These unsettling times. Nigel Farage is back on the radio, and the TV, and in the papers, telling us that “too many members of this government said too many nasty things about the President-elect” and “a lot of members of Trump’s inner circle are pretty unhappy”. Boris Johnson has joined in, and while in May he was “genuinely worried that he (Trump) could become president“, he is now ordering us to end our “collective whinge-o-rama“. Marine Le Pen, who even UKIP condemn, was invited onto the Andrew Marr show to explain the future she sees forming.
Forces aligned against everything we once stood for assemble before us. From all quarters those on the left are being urged to take 2016 as a sign that they are excessively progressive, have alienated the majority, and must discard their values.
Satirical online magazine The Daily Mash summed up my concerns with these reactions to the election as they wrote on Sunday ‘People who disagree with Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are responsible for their success rather than the gullible idiots who vote for them.’ The same article went on to conclude, facetiously, that ‘Trump’s victory and Brexit could have been avoided if everyone stopped having reasonable views and agreed with mad, barely coherent grievances.’
A friend on my Facebook feed wrote that “we have created the impression that we care more about the rights of transgender individuals to use the appropriate toilet than we do about poverty”. Did you hear that transgender people? Trump is your fault. If you’d just go back to being utterly marginalised, verbally and physically abused with regularity, lie down and accept that 41% of you have attempted suicide, then we could worry about real issues like all the white men who don’t have jobs handed to them on a platter anymore because they have to compete with African Americans, Latinos, women, and machines. You just need to shut up about things that are existentially important to you like not being abused every time you go to a public toilet, and being recognised as full human beings, and the world will reach its equilibrium again.
Women faced this kind of ‘priority dismissal’ for decades as they campaigned for the vote through colonial war, world war and economic crisis. As did the Irish, fighting for independence through similar circumstances. As did Black civil rights protesters when Americans were supposed to be united against Soviet Russia. Now is never the right time for the privileged to give up any of their advantage. Is that how we look back upon these histories, as mistakes? Of course not.
As I wrote about on election day last Tuesday, during my lifetime the United States has always been a politically very polarised country. This year the two most unpopular candidates ever, coupled with the all-encompassing echo-chamber we now live in, divided voters like never before. Certainly the majority of Trump voters and Clinton voters held diametrically opposing views on almost every political topic. However, in the end the American right have won the election. Is it now for the left to abandon their positions and compromise?
Such calls are based on false equivalence – the erroneous belief that because every issue has two sides, both sides must be equal in veracity, utility and justice. On a number of policies the standpoint of the left and the Democratic Party is backed up by far more evidence and a stronger moral basis. Nor is the divergence equal. The Republican party has become much more conservative than the Democrats have liberal.
As Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan said earlier this year, “it just shows you that we have shifted the center far to the right, in a good way”.
In summer 2015, between 43 and 54% of Republican voters believed that Obama is a Muslim. How do you bridge that gap? How exactly are Democrats supposed to compromise with such views? They can’t.
Interviewed by Gallup this January, 29% of respondents felt that abortion laws in the United States should be made stricter. Laws that include, in 17 states, mandatory counselling designed to make women feel guilty and afraid to have the procedure and in 37 states, mandatory parental consent or notice. 32 states specifically prohibit the use of state funding to pay for abortions. In 2011, 89% of U.S counties had no abortion clinic. Considering that a woman’s reproductive right was constitutionally upheld by Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, just how much stricter can it get?
Such strong views about abortion were regularly expressed by ‘reluctant Trump voters’ in interviews in the lead up to the election. One quarter of all voters in the election self-identified as white evangelical Christians, of which 81% voted for Donald Trump. To put into context, 79% voted for Romney and Bush, and 73% for McCain. These are people for whom their belief that the (potential) ‘life’ of a 1 day old foetus is worth more than the actual life of a grown woman, and their great hatred of homosexuals exceeds any and all of Trump’s manifold Christian sins. Again I ask, why should Democrats compromise with such viewpoints? Are we to believe that acquiescing, relegating women to backstreet abortions or trapping them in homes with abusive partners, denying them a full life of individual opportunity is going to make America more successful and prosperous for all?
Asked to rank 23 policy issues, Republicans put climate change between ranks 21-23 (the least important). I could understand scepticism towards anthropogenic global warming in the early 2000s, but come 2016 the evidence is completely overwhelming. For the left to compromise with such beliefs and agree to scale down plans to limit carbon emissions would be to accept the destruction of the entire planetary ecosystem as we know it.
They must not.
White Privilege is a Problem
America is such an individualistic country, from its history of the frontier and the mindset of one man battling to civilise a hostile land, to modern scepticism about redistributive justice and the widespread libertarian economic outlook. America is also such a white country. A country created by white men for white men to develop their wealth and freedom. Into this, politicians stopped explaining policies in terms of their benefits to white heterosexual males.
