The world is heading in the wrong direction – all of us need to start engaging.
At about 5 o clock this morning it started to become apparent that Donald Trump would become the President of the United States. I was one of the unfortunate ones who had allowed himself to believe that statistics favouring Clinton would lead to safe victory: as soon as Florida went Trump’s way that hope was gone. By the time Ohio, Michigan and Wisconsin had turned red, there didn’t seem to be much other option than to think long and hard about what good might come out of a Trump Presidency.
And here it is: waking up!
I want to think about what has happened here. America has elected someone who is not only a gibbering liar, but who is racist, sexist, homophobic, narcissistic, sociopathic, incompetent and incoherent. He embodies almost every single negative aspect of humanity. He has justified the most abhorrent bigotry in his population. He did not have to talk in facts but only in feeling; he did not have to justify why he was standing up before millions and telling them to direct their hatred at Mexicans, Muslim, the media, politicians, but only to do it. He is so incapable that his own campaign team suspended him from using his own twitter account – and now he finds himself in control of the nuclear codes.
The election of Donald Trump was a revolution, and revolutions come out of revolting places. The American population, so furious with their cocktail of unemployment, stagnant wages, increasing living costs, decreasing living standards, reduced worker’s rights, loneliness, mental illness, incapable political system and incapable politicians, were ready to believe anything. Fed up of being constantly told that their socio-economic status is their fault alone as individuals, they were ready to listen to someone who told them it’s all the fault of people who cannot defend themselves – namely immigrants.
It mirrors the ascent of Hitler in so many ways: there is a country in which the people feel they have lost control, when all of a sudden a charismatic leader appears and tells them to blame it all on a scapegoat. For Hitler it was Jews, for Trump it is Muslims. Facts and details are unnecessary, emotion is everything. He whips up passion and creates a narcissistic cult around himself; then he tells people to attack others.
And this is a historical cycle that is repeating itself across the world. Russia has had Putin doing this for some years now, Turkey has recently arrived at the same place, and Poland, Hungary and Slovakia are fast heading in that direction. Britain has pulled out of the EU, leaving Putin’s primary obstacle weaker; across Europe and America, the far Right is surging on a tide of popular hatred. In Britain it is UKIP, in France Le Front National, in Germany Alternativ fur Deutschland. Their message is to blame immigrants for the general feeling of discontent: blame Muslims! Blame the EU! Blame everything that is Other to yourself; blame everyone but the ones who are doing the blaming.
And in this atmosphere it is impossible for those of us with the privilege and distance from the issues to try and help without being shouted at. People like me, Socialists of the middle classes, the kind of people who have an intellectual overview of events but no direct contact with the problems that spur them, are not welcome in the debate. We get blamed for being part of the cause of the hatred.
And here’s part of the problem, the ‘Post-Truth’ world in which we live: (very) loosely speaking, the political Left tends to use facts and statistics where the Right tends to rely on anecdotal evidence. But the Left is increasingly being consigned to the middle classes, and since the middle classes are the ones who are supposedly being rejected (in actual fact it’s the super-rich), then rejected also are the facts. When a ‘liberal elite’ radio host tells a caller that immigrants are statistically good for the country, they get shouted down for being condescending, out of touch and, paradoxically, hateful. In a Post-Truth world, the ones calming the hate are the ones accused of causing it.
In a Post-Truth world, things do not need to make sense. They only need to feel right. Donald Trump can spew hatred at Chinese appropriation of American business whilst wearing a Trump-manufactured shirt with a ‘Made in China’ label on it; Theresa May can claim she is on the side of Leave voters when she had previously said leaving was a terrible idea; normal people can claim all our problems are the fault of immigrants when there is no statistical evidence to suggest this.
Anyone who contradicts the gut feeling (‘immigrants are bad’) with facts (‘immigrants make a net contribution to the economy’) gets shot down. If a member of the educated middle classes tells a lower class person that their facts are wrong, they get accused of snobbery.
But this determination not to engage in debate is not consigned to the populist Right – it is equally present in the hard Left. There have been notable examples in recent years of certain groups, such as student Feminists, shutting down conversation on the grounds of offensiveness and ignorance. British universities are coming into criticism for no-platforming a ‘controversial’ speaker every other week; works of fiction, theatre and film are greeted with disdain if their audience does not completely agree with their message; arguments about cultural appropriation, censorship and offensiveness are becoming commonplace. Just like the furious Right, the furious Left are as determined not to listen to opinions other than their own. They are trying to make the world fit themselves rather than make themselves fit the world.
