Well that was depress­ing

Published Categorised as Life in General No Comments on Well that was depress­ing

(Black Square paint­ing by Malevich)

So Donald Trump just about won the US elec­tion, continu­ing the exhaust­ing and depress­ing down­wards traject­ory of 2016, and the continu­al rise of the far right to power. Brexit and the elec­tion of Trump show how good the Right are at times of econom­ic hard­ship in convin­cing people their prob­lems are caused by foreign­ers and the Other, rather than that they’re living in a system designd to make the rich become rich­er, and keep a perman­ent pool of people desper­ate for work to drive down wages and condi­tions. Saying “oh it won’t make much differ­ence” after events like Brexit or Trump winning is some­thing you can only say if you and every­one you know and care about don’t fall under the categor­ies of people such as POC, Muslims, women, poor people or immig­rants whose lives are about to become so much more diffi­cult. People always think “oh that doesn’t mean my friend/​wife/​neighbour/​workmate, they’re talk­ing about those weird threat­en­ing strangers, not those nice people I know”. It does mean those nice people you know.

Every time there’s social progress, there’s always a back­lash. In the last couple of years, Black Lives Matter have managed to draw atten­tion and outrage to the abil­ity of police in the US to kill black people with impun­ity, gay couples have won the right to marry in many coun­tries, trans people have gained visib­il­ity and aware­ness (if you call going from about -20 out of 10 to -17/​10 much progress), and women have star­ted speak­ing up strongly about the constant pres­ence of rape (or poten­tial for rape) and sexu­al harass­ment in their lives, and many other small signs of social progress. There are plenty of people who are comfort­able with the status quo, who feel deeply threatened any time more margin­al­ised people gain respect and better treat­ment, as if they think there is only so much Being Treated Decently to go around and they’d better claw onto their share as hard as possible. Every time in history that harm­ful prac­tices such as the Atlantic Slave Trade or child fact­ory labour are abol­ished, there are always people who consider them­selves “good”, “normal” people piping up in defence of the harm­ful status quo, because they fear that change will lead to them becom­ing the oppressed ones if someone else gains their free­dom, rather than improve­ment for all.

The inter­net and social media have increased ordin­ary people’s abil­ity to high­light and and campaign against injustice without having to rely on being allowed access to the tradi­tion­al media by gate­keep­ers, but it also equally ampli­fies people’s abil­ity to be nasty and ferment hate. Big right wing polit­ic­al victor­ies like Brexit and Trump’s elec­tion embolden people to show their worst and most hate­ful sides because they feel it’s now socially accept­able.

You can’t even hope that the situ­ation in the US will be fixed by Trump retir­ing or dying, as Mike Pence, the VP, is a scary Bible-bash­er who views the Handmaid’s Tale as a template rather than a horri­fy­ing dysto­pia. (And will prob­ably be the one call­ing most of the shots even while Trump is in power). He is also backed up by the bulk of the GOP, who are equally retro­grade. Figure­heads like Trump or Farage can make things worse by stir­ring up atten­tion, but these things are system­at­ic.

The only thing people can do is refuse to stand for bigotry, espe­cially when they aren’t the target of it (it’s never the respons­ib­il­ity of the victim to stop it). Confront it when you see it, defend and help the victims of it, support organ­isa­tions that fight against it, and lobby against and push for the remov­al from power of the politi­cians who encour­age it. Don’t give in and resign­edly accept this as the New Normal. If you don’t do anything, the bigots will assume you agree with them, and the victims will think no-one cares.

In both the Brexit refer­en­dum and the US elec­tion, a large chunk of people abstained, and about half of the voters voted each way. There’s going to be a solid chunk there of commit­ted racists, sexists, homo­phobes and xeno­phobes, but there’s also a lot of people who don’t really think things through and just go with the tide, and can be convinced to pass­ively go along with bigotry if they think it’s socially accept­able and they won’t get into trouble (see the famous Milgram and Stan­ford Pris­on psycho­lo­gic­al stud­ies for evid­ence of this). They don’t like the neo-liber­al Estab­lish­ment because it has let them down, and people like Farage and Trump exploit that and make them think they are scor­ing a blow against the Estab­lish­ment, when actu­ally they are just being tricked into making the elite even rich­er and less account­able.

These are the people who are up for grabs, the not-so-polit­ic­al ones who are frightened by the econom­ic turmoil of the last decade, and have been convinced by the right wing­ers that it’s all the fault of the Other. Donald Trump disgraced himself with his terrible comments about minor­it­ies and women, and from the exit poll stat­ist­ics he did terribly with Black and Latino voters (and pretty much no Black women voted for him, very sens­ibly), yet he got half of the White women. What the hell were they think­ing? Why don’t they care? The party loyalty in the US is fairly evenly split, so were they just blindly loyal to their polit­ic­al party? There’s a tweet going round saying “Accord­ing to all the think­pieces, the only people NOT respons­ible for Trump’s elec­tion are those that voted for him”, which hits the nail on the head- you can add up this % of people who didn’t turn out here, and that margin there, the issue remains that enough people chose the wrong option to squeak through to a tiny major­ity (the same thing happened with Brexit). It’s very tempt­ing to go Fuck You, but how do you get the people who might be more open to reas­on back off the enemy?

There’s a concept in Polit­ics called the Over­ton Window, which is the opin­ions and ideas that are considered “normal” by the public. It can change, and be changed rapidly. In the past few years it has been dragged over to an aggress­ive Far Right posi­tion, where the media norm­al­ises abus­ing disabled people as “scroun­gers” and labelling all Muslims as auto­mat­ic enemies, and makes people feel they have to scrabble on the floor for the last crumbs and feel jeal­ousy and spite towards anyone getting meagre state bene­fits, and send­ing money upwards to make the rich rich­er, rather than using it to make sure every­one has a safety net. On the Left, we need to start to drag the Over­ton Window back over as soon as possible.

(I can’t imagine I have that many right wing­ers read­ing this blog, and prob­ably very few Trump or Brexit support­ers, what I write prob­ably doesn’t appeal in gener­al, but if you are here, have a think. What did you do? Did you really show the Estab­lish­ment who’s boss, or did you just hurt a lot of people weak­er than you, unleash a lot of hate crime and econom­ic turmoil, and end up with the same old politi­cians? If the only way you can feel strong is to make sure other people are worse off than you, you’re a weak person.)

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