The idea that white freedom might have to be lost is inexplicable, because American history is witness to its glorious, limitless expansion. During my lifetime, white men have had a discovery thrust upon them, it is the discovery that their freedom and opportunity isn’t always beneficial to everyone else. They have been told that just because they didn’t realise a minority were offended, abused and oppressed, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. Everyone else stopped asking them for permission for a slice of the pie and just took it. Government, ‘infiltrated’ by women and minorities began to actively help those who were once only helped when white men felt so inclined. Many have exhibited the most instinctive response to this, to news you don’t want to hear – denial. It’s a conspiracy, we’re the oppressed now, we’re being deliberately singled out, it’s our land and our right to be the permission givers.
Immigration stopped being talked about as beneficial toward the existing economy of white, natural born, heterosexual males. Instead high-minded ideas were put forward about how it is just right, a human right, for all to make a life anywhere on our collective planet.
This is particularly true of Hilary Clinton, who said in 2015 that “the fight to insure that America’s immigrants are treated with dignity… [is] bound up with all the other fights to advance human dignity and human rights”. Obama, by contrast, a year earlier spoke a voice white men could understand, saying ” I know some worry immigration will change the very fabric of who we are, or take our jobs. . . . I hear these concerns. . . . And I believe it’s important that all of us have this debate without impugning each other’s character”. I got these quotes from the New Yorker long read “In the Heart of Trump Country“, which I strongly recommend if you want to learn more about political attitudes in rural America.
Initiatives such as affirmative action, so despised by so many white heterosexuals, weren’t explained in terms of the historical white power and privilege they uphold. Because they don’t, so they can’t be. Because they’re about slowly slowly, step by step beginning to redress the obscene power and opportunity differential between white heterosexual males in Western democracies and everyone else in those countries and around the world.
When white police officers, unprovoked, use grossly disproportionate force in subduing or arresting a suspect, resulting in their death, the president cannot and should not support that. It is not a “war on cops” to articulate the racial disparity in the criminal justice system. This year is not characterised by “attacks on our police [that] threaten our very way of life”, as Trump described it. Rather video recording and worldwide transmission technology have finally developed to the point where racial bias and inadequate training in parts of the police force are exposed in all their inhumanity.
By what twisted morality can the entry of China into the WTO, a move that lifted more than double the entire American population out of grinding, systemic poverty, be condemned because living standards stagnated among a few hundred industrial towns in the Midwest? Industrial towns that machine automation was already on the cusp of making obsolete anyway.
The proposed solution, then, is to roll back these policies that white heterosexual males find so intimidating and unsettling. First ensure their standard of living and overall utility is increased, restore their voice that once commanded, and then they will mete out permission to the ‘others’. One abortion clinic per county, a few hundred Syrian refugees a year, research into the economic benefit versus environmental downsides of coal.
The left must not accept this prognosis.
One common complaint of voters who had elected Obama for two terms, but were now going to support Trump, was that they liked Obama and his policies – he still holds a 57% approval rating today – but were disappointed in how much he hadn’t achieved and how little their lives had changed. Obama the compromiser. He didn’t fight enough, so in 2016 they voted for a fighter.
Healthcare reform had to be so watered down just to get all the Democratic senators reliably onside and prevent a filibuster by Republicans (because none of them were prepared to ever vote for any kind of reform anyway). As Democrat Howard Dean said “No one will think this is health care reform. This is not even insurance reform.”
Even worse, he couldn’t even get the same filibuster-proof majority of 59 Democratic Senators to pass the Employee Free Choice Act that would have significantly strengthened employee rights across the whole country. This alienated the white working class in once heavily unionised and Democrat-voting, now economically depressed and staunchly Republican areas in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana.
If the next four years go swimmingly for the Trump presidency, this will simply prove the stubborn, partisan, Republican congressional leaders right. They can stop government. They can stand in the way of the entire presidential mandate for 8 years and wait, as long as it takes, until a Republican president is elected or the left give in and acquiesce.
The Democrats have to fight. Senators have to filibuster. They have to walk away from meetings and organise protests. Their local legislatures have to bring constitutional challenges to every bogus law Trump passes. Not only for their own moral integrity, but for the majority of Americans. For all the oppressed individuals and groups who they alone have the mandate and power to represent and defend.
In 2020 they have to put forward a candidate who hasn’t been nominee-in-waiting for the past 10 years and who doesn’t have a negligence in public office scandal perpetually derailing her campaign (and no, not Bernie Sanders). Above all, as the turnout figures now show us, they have to get out and vote. Well informed, liberal, progressive Democrats are the majority of the American population.
As Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon stood up in the Scottish Parliament on Thursday and said, “I never want to be, I am not prepared to be, a politician that maintains a diplomatic silence in the face of attitudes of racism, sexism, misogyny or intolerance of any kind.”