For the second time in 2016 I find myself shocked, confused and heartbroken.
I don’t think many people foresaw politics affecting them so greatly in their personal lives before this year, and it’s hard to explain the acute, agonizing pain that accompanies each new revelation. Both Brexit, Britian’s decision to leave the EU and Donald Trump’s election as the next President of the United States have become about far more than simply politics. The divisive nature of these campaigns have torn apart countries, communities and families; they have both caused tensions between the older and younger generations, men and women, and people of different races and religions.
In the past Democrats and Republicans, Labor and Conservative party members, in America and the UK have been able to respectfully oppose each other’s views, debate in polite and mutually beneficial ways, and even celebrate one another’s differences. The lines between parties this year have blurred however, and instead it is morality and tolerance which have been called into play. Both the leave campaign in the UK and Trump’s electoral campaign have been marred with accusations of racism, and the persecution of minorities; all in the name of preserving and protecting a country’s security, heritage and patriotism.
This has created many difficulties, with numerous people not wishing to draw attention to their political views or claim to be supporting the aforesaid campaigns, out of fear of being branded racist, uneducated or ignorant. This is not the kind of environment which allows democracy to shine in its best light. There are many instances where people supporting these campaigns have highly intelligent and rational explanations for their reasons to do so; stating the economy, border control and jobs – issues that affect us all. Perhaps, if the campaigns were led differently, and crucially led by different people, then the undertones of bigotry and discrimination would be less present.
On the other side of this argument however, many people believe that it is exactly this rhetoric and promises of ‘strong borders’, which so often tip in to the fear of the unknown, that have fueled these campaigns, and ultimately ensured their success. Politicians have identified a nervousness and a reluctance amidst their constituents when it comes to the ongoing refugee crisis’s, mass immigration and the widespread growth of Islam. Whereas our political candidates have a duty and an obligation to lead the way, in terms of showing our countries to be upholding their global responsibilities, and reassuring the people over their inevitable doubts and concerns; some have seized these moments of uncertainty, and used them shamelessly to their own advantage.
It is clearly easier for opponents to both of these campaigns to accept people’s explanations when they are reasonable and based in fact – although we may still question how they are able to stomach the side of racism, and in the case of the US election, misogyny. This harks back to the old political days, where two sides simply disagree, and in the spirit of democracy we all try to put our differences to one side, and move forwards. Where it becomes harder however is when supporters of these causes have little political knowledge, do not read up on policy, and simply state the need for change, and a dissatisfaction with the current political system as the reasons for their vote.
I GET IT.
The political systems of the UK and the US are broken, and are clearly not serving the people. I understand your frustrations and your worries about being left behind. We can all see the gap widening between the rich and the poor, and the injustice felt by many is real, is legitimate, and I would never dream of taking it away from you. Take that anger and pour it into grassroots politics, find independent parties which inspire you, and reignite your faith in politicians, share your opinions online, attend rallies, write to local MP’s and senators, demand better answers, and ask better questions. Sadly, many voters won’t have done this; they will have thrown their protest vote out into the abyss because it made them feel powerful and understood for that short moment, and not stopped to take into account the long term consequences.
In the UK we have already seen a surge of leave voters come forward to say that they regret their decision, and my wholehearted hope for America is that this very short history does not repeat itself on our side of the Atlantic. It is a common misconception that liberals in both cases, wish more than anything to be proved right, and perhaps online and in debates, we have not done enough to disprove this view; however I can share with you now, that we do not want to be right. Our own hubris and pride does not come above the love and pride that we have for our countries, and whilst we may maintain an understandable level of skepticism, what we are actually praying for is to be proved wrong.
What I have witnessed firsthand in both the UK and the US are large groups of very angry and resentful people who are desperate to readjust the status quo at any cost. We all have to stop and take some responsibility in recognizing what has created this backdrop, which allows politicians to force their own xenophobic, and backwards agendas through, in the name of democracy. Liberals understand the need to fight against the elite; reflect upon history and you will see it is what we are known for. What many of us are so disappointed by, is that yet again people have let their hatred for the elite system, outweigh their love for their neighbors. Yes, you have made a stand, but please consider what you have sacrificed for it.
