Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The trump, trump, trump of repressive boots

Nothing excuses the German election of a ranting, bigoted demagogue in the 1930s. But at least one can understand the trauma of a nation that had been beaten in a ruinous war, only to stumble into an unprecedented financial crisis in which the cost of living rose fifteen-fold in just six months of 1922; barely had they stabilised their currency than they were hit by the great depression and watched unemployment climb to 30%. One can understand the despair and therefore the blind groping that drove a large enough minority (the Nazis never won a majority) to choose an inexcusable, and false, solution to their problems.

But what explains the Americans? One of the wealthiest nations on Earth, the United States has 4.9% unemployment and inflation inching towards 1.6%. So why choose another hate-filled merchant of fear? The worst problem economically in the US is that wealth is so badly distributed, so that a small percentage of enormously rich individuals can hire or fire at will, forcing others to live precariously and on inadequate incomes – but the Americans have just chosen one of those individuals to occupy the White House.

Indeed, he has promised to do away with the one significant achievement of Obama’s White House, the one measure designed to alleviate the inequity of wealth, the Affordable Care Act (‘Obamacare’).

They have chosen a man who has promised the impossible: to bring industries back to the rust belt, to build a wall against illegal immigration, to prevent terrorists gaining entry to the US. He can only disappoint but he’ll wreak terrible suffering along the way: arrests, deportations, denial of basic rights.

Along that road, women will lose essential rights over their own bodies, and the major social progress of the last half century, towards toleration of minorities, most notably of LGBT communities, will be at least partially rolled back. And yet many women voted for Trump in preference to Clinton, though they know he holds them in contempt. Indeed, the only white demographic in which she won a majority was among educated white women – and even then, she only took 51%.

One of the more telling images of this most divisive election
The key word in that last paragraph is “white”. Something ugly has happened in the US. I can’t help feeling that what’s going on is the re-emergence of a white supremacist temptation that many feel, and most had learned to suppress in recent decades. Obama had seized the White House and, though he pulled off the feat of re-election in 2012, I suspect there is a widespread feeling among many whites that his success showed blacks getting altogether too uppity. With a candidate who openly expressed these feelings and therefore seemed to legitimise them, far too many were prepared to turn to him.

They did so despite the clear warnings he’d given of the damage he would do with the power they were handing him.

Trump’s is the victory of fear and hatred over reason and tolerance. Sadly, that’s by no means a purely US phenomenon. It emerged strongly in Britain too, in June, when the country voted to leave the European Union. At the time, there was much talk of the need to protect sovereignty and put an end to the erosion of supposed British rights. The reality was clear before and has been confirmed since, that the true concern was with keeping minorities at arms’ length.

Even Theresa May has been openly proclaiming that what the electorate voted for was tighter control of immigration. In other words, just like the white American voters fearful of people who look different from them, or have sex differently, or worship differently, Britain voted to throw up the walls and keep the foreigners out. I know a number of long-term foreign residents in Britain, and there have been media reports of many others, who were asked within hours of the referendum vote when they’d be leaving.

Xenophobes and white supremacists felt legitimised in Britain by the Brexit vote, as they did by the Trump campaign in the States.

On both sides of the Atlantic, a small majority of closed-minded individuals, driven by basic – and base – feelings of hatred and fear have taken control of the destinies of us all. There are grim times ahead. There will undoubtedly be regression, on many fronts. Hard though it is, we have to keep up our spirits and continue pressing as effectively as we can for a return to progressive, tolerant, open-minded attitudes. We have to maintain our hope that in time those better values will prevail.

With, I’m afraid, absolutely no guarantee that they will. Though if we don’t keep up the pressure, we can guarantee they won’t.


Anonymous said...

Open minded attitudes you say, and your own is? However to all who hear it, it reads as hugely predudice if it's not seen from your view point. The interesting question is why has this majority change in public attitude happened. If you are able to acknowledge this you may be on the way to understanding it and starting to be in a position to influence it, until then you may as well bang your head against a brick wall. To be honest the chances are the change in public attitude and confidence will probably spread especially through the better off European nations, Germany, France, Netherlands, Italy and others. When politicians listen to the people who voted them in and understand the genuine concerns of ordinary working people as opposed to the liberal leftist views of a middle class elitist we may start to progress. The view of a majority is a defining view, it may be right it may be wrong but if you refuse it you have just stated you have no respect for any form of democracy.

David Beeson said...

Democracy does not require me to accept the view of the majority – only the right of the majority to govern. Indeed, democracy requires the majority to accept my right to oppose it. In every democratic country there is therefore a legal, tolerated loyal opposition, even supported by public funds (as in Britain).

I think the wave will continue to surge across a number of countries, but I think a few will stand fast for decent, tolerant, generous attitudes. Germany may be one of them; Spain I feel may be another.

Listening to the concerns of people is naturally crucial. It seems superfluous to say that. But you seem to be suggesting that listening to their concerns is tantamount to accepting their views. We do listen to, say, the concerns of Northern England; we should do more to address them; but we have no obligation whatever to accept the view of those in Northern England who claim that the problem is caused by immigration. It isn't and trying to tackle the problem that way is (a) a diversion from the real issue which is the destruction of the industrial base, and (b) a corrosive attack on the values of community which the region most needs to foster.

Again, as a democrat I'm not obliged to accept another man's view, only to support his right to hold it himself. And in trying to help him, I don't need to adopt his suggested approach. The drug addict begs for his drug, but I don't have to go along with him if I want to help him, do I?

If a view is mistaken, nothing in democracy requires me to adopt it.

In any case, it wasn't a majority that supported Trump. For the second time in five elections, a Republican has been elected president on a minority of the popular vote.

Anonymous said...

In your opinion. Many might say their right to think, say or do certain things has been denied increasingly over recent years. We live more and more in a world where a supposedly named political correctness tells people, you can't say that, you can't do that and you can't even think that. It's those individuals who now feel empowered to actually have the courage to say what they think and feel and there are a lot of them. We need a far more inclusive style of government that accepts and manages these alternative view points, if we don't I feel very strong and feuding positions will be increasingly adopted.

David Beeson said...

They have every right to think what they like. As I have every right to differ from them and say so.

You use the word 'courage'. It takes courage to say certain things that are out of tune with popular thinking, such as "your economic difficulties are not caused by immigration". But it's not courageous to say, or even think, something like "our values are being undermined by the fact that blacks are being favoured over us". That statement, which isn't true but is believed by many, shows no courage. It shows only the common desire to scapegoat, to express fear and hatred instead of reason and inclusiveness, and fully deserves its label – bigotry.

You realise, don't you, that freedom of speech is not and should not be an unlimited right? It's an old object example, but a good one: freedom of speech does not grant the right to shout 'fire' in a crowded theatre, if there is no fire. Equally, society is entirely justified is barring certain forms of the use of speech: libel, slander, conspiracy and, above all, incitement.

Trump has said many things that at least come close to the textbook definition of incitement, or even stop over the line right into it. The fact that many agree with him tells me a great deal about him, and them, but in no way puts me under an obligation to concur.