13/11/2016 § Leave a comment
It has taken several days of listening to and reading a lot of useless verbiage about Trump, but I finally found a blog by Adam Shatz that expresses what I think has actually happened, and says some of what needs to be said about it. All the hand-wringing seems so self-dramatising. I don’t understand why some of my non-American friends have felt compelled to write or phone to express their sympathies to me personally. As if nothing like this has ever happened in the United States before. As if I’m an innocent to whom ill has been done. The fact is, I’m not at all surprised, and I don’t understand why anyone else is surprised either.
Trump happened because Barack Obama happened. Obama happened because Bush II happened and before that, Bush II happened because of Bill Clinton. Back and forth, Republican-Democrat, conservative-liberal. Like a tennis match, they knock each other out every 4 or 8 years, game-set-match. This time, the right-wing won, it was their turn.
Watching the TV footage and videos of the ethnic diversity among the students and young people protesting the result in the streets these last few evenings, it seemed to me that the USA the Trump supporters want back is long gone, changed beyond all recognition. But then again, it isn’t. Remember apartheid South Africa, where many white people had “no idea” how the black population lived? Even this year the London Review of Books published a letter from a German woman still claiming they “didn’t know” about the death camps or the slave labour before the War.
All sorts of people make up the US polity; at some level, they coexist in the same space. But with every election, and in between when few people are politically active, the gulf between the different groups who make up the polity has been growing greater. This election has shown that breakdown is coming.
Trump led his supporters to believe he could turn the clock back. He’s a salesman, he sold them a bill of goods, and he did it using the techniques of an entertainer, a clown. The same way Nigel Farage sold Brexit, with a pint in his hand and an endless grin on his face, playing the louch joker. If they can’t use their good looks, like John Kennedy did, like Barack Obama did, then they need to use something else. Because winning in politics has needed a skilled media performance for decades. Everyone loves a clown, remember? Everyone was laughing at Trump until the end, remember? Ha ha ha.
But some of us said: if Brexit could happen, then Trump could happen. And I would add, the failure of the referendum in Colombia, to approve the peace deal there, was yet another example that fits this picture. All three events were based on a vote by “the people”, supposedly the bulwark of democracy. But all three were cases of the utter failure of democracy, two in referendums, one in yet another US national election in which the popular vote did not determine the winner.
With Brexit, people were told bald-faced lies, with impunity, by those who wanted to leave Europe. And on the remain side, no one came close to explaining the value of being part of Europe for the UK or the backwardness and damage of rejecting all the rights and advantages that being in Europe has given us, not to mention the high price of returning to political isolation — in a way that people from all walks of life could understand and relate to.
The terms of the peace deal between the Colombian government and FARC were extraordinary, based on a years-long negotiation that drew on experience from Northern Ireland, South Africa and many other efforts at conflict resolution. The fairness and inclusiveness of its terms make it the most amazing peace-making document of this century, worthy of Nelson Mandela. And yet a referendum voted it down.
Of course, this century, this year even, have seen many other disasters – and often I fear we are becoming immune.
But let’s get back to the seeming shock of being trumped. The United States is experiencing a new kind of civil war. From the perspective of working for abortion rights, for example, it’s as plain as the nose on your face. There’s an ideological war going on, it’s been in full swing for years. The ideology of hate took over Republican Party politics years ago. Remember the Tea Party? Watching the right-wing in Congress trying to stop the federal government from supporting the poor by paying for health care and contraception– as if it was some sort of nefarious plot – beggared belief. Yet people sit in front of their televisions watching these things happening on a daily basis.
The appalling abuse of legislative time – passing unconstitutional laws at state level and then wasting judicial time having to challenge them. The blatant racism and misogyny. The steady stream of killings of young black men. The police allowed to get away with it. The jails overflowing. Carrying guns as common as carrying a sandwich, the daily murders, it’s a country long out of control. A traditionally adversarial political process that began to smoulder years ago and has now reached burning point.
Someone needs to call for a peace process, an impossible thought, but still. A return of civic education to schools. The rebuilding of an independent media whose remit is to inform, not stir up – to tell the truth, not sell inflammatory lies, stop pushing mindless entertainment and utter bullshit down people’s throats. A different kind of people getting involved in politics. Getting people talking about what to do. Both political parties need to be re-occupied by people who want to take care of the country and of all of the people, people who are willing to agree to disagree and reach consensus so as to make things better, instead of spending all their time destroying and stopping anything good from ever happening.
My adopted country also needs to look in the mirror. We are currently hurtling down the same road the USA has long been travelling. Adversarial politics not only between but within our parties. Backbiting. Unchallenged lies to the public. A failure of political accountability. A government that has turned its back on both inexcusable levels of poverty nationally and the consequences of the international crises we have caused and contributed to elsewhere. Growing right-wing penetration into public life, encouraged by the media – not just the right-wing media but also by the likes of David Dimbleby on mainstream TV. A right-wing Tory party that panders to moneyed power and demeans everyone who is vulnerable, and a relentless gutter press, who only the other day, openly and without shame, spat on the rule of law. This is the beginnings of fascism.
When the Klu Klux Klan can announce it will hold a public celebration of Trump’s victory, something they have not dared to do in my lifetime, no one can ignore how bad things are. He’s been elected, the Tory politicians are saying on the talk shows, it’s the USA, we have to work with him. They said that about Hitler too, in their day, and they are also saying it about Assad and every other corrupt dictator from whom they think they can squeeze some economic or geopolitical advantage.
Failures of democratic process are going on all around us, and we need to engage in finding a way to expose them for what they are and address them. My friends in the USA cannot just go out canvassing two weeks before an election and expect to be heard, let alone influence the country’s direction and its collective thinking. An ongoing, inclusive political process and leadership are sorely needed, and all of us are responsible.