They are three of the stories dominating headlines around the world. They are insidious, shocking, and destructive, in wildly disparate ways. Zika is a virus, ISIS is a terrorist group, and Donald Trump is … Donald Trump. But while there’s not much the three phenomena have in common, they do have some instructive similarities: They are all modern-day versions of older phenomena, made more virulent by globalization.
Epidemics, terrorism, and demagoguery have afflicted the world for centuries, even as they’ve consistently taken on new forms. This means that their latest incarnations have earlier precedents. The current Zika epidemic started in 2015, but the virus was first identified in a monkey in Uganda’s Zika Forest in 1947. ISIS rose to international prominence in 2014, but it traces its ideological lineage and some of its leadership to al-Qaeda, a terrorist group formed in 1988, and even further back to ideas of radical Islam sketched out in Egypt in the 1960s. Donald Trump announced his candidacy in 2015 and has since become the Republican front-runner; in 2000, he managed to win two primaries while running for the Reform Party’s presidential nomination before dropping out and declaring the party “a total mess.” He even gave a quasi-campaign speech in New Hampshire in 1987 after a Republican activist suggested he’d make a good president, though he opted not to run that time. But Trump’s approach echoes the style, if not the policies, of the 1960s candidates Barry Goldwater and George Wallace, in his extreme rhetoric and polarizing policy positions.