Thursday, 17 November 2016

A Special Opportunity and Responsibility

Bryan Gould writes:

Americans are a funny lot. For them, it seems, celebrity trumps all. 

They have elected as President someone whose personal qualities and attitudes would disqualify him, in most democracies, from membership of a school board. 

But that is too simple a message. 

The Trump victory conveys a wider and deeper message – because Donald Trump got at least one thing right. 

When we peel back all the posturing and blustering, designed to shock and claim attention, Trump’s basic message was addressed to those who felt that they had been left behind and ignored by the political establishment.

He pitched himself quite specifically as the anti-establishment candidate.

He attacked in terms – ironically enough, given his own circumstances – the fat cats, big business, and their friends in Washington.

He claimed that he would represent all those who did not have university degrees and high-paid jobs, shares and bonuses, and who did not own their own nice homes.

He said that the globalised economy had looked after the people with those advantages, but had neglected those who were struggling to make ends meet, small businessmen and farmers, those whose jobs had been lost or were under threat, who were poorly paid and housed and paying high rents.

He would address their grievances, he said, by challenging the principles on which the global economy operated, and by ensuring that the interests of working people were placed centre stage.

These sentiments might sound odd to us, coming from the mouth of someone who revelled in his status as a multi-billionaire – and even odder from someone who boasted about not paying tax and who proposed massive tax cuts for the super-wealthy.

But they struck a chord for those lives were microcosms of what the statistics tell us about how the goodies produced by the global economy have been shared out.

That part of his message might have been more naturally expected to come from someone on the left of politics.

But Trump fleshed out his message by playing on the fears and resentments of those who found it easy to identify scapegoats to blame for their woes.

He thereby diverted attention from the real causes and was able to exploit that anger by peddling disreputable views on race, gender and sexuality – views that are anathema to most of us and to those on the left in particular.

There are those who have been quick – particularly in Britain – to draw parallels between the Brexit vote and Trump’s triumph.

Those parallels are certainly there – and Trump was keen to identify them in advance – but it is adding insult to injury for those in the media and elsewhere who have refused to listen to the growing dissatisfactions of working people about the way their economy and society are developing to claim now that Brexit and Trump voters have been motivated by racism and other hatreds born of ignorance.

The pro-EU press in Britain, for example, continue to insist that there was no rational basis for the Brexit vote and are able to maintain this stance only because of their own refusal to acknowledge that most Brexit voters were motivated, not by racism, but by perfectly legitimate concerns about the loss of self-government, about a trade deficit that has decimated much of British manufacturing industry, and about a tidal wave of cheap labour from Eastern Europe which has destroyed jobs and wage levels and put great pressure on housing and health services.

It is a similar lofty dismissal of understandable concerns, and uncritical assurance that the current operations of the global economy can be relied on to deliver the best of all possible worlds, that have left the way open for a Donald Trump to manipulate and misdirect – to posture as the saviour of working people while promoting policies that serve the interests of the super-rich, and to use a message of hatred, disrespect and division as his ticket to the White House.

The Trump election is an alarm signal for western democracies across the globe.

If we will not listen, those who are ignored will be equally deaf to claims that democracy is the best guarantor of their interests. 

There is a special opportunity and responsibility for parties of the left.

They are the political voices, after all, that claim to have an analysis and a prescription to remedy our current ills. 

If they do not have the courage of their convictions, to tell it like it is, to identify the real reasons for the malfunctioning of, and divisions in, our society, and to propose an effective programme of reform, then many voters will feel disenfranchised and will turn to other options.

We would then have to expect a growing dissatisfaction with the democratic system, and a growing number of Trumps taking office.

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