In many ways we are closing in on the political landscape of the 1930s – a landscape in which everything is polarised, in which extremes of Right and Left are the given positions and everyone belongs to either/or. Eric Hobsbawm once commented that, as a student at Cambridge in the ‘30s, he could ask everyone on King’s Parade for a political position and receive an answer of ‘Fascist’ or ‘Communist’ from everyone he asked. We are not quite at that stage yet, and when it comes the terms will not be ‘Fascist’ and ‘Communist’ – we cannot say what they will be, but we can say that it will happen.
The fact is that we are living in a world that is increasingly fractured, disillusioned and angry, and in such an atmosphere all it will take is for someone to stand up and say ‘blame it on the Muslims’. We’ve already had Nigel Farage stirring the pot of hate, and as a result UKIP’s popularity has soared. Now we have Donald Trump in the White House.
So I want to throw my hat into the ring and be so audacious as to suggest what might be done about this.
The key similarity between all these angry groups, the racists, the Leave voters, the Trump voters, the UKIP voters and the Regressive Leftists, is that they feel threatened. The globalisation of markets has left the economically vulnerable behind, and an age of anxiety and depression has arisen. Their frustration with the political establishment has now become so obvious that we cannot possibly ignore it. Identity groups in part are being attacked because the people they are taking the power from, usually straight, white men, sense they are losing control. Anger is the default mode.
So how do we stop these people being so angry? How do we begin to grow unity rather than sowing division? The answer is to reach out to the people we disagree with, to find the common ground and build from there.
It is clear that there are different aspects of society living in their own echo chambers. This needs to stop. If you are a Socialist, go out and talk to a UKIP voter; stop bickering amongst yourselves. Start making constructive suggestions.
I am a Socialist, and as such I believe that a Leftwards swing will dampen the hysteria we are seeing. Part of the reason people feel powerless is because of the lack of rights at work, the ability of bosses to walk all over their workforce (in the UK fees of up £1,200 for filing complaints were introduced in 2013, for example), the high cost of living, the absurd hours people are being asked to work, the lack of community, the diminishing welfare state and the lack of mental health support.
The answer surely is positive government intervention. Repeal the evil trade union laws that have prevented workers from getting a fair deal and make the unions stronger: from this we can fight for higher wages, for lower rent, strong workers’ rights and sensible working hours. Renationalise key assets to give the consumer a fairer deal: the railways, energy, manufacturing. Reverse the cuts to welfare we’ve endured under the Tories and give people a proper safety net from which to build their lives. Invest in local government to give the poor a leg up into education and politics. Change the voting system from the supremely undemocratic First-Past-The-Post to a proportionally representative system like the Single-Transferrable-Vote. Perhaps introduce the universal basic income. Get politicians to stop believing that business is the only thing that is important, and begin to realise that people need more in their lives.
If you are a Socialist, get out there and call yourself a Socialist. Socialism is a great product and we need to sell it: we need to prove how greater cooperation between business, government and trade unions is more profitable, more efficient and more productive. We need to prove that investing in the working classes, in women, minorities and the marginalised will lead to a wealthier and happier world. We need to show that workers owning and running the businesses they work for is a better model for money and happiness.
Let’s bring social class back into the conversation alongside gender, race and sexuality – let’s start questioning the systems that keep creating these problems rather than the individuals that commit them. Does parliament serve a positive purpose? Should private education exist? Should taxes be low enough to allow all the money we generate as workers to vanish into the pockets of the super-rich?
Stop attacking the people who feel left out and start letting them in; let’s start creating a positive vision rather than destroying the negative one. Sexism, racism, snobbery, attacks on unions, workers rights and the poor – all of this is awful. We start to help when we give the people who commit them reason to stop.
To reverse the age of ‘Post-Truth’ back to an age of Truth, we need to give people the stability to listen to the facts. In order to stop the hateful lunacy that is rising across the Western World, we need to act, fast.
If you value peace, unity and cooperation over hatred, division and negativity, then you must realise the way the world is moving right now. If you stay silent, if you do not get up and start presenting this positive vision, then you are letting the forces of stupidity run riot. If we do not give the UKIP supporters reason to stop supporting that party, then the far Right will continue to grow.
We are heading for one of the most challenging political ages in humanity’s history, let there be no doubt about that. Don’t sit back and let it go the way of the hateful. Learn your politics, learn the arguments, get behind the ones doing the right thing.
The Western world needs the Left to wake up after 40 years of dormancy and start fighting again. If we don’t then we’ll be giving the populist Right, the racists, the misogynists, the vessels of irrationality and hatred a free hand to tear our society up – because of what? A sense of insecurity. In that case, we need to make them feel secure. We need the Left back.