In the case of the US election it has become clear to me that those who voted with passion and enthusiasm for change, are mainly those who can afford to. As a middle aged, middle class white man, you may feel frustrated with a stagnant economy, and rationalize to yourself that you can ‘take a punt’ on an outsider to help fix it. There aren’t too many repercussions for yourself if your gamble doesn’t pay off. However for immigrants, people of color, Muslims, and even women, they do not feel as if they are in a position to gamble on change. Change brings instability – look through the history books to see that instability does not bode well for these groups of individuals.
One other similarity between both campaigns has to be the geographical divides caused, across two world super powers, which ironically both contain the word united in their titles. The demographics represented here are eerily similar, despite the US being a much larger country. Rural voters are far more likely to have voted to leave the EU, and to vote for Trump, whilst cities and more developed areas will have done the opposite. Clearly there is an issue here, an issue which goes beyond the age old rich/poor divide. In a fast paced and ever expanding world, where major cities are at the forefront of technological advances, business growth, and political agendas, people living far away from these modern hubs feel disconnected and underrepresented. This argument is perhaps especially poignant for America, where vast expanses of nearly empty land separate all major cities. A news reporter today commented that, ‘When people cannot see the cogs of Washington turning, they make the assumption that they are broken.’ The recent election has shown a desperate need for greater transparency and connection between politics, and the people that it serves.
This connection also extends to the media, who made catastrophic misjudgments, in both cases championing the losing cause, perhaps to the detriment of fair, unbiased coverage. You cannot fight the opponent you do not recognize, and you do not know. Well known Republicans have made comments that their Democratic counterparts in journalism, television and politics itself, professed not to know or converse with any Trump supporters; and many went further, drawing parallels between this and their lack of connections with anyone outside of Manhattan, or earning less than $100,000 a year. Is it any wonder when hearing these anecdotes, that many felt as if they had no one left to turn to?
I could write far more about the recent political events of 2016, but I feel as if I have already said a lot, and you can add your own thoughts and opinions to mine. Many will be surprised I haven’t written from a feminist perspective, given that the final glass ceiling is still yet to be shattered. I thought about it, and perhaps in the future I will – it will certainly be an uphill battle for women and their reproductive rights, with a majority Republican house and senate. Today though, the focus is upon human rights, not women’s rights. I still remember trying to explain the outcome of Brexit to my class of 30 six and seven year olds, and reassuring Muslim children on the playground that they will not be deported, and I hear similar heartbreaking conversations between families across America today. I don’t know how we can explain to little girls, and little boys for that matter, that a man can speak about women, and people of colour, and disabled people in the ways that Trump has, and yet the majority of our country still felt the need to elect him to the world’s highest office. Politics ought to reflect life, and in any other job, this man would be reprimanded and dismissed for workplace bullying and harassment.
As I write this an insufferable smugness has fallen on some millennials after maps were released showing many more blue states, if only the millennial vote had been counted. A clear win for Clinton and the Democrats. Whilst this fills me with some sense of relief and reassurance that at least my generation is on the same page as I am with regards to politics, none of this matters if enough of us don’t go out and use our votes. In a similar light to Brexit, when the morning after people protested that they hadn’t expected the race to be so close, therefore somehow negating their need to vote, this is almost more painful. I hope after these two unprecedented events my generation take a long hard look at themselves, and realise that sitting these decisions out, is no longer an option.
This year has taught me that I cannot take anything for granted, and I have certainly been guilty of doing this in the past. In the UK I was surrounded by the views of college educated millennials and nothing in my every day conversations, or online presence gave me any hint as to the outcome of Brexit. Similarly after moving to America, we settled in California, a deeply blue Democratic state. Watching videos of Trump rallies and protests online I felt disturbed, and a little worried, but it seemed so detached from my first experience of the US here in the sunshine state, that I cast them aside as a minority, in far away states I would never visit or come into contact with. I was wrong. So here is my promise to myself, I won’t give myself the cushy privilege of ignoring the world around me anymore. Whilst I may not agree with the action people choose to take, I will remember that I have never been in their shoes, and I have never sunk to that level of disillusionment. I will no longer assume that I am the majority, and I will help those angrier and more bitter than myself, to see that there are other options than the path towards hate and division.
In these small ways hopefully something good can come out of 2016.