The American presidential election has given us a victor who is racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic. He is a man given to insults, abuse, and lies – a man who mocks the disabled and who has openly encouraged violence at his rallies. He is everything which we would overwhelmingly reject; or, as President Obama put it, recognise as someone “totally unfit for office”. Why, then, was he elected?
Putting to one side the argument that there is a section of all populations which shares the prejudices of Trump, it is a fact that there is a tide of angry disillusionment raging around the world creating perfect conditions for the crude populism epitomised by Trump. It is centred on a perceived failure of political leadership, here in the UK as well as in the USA – just look at Brexit. As some here in the UK rant against the bogeymen of Brussels, in America, they talk of “draining the swamp” of Washington. This is not new – anyone who trades on hate conjures up scapegoats to explain people’s frustrations. It might be politicians or it might be a minority racial or religious group (see Pastor Niemoller below).
Look at the similarities between the election and Brexit campaigns, both trading on fear. In both countries, large swathes of people felt threatened by the consequences of globalisation, with factories closed and jobs exported. In both countries, immigrants became the whipping boys for these and other ills. Politicians were said (often with truth) to be out of touch with the people, and occasionally corrupt in some way. The “system” itself was believed to be stacked against the interests of ordinary people.
It is certainly the case that many have suffered from the effects of globalisation in both the USA and the UK. It is also true that there has often been a disconnect between the chattering classes of Washington and London, and their respective provincial populaces. However, into this dangerous mix has stepped the demagogue.
Without a Trump to lie blatantly and repeatedly, there would not have been a catalyst for this modern American revolution. Nor would we have as bitter a divide in our own country if not for the false propaganda of Farage, Johnson, Gove et al. These people have stirred up acrimonious emotions in their respective countries, leading to real bitterness within our communities.
In turn, they have been encouraged by a mendacious media which is so often beneath contempt. In the name of sales (and profits!), the unquestioning media has given the oxygen of publicity to the farrago of falsehoods offered up by these false prophets. Very often, their own opinions reflect the same disregard for journalistic integrity. Just look at that now infamous “Mail” headline – “Enemies of the People” – describing three judges doing their sworn duty and adjudicating on a point of constitutional law.
In a world dominated by the right of politics – isolationist and protectionist in the USA and Little Englander in the UK – we face trying times. We will soon have a taste of the future as Trump implements some of his notions on trade, climate change, immigration, and relations with Russia, China and Iran. Make no mistake – each of these can have a dramatic impact on our own lives, and there is little in the short term that we can do about it.
“When Hitler attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew. Therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions, and I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church – and there was nobody left to be concerned.”