Best Selling Author Malcolm Gladwell Shares His Opinions On Donald Trump and Brexit
Malcolm Gladwell, staff writer for the New Yorker and best-selling author of The Tipping Point, Blink, Outliers, David and Goliath, and What the Dog Saw, talks politics, both in the U.S. and abroad, in an exclusive interview with Fortune during the OZY Fusion Fest in New York City.
Gladwell is most known for his ability to link sociological and psychological studies with the everyday, and serves as one of the nation’s top public intellects. Later at the OZY Fest, a festival that celebrates thought, food, and music, Gladwell speaks on education. Much like he does in “Revisionist History,” his new podcast, Gladwell challenges the status-quo of academia. But in his interview with Fortune, the contrarian instead takes time to challenge the “popular wisdom” of the political turmoil that has been rocking the world.
This interview has been edited for clarification.
Fortune: It’s a very hot day at OZY, but how do you feel to be here?
Gladwell: I don’t mind the heat, and I’m absolutely delighted.
Fortune: Fortune would love to hear your opinions about the current political climate in the United States and abroad. To start, what do you think was the tipping point that pushed Donald Trump over the edge in America?
Gladwell: I think he is an understandable outcome in a period in which we have had an enormous amount of transformation in America. We’ve turned everything upside down in 100 different ways in the last 20 years. The political and economic hierarchies have been turned upside down, the composition of the country has been turned upside down, women are taking over roles that used to be just for men—you can look at so many different things that are so different now even from the 1990s, say. It makes perfect sense that after society has been through that much transformation that there is going to be a bit of a “transitional” period; some pushback, some turmoil, some unhappiness. We could’ve anticipated this, and it will pass. I don’t lose sleep over it, it is all a part of the process.
Fortune: With that being said, do you think the current political environment mirrors the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s at all? Some would say that it feels like history is repeating itself.
Gladwell: There is actually a very beautiful analogy from the mid-60s in the American South. One by one, the southern states replaced relatively moderate governors with radical ones. You see the rise of George Wallace in Alabama, for instance. That was backlash to the extraordinary progress of Civil Rights. The immediate reaction is that people are saying, “I can’t deal with it,” and they go way off to the right. But things will eventually calm down again.
Fortune: And with the further political environment abroad, what do you think was the tipping point for Brexit, Europe’s most recent political turmoil?
Gladwell: It’s a similar phenomenon. The United Kingdom just had their own version of this period of great transformation. Brexit is people’s way of saying, “wait a minute, slow down, I’m overwhelmed.” I think what we should do is not exaggerate that reaction, and just say that this is part of the process when countries transform themselves.
Fortune: Aside from falling financial markets abroad because of Brexit, what other consequences do you predict to see from Brexit?
Gladwell: I didn’t even think Brexit was going to happen, but I think they’ll find a way to weasel out of it. So, I don’t imagine that there will be any dramatic long-term consequences.
Fortune: Do you think if Donald Trump is elected it will continue to change the global political environment? And if you do, how do you think it will? Will that impact last for a long time?
Gladwell: If the American President is someone who seems to think that Vladimir Putin is a “good guy,” and seems to have very indifferent feelings toward NATO, among other things, then yes, that certainly does change it. There are a million different ways in which that his election could have quite a profound impact. But right now, I’m so much in denial of his possible election.