As I write, it looks certain that Donald Trump will be the next President of the United States.
While I talked a brave game openly on social media, those who know me privately will know that I returned from the United States last week expecting this outcome. While I always find much to admire there, I found a horrendously divided country in every sense; real grinding poverty (and not just in the cities), garbage in the streets, and no sense of a cohesive social model whatsoever. And lots of Trump yard signs, where they simply should not have been.
So for the second time this year we saw exit polls befuddled by the quiet, marginalised voter who suddenly found a voice.
What are we going to do about it? This is raw, but let me try a few thoughts right at the start.
First of all, it appears to me that both England and the United States need a proper community relations programme. Their people simply do not know each other. In each case, there is a broadly open and well educated elite which, in the perception of the rest of the country, is sneering and aloof. That perception is harsh, but also not entirely without justification – already Trump voters (and indeed an entire country) are unthinkingly being branded “idiots”. On the other hand, it is not unreasonable to suggest that those voters opting in both countries for “change” and to “throw out the political class” have done so without seriously contemplating the consequences. Rather than yelling at each other, they actually need to get to know each other.
Secondly, the Open/Liberal/Progressive side need fundamentally to revise their who way of doing things. They are losing everywhere, always. There are a number of reasons for this. They are disunited (they spend a lot of time niggling with each other over minor technicalities rather than uniting behind a common, compelling vision); they do not communicate (as noted above, they cannot communicate with the rest of society so themselves form closed groups); remarkably, they often ignore evidence (studies consistently show that “Liberals” are worse than “Conservatives” at making evidence fit their own pre-existing views).
Thirdly, we need to restore a bit of humanity. Society seems now to be all about technology, finance and mathematics. What about human beings? Everything is presented in a short-hand and/or purely rational manner, taking no account of emotions, feelings and so on. Neither “Liberals” (open progressives) nor “Conservatives” seem to care very much about each other in any meaningful way.
It is worth noting that the media can be complicit in this too. They too usually determine a narrative in advance which, when elections or referendums actually take place, turns out to be utterly wrong. Would it be too much to ask for the media to focus on reporting and analysing objectively, rather than creating pre-determined narratives which turn out to be meaningless?
Finally, tied to this, we need to recognise we are living through a mammoth technological and economic disruption. The invention and spread of the Internet, and everything that comes with it, came at the same time as the rise of cheap goods from the Far East and an entire financial system predicated on it (which broke down horribly in 2007, leaving many people rootless and hopeless). Pre-existing structures – financial and democratic – are not fit to deal with this, in the same way they weren’t at the time of the Industrial Revolution. We – again, both “Liberals” and “Conservatives” – need to come to terms with this and the fundamental social shifts it will mean. And then we need to work out how to manage them jointly, rather than just yelling at (actually, across) each other.
I may think differently in a few days, but I’ll finish by offering some advice I know will stand.
Hug your spouse/partner. Tell a friend you love them. Smile at strangers. Let’s start from those basics and see where they get us.