It’s 9th November 2016 and Donald Trump, a man synonymous with multiple bankruptcies, unapologetic bigotry, extreme physical and moral repulsiveness and a staunch belief in his own brilliance has just won the 2016 presidential election.
His inability to express himself in concise, articulate sentences led many observers during the course of his campaign of hate to dismiss Trump as a laughable buffoon, whose popularity was confined to a staunch gaggle of xenophobes, gun nuts and idiots. But I never once questioned his electability. Having sampled first-hand the nationalistic hysteria surrounding Brexit, which to my mind has become, for many voters, less of a campaign against EU bureaucracy, and more a demonstration of determined British arrogance, I knew that the political climate was changing in quite a radical way. In Britain and America people have, ostensibly, been seduced by the notion that unscrupulous opportunists, notably Trump and Nigel Farage, are concerned with the plights of working people; that despite their disdain for worker’s rights, free health care and trade unions they somehow value working people and aim to bring about positive change.
I fear that the real agents of despondency and frustration will be ignored and perhaps even elevated under Trump’s leadership, and I suspect the same will happen here in what the newspapers are already calling post-Brexit Britain. On the whole, I am hesitant to blame voters for Trump’s uprising; to do so, ignores that there have been other factors at play here. Yet, at the same time, those who have supported Trump have clearly demonstrated that they either agree with him or are able to overlook his lies, his “grab her by the pussy” comment and his disdain for the people he regards, quite bizarrely, as enemies—immigrants, refugees, all other nations (aside from Russia, maybe?), ethnic minorities, women, etc.
Whether Trump’s ramblings were in fact promises or just words to appease his outraged supporters remains to be seen, of course. Either way, we can be sure that Trump’s election win, and the whole Brexit ordeal, will usher in a sort of nonconformist conservatism: the bogus belief that egalitarianism has gone too far, and that somehow, by looking to the past, we can create a better future, though for whom exactly?
Nostalgia is a powerful tool. It suggests that the past is rosier than the present even when the opposite it is true. When Trump says, “Make America Great Again”, he never gives an example of when America was great, because to do so would highlight the absurdity of his mantra. You could pick any decade or period in American history and claim that things were better then, but the reality is the American people have more job security, are better paid and have wider access to health care than ever before. Why, I wonder, would anybody wish to return to, say, the 1950s, a time of backstreet abortions, discrimination, underemployment, destitution and poverty?
One explanation for Trump’s popularity that I’ve heard a few times already is that liberals, and specifically politically correct liberals, are to blame for his popularity; that by calling people racist or misogynistic or bigoted has brought about a movement that feels shackled by political correctness. Personally, I’m skeptical of such an argument, since I think it’s important not to appease people with hateful views, or to allow such views to become the status quo, which will happen if we don’t challenge bigotry head on. However, I can certainly see how far-left social activism, particularly a culture of dismissing rather than challenging people on their untenable views, might have contributed to a feeling of helplessness among some on the right.
It is true, moreover, that Hillary Clinton was not a strong candidate by any means. For many people she represented an stagnant and corrupt branch of politics, a form of passive neoliberalism influenced by the political trends of the last thirty years. Her plan for America did not include radical change, and that it seems to me is want Americans want desperately. Trump knew this, and he promised change (some would say regressive change) by the barrel load, never once concerning himself with the effects that such change would bring about. In fact, his desire to change American politics was just about the only consistent thing about his message, even if the message itself lacked substance and consistence.
The internet, too, has played an enormous factor in all this. Its distorting effects have, in my view, given a voice to particularly extreme individuals on both sides of the political spectrum. As a result many people have come to see those with different political views to themselves as outrageous caricatures, and many politicians have sought to gain popularity by widening these divisions even further. Trump and Farage in particular have built political careers on exploiting a divided public. Their tactics wouldn’t have been effective before 2008, but economic under performance and a fear of immigration have caused many otherwise rational human beings to become embittered. Their political agenda has become entirely concerned with detesting and shaming “the other side”, rather than finding a viable solution to these problems. Politics has, in effect, become a sort of low budget pantomime in which little matters besides bitter disputes and poorly executed hatchet jobs.
I’m now eager to know what will happen next. If, as I suspect, he’s as predictable as he is unscrupulous, then Trump will no doubt increase the rich/poor divide, create unprecedented racial tension and likely start some unnecessary trade war with all of the nations he holds in such low regard. I also, if I’m honest, foresee him pulling a Gadaffi, or a Samuel Doe, and living in a hole somewhere in, say, South America, having alienated his last few remaining allies and supporters. Maintaining social and political stability is, I imagine, not on his agenda, and it seems unlikely that such an narcissistic flip-flopper, whose opinions appear to change depending on what he’s had for breakfast that morning, can maintain any sort of order, however many aides are on hand to reign him in.