set in motion. In short, what I have in mind is that healthcare related choices like vaccination have become markers of political identity, in the same way that at a country level a government’s stance on LGBT rights has become, in my view, a marker for broader qualities such as a country’s openness, the quality of its democracy and its ability to innovate.

If willingness to become vaccinated against COVID-19 is a marker of political disposition, what might others be?

Keeping with the idea that digitization is growing, one of the developments we may see in the future is the digital passport, effectively a key that can reliably identify someone and link their identity to a national database (i.e. social security). This development may become necessary as part of the roll out of digital currencies, as part of the broad initiative on cyber security and, to an extent, to police anti-social and illegal behaviour on the internet (note that the EU plans to have such a digital identity in operation by 2030).

As these measures come into place they will create political friction, and in particular a group of people who choose to be ‘outside’ or against the system. Other key and emerging issues will become political markers – an awareness of climate damage is now coming into mainstream politics, with Germany a lead test case, and the emergence of crypto and digital currencies will also test the sense that ‘with/against the system’ will become an axis in political debate that may supplant the traditional left/right.

Trump should have gone for a ‘Trump digital wallet’ rather than a gold card.

Have a great week ahead,

Mike

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