So…the last two weeks have given us all time to reflect on the result of one of the most interesting presidential elections in living memory. While many media
commentators claimed Donald Trump’s victory was a massive shock, swathes of US citizens were not at all surprised by the outcome. Much like the result of the British EU referendum, politicians and the mainstream media have proved themselves out of touch with ordinary folk.
Feeling groggy post night shift on 9th November 2016, I turned on the news and quickly came to the realisation that Trump had been elected as the 45th President of the USA – highlighting the extent of people’s dissatisfaction with “politics as usual”. For many people, perhaps, a protest vote against the status quo, the political elite and stagnating wages. For so many years, the working classes have felt marginalised and forgotten in western society. Governments have prioritised business and banking over people. Seasoned politicians like Hillary Clinton and organisations such as the European Union are seen to represent the establishment – the people were given the opportunity to express their frustrations on the ballot paper and they sent a clear message to those in the corridors of power.
These recent events have shown just how much fear can motivate people – as Confucius taught, “it is easy to hate and difficult to love”. The divisiveness of Trumps message and many of the arguments surrounding Brexit have legitimised these feelings of hatred towards “the other”. This is best demonstrated in the significant increase in reporting of hate crimes in U.K. post Brexit.
The irony of Trump’s anti-establishment stance is not lost on me – this white, privileged, wealthy, heterosexual male who is as much part of the establishment as a person can be. The fact that the American people have voted to elect this faux-anti establishment candidate who has openly admitted to sexual assault, avoids paying tax, is openly homophobic, xenophobic, islamophobic and a complete misogynist shows the extent to which they desperately want change. Trump could do no wrong in the eyes of US voters, with many voting despite his hateful speech. What worries me the most is that Trump felt it was ok to say abhorrent things about certain groups without fear of recrimination.
In times of economic uncertainty, people in society look for a scapegoat, a group of people who can be blamed for all the problems. For years and years the right wing press and politicians have peddled the idea that it is immigration that has “forced down wages” and it is immigrants that have “taken our jobs”. To me, this is clearly the self serving rhetoric of those with power to turn people’s attention away from the real cause of the rising inequalities in society and consequently away from realistic solutions to the problems.
The left in the U.K. and USA has failed to present a convincing and viable alternative to the politics of hate. The liberals have failed to win the argument for immigration and multiculturalism – as a society we have not championed those who come here to work hard and pay taxes and who do the jobs that British people don’t want to do. Realistically, it is a hard sell really. How have the working classes benefitted from globalisation and mass immigration? Wages have stagnated for those on the lowest incomes due to an increased supply of cheaper non-skilled workers from overseas. Skilled jobs have moved abroad and areas relying heavily on these jobs have been decimated. Communities have changed beyond recognition with residents having to adapt to new cultures. There has been increasing competition for housing, school places and increased pressure on health services. I understand why people feel frustrated and fearful. All of this, however, is not the fault of the EU, nor is it the fault of immigration. The fault lays squarely at the mismanagement of “globalisation” by successive governments.
With the election of Trump and Brexit, I fear that there is a wave of similar dissatisfaction spreading throughout the rest of Europe. It will be interesting to see whether these anti-establishment feelings influence the outcome of the up-coming French presidential elections with Marine Le Pen, leader of socially conservative, nationalist party – Front National being tipped as favourite. 2017 will also see the elections to the Bundestag in Germany. It looks like Angela Merkel is set to win a 4th term, however, there is great resentment in Germany with her open boarder policy. Recent polls have shown the right wing populist Alternative fur Deutschland party polling at between 11%-14%. The party would need to triple its vote in order to have any serious power but this would follow the political trend of Brexit and the US election. The political discourse of the right seems to be gaining momentum throughout Europe, including for example in Austria, Hungary, Switzerland and Denmark (1)
The horrors of the World Wars were engraved in the psyche of our forefathers and they ensured systems were created to help prevent future conflicts. Our ever increasing interdependence within Europe through shared values, democracy, free movement of people, goods/services and capital has ensured the longest peacetime period in Europe’s history. Sadly however, in recent times we have allowed the fear-mongers to capitalise on people’s insecurities and it seems that we are on the precipice of a divided Europe. In contrast to the darkness out there in the world, Eurovision is a constant beacon of light. The joy of Eurovision is in its message of love, peace, acceptance and hope! It seems that in these uncertain times, we are in need of Eurovision more than ever!
(1) New York Times (2016) http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/05/22/world/europe/europe-right-wing-austria-hungary.html?_r=0