When you’ve exhausted your indignation at, and despair of, the people who voted for Donald Trump please read this article by Thomas Frank which goes some way to explaining what’s just happened in the USA, why we’re in the throes of Brexit, and why the likes of Geert Wilders and Marine LePen are looking increasingly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. But I think Mr. Frank’s logic extends beyond the rise of the so-called far right.
You might not want to admit it but the movements behind Scottish independence, the Icelandic Pirate Party, Spain’s Podemos, Bernie Sanders, Jeremy Corbyn, et al have a lot in common with the one that has propelled Trump into the White House. All are fuelled by feelings of powerlessness in the face of economic uncertainty and social change, and driven by simmering contempt for the politicians, journalists, academics and technocrats who are making such a poor fist of running the show on our behalf.
Underlying the opposing rhetorics of populist fascism and instinctive socialism there is a common desire for economic security and some meaningful degree of influence over the ways that our communities are run. Dismissing sixty million Trump voters as stupid racists is stupidly simplistic and will not bring us any closer to where we want to be. Nor will the promotion of your favourite movement as being morally or intellectually superior. If we allow ourselves to be drawn into believing that the ones who vote the other way are the delusional opposite of us then we will condemn ourselves to perpetual conflict in which everyone is a loser.
As Thomas Frank says, cut through the noise of racism and bigotry and dumb nationalism. Listen to what Trump supporters are saying about trade, jobs, infrastructure, access to services, and the long demoralising decline of their communities. These voters are concerned about the very same things that exercise the rest of us. They turn to Trump only because he’s there and he’s speaking their language when everyone else – politicians and media – is waffling the same impotent waffle that we’ve been hearing for decades. The fact that sixty million people turned out to support Trump is an indictment of the quality of vision and leadership across the rest of the political spectrum rather than a sign that humanity is on a one-way trip to oblivion.
Donald Trump has done little in his life and said nothing in this campagin that suggests he will provide his followers with the economic security that they crave or any meaningful degree of control over how their communities are run. I predict that in four years time, unless they are diverted by something big like war or civil unrest, many of the voters who this week have made Trump president will run him out of town. And what then?
Well, unless we start addressing the roots of the problems that are causing such disquiet around the world, we will be back where we started: the 46th president of the USA will be spouting the same old platitudes while doing his or her best to keep the ship of state on an even keel while the plutocrats who have paid for his or her elevation into office continue on their parasitic way.
If we truly want something different then we have to focus on what the supporters of Trump and Farage and LePen have in common with the rest of us instead of railing against their worst prejudices which we’re never going to change by shouting back at them.
We all want a propsperous, equitable, sustainable future for ourselves and our children so let’s focus on what needs to be done to get to such a place, and then concentrate on working out how to do these things in such a way that everyone can see the sense in it. Everyone, including the stupid racists, the stupid nationalists, the stupid socialists, the stupid conservatives, the stupid cynics, skeptics, know-it-alls, know-nothings, and all the stupid rest of us who are too demoralised to believe that anything good can ever come from any stupid “ist” and their stupid “isms”.
When stupid little men with nasty big egos are filling our screens and inciting hatred it’s hard to be optimistic, but we’ve come a long way, even in my lifetime, and we have the machinery in place with which we can build a better future. The concepts of money and democracy are firmly established in our culture but the ways that we currently apply them are primitive and ineffective. The key to the prosperous, equitable, sustainable future that we want is in reforming and refining these things so that they work properly for everyone. Everything else is a distraction. Let’s stop being distracted and get on with the job.