Yesterday, Donald Trump was elected President of the United States. It’s still quite surreal. It will be hard to disassociate the images of him in the Oval Office with President Obama which emerge today from all those SNL sketches at first, but that’s the reality. It’s also not the end of the world. As the residing President said himself: the sun still rose this morning. Hyperbole isn’t helpful. It’s also hard to imagine a deeply unprepared President Trump, who has seized upon the pain of so many but has offered not a single solution to resolve it, making it beyond four years. So let’s take this for what it is: a wake-up call. It’s a gut punch which may finally force everyone who is against the fascism of Donald Trump and far-right populism in the West to realise that it’s no anomaly, that we can’t pretend that it’s not there or that people aren’t suffering. It should urge us to finally aim to reach out to the people feeling it and name alternative causes of the symptoms they feel so strongly.
So what is the cause of so-called “populism” that we have seen dominate Europe and America this year? It has emerged in all sorts of bizarre and contradictory ways as the result of our countries operating by a system where policies such as austerity, globalisation, privatisation, deregulation and profiteering have led to the isolation of entire classes of society, increasing first world poverty and rapid declines in quality of life – all while the very people who implement those policies insist that they are increasing our freedoms, and that everything is getting better. In the wake of the last global political revolution, Monetarism, whole cities have been deprived of the industries which fed them, work has become menial and devoid of the prospect of true advancement, all while wealth and power has been concentrated in a section of society so removed and so thin, to whom the same rules which cripple the poor are not applied.
“In the wake of the last global political revolution, Monetarism, whole cities have been deprived of the industries which fed them, work has become menial and devoid of the prospect of true advancement”
Populism is also the result of the people who control the information supplied to the disenfranchised sections of society extending that denial. By supporting those who instead point the finger at foreigners or academics, they have created a culture where democracy is hailed as the only saving grace of liberalism, but anyone who disagrees with them is vilified as the enemy within. The wealthy and powerful people who control influential publications like The Sun, Fox News, The Telegraph and The Daily Mail have chosen to side with such a mentality, for acknowledging the failings of laissez-faire capitalism and greed would cost them their personal wealth. Fascism may not.
It is also the failure of the people who ineffectually oppose those systems. Ever since the sharp swing to the right of neo-liberalism under Thatcher and Reagan, the centre-ground has been redefined, personified by the likes of Clinton and Blair who dethroned them, but were truly no real opposition to it at all. The loser of the 2016 Presidential Election, Hillary Clinton, was also no real opposition at all. She, like so many who have opposed the ideology since its destructive impact upon the most vulnerable in society started to become clear, have abided by the same narrow frame of discourse provided for them by those who control and fund our society. She ignored vast amounts of disaffected people’s concerns by dismissing them as racist or “deplorable”, and in doing so entirely avoided addressing actual causes of their very real concerns. The left has entirely missed the point of the now defunct “We Are The 99%” movement by focussing solely on critiquing the inverse 1%, entirely overlooking the fact that if they live in a democracy, and fail to engage with the people who their name explicitly states are the majority, their movement will not be the one to take power. Failure is also wrought by completely ignoring the deep unpopularity of the candidates who represent them, such as Hilary Clinton or Jeremy Corbyn, and by overestimating the reach of social media.
To oppose the rise of racism and authoritarianism in the West, those who (for now) hold the keys of power must finally admit the failings of projects such as globalisation and austerity, which have crippled the exact communities in which the far right now takes hold. These people feel lied to and, because they have been, all it takes is someone such as Nigel Farage or Donald Trump to contradict them, and claim they are telling the truth, for their popularity to soar. The only way to combat this is if the people whose policies left these people behind in the first place fill that vacuum by admitting the truth themselves. Presidents Roosevelt and Truman invested in Germany after the Second World War because they understood that it was exactly in an impoverished country like theirs that the extremism of fascism would re-emerge again. The rules haven’t changed since.
“To oppose the rise of racism and authoritarianism in the West, those who (for now) hold the keys of power must finally admit the failings of projects such as globalisation and austerity”
The opposite has happened so far. Since the EU referendum, Theresa May’s Conservative government has quickly discarded their historical principles and embraced the rhetoric of populism in order to cling to power. Similarly, the Republican Party have, within 24 hours, forgotten their deep criticisms and fallen in line behind Donald Trump. The fact that these bodies will never admit to the failings of their governance is entirely possible, and probably the reality, but that doesn’t change the fact that to prevent a future led by Donald Trump, UKIP, Austria’s Freedom Party, Marie Le Pen’s National Front and other fascist groups rising in every country across Europe, they must. We have now seen what our future looks like if they don’t.
Those who were already addressing the crippling impact of an economic system which funnels money away from whole communities must also change. We must stop supporting lily-livered candidates who occupy the same space as those they oppose, and engage directly with the majority of people who would view our opinions as unpatriotic and elitist, but who have also barely heard them. TIME Magazine has reported that dockworkers, forklift operators and roofers came out in droves to elect President Trump. Decent, hardworking people who may never have voted before; completely ignored by the left wing and so offered only one option after industries have been moved to exploit cheap and vulnerable labour halfway around the world. Just speaking to them about the ideology which abandoned them will be a start. Hysteria and hyperbole on social media must stop, as must rampant defeatism in the face of this latest loss. Nihilism is attractive because it is easy. Finding empathy, and pursuing hope, is hard. But only one of those options has a chance of achieving a single thing.
Liam Inscoe – Jones