I’ve been struggling since the US election, unsure if I could usefully add anything to the commentary, and unwilling to simply post a heartbroken lament. I think, hope, I might have sorted out my thoughts and emotions now, and – dreadful inauguration over – it would seem an opportune time to comment.
Like many, I wanted the first US woman President, and I specifically wanted Hillary Clinton. Yes, her politics are to the right of mine (as are Obama’s), and had Bernie Saunders won the nomination I would cheerfully have supported him. But America is a different country, where the left will only win via evolution not revolution. I had and still have complete respect for both Clintons. Along with the Obama’s, they’re in my Top Ten of fantasy dinner party guests. I went to bed knowing Hillary had lost, and feeling surprisingly dispirited. I told myself, it’s not my country, it’s not my problem, there is nothing at all that I can do about it.
It didn’t help one tiny bit. I woke depressed and I’ve been dispirited ever since. And that’s not due to any high-minded citizen-of-the-world principles, where we’re-all-in-it-together-and-what-affects-one-country-affects-us-all rational response.
It’s because slowly but very surely over the course of my lifetime, from Reagan and Thatcher onwards, everything I hold dear is being eroded, worn away, watered down, marginalised, abandoned, discarded, and excluded from discourse. Every code of moral behaviour, bedrock principles about right and wrong, the ethical foundations I believe in for good and decent society, are all being transgressed, violated, bulldozed and rejected, in an inexorable process that shows no sign of slowing down or stopping.
On a very personal level, I am appalled and I am devastated and neither of these feelings are going away. I am heartbroken for Hillary Clinton, a woman who has devoted much of her life to public service, who deserved the Presidency and would have been excellent in the role. My American friend Leanne wrote to me, saying she is physically ill with the awfulness of it. “I just can’t call him my President,” she said and I was reminded of the strong vein of patriotism that runs through the American psyche. The President is not simply a here-today, gone-tomorrow politician mired in the blood and guts of realpolitik manouvering, unlike the UK Prime Minister. The US President has huge status as a symbolic figure, invested with the collective American soul, the latest psychological representative of 240 years of American history.
Trump is an aberration and a travesty. But in my reading, he is also the symptom of a frighteningly sick society and electoral system. I don’t buy any other explanation. His election is not a protest vote. The Clintons are not a dynasty, unlike the Bushes who are the ultimate nepotistic dynasty along with the idolised Kennedy family. Bill Clinton grew up in a backwater with a stepfather of very moderate means. Both he and Hillary got to the White House through sheer hard work, intelligence, talent and determination. Trump pandered to the stupid and the ignorant, and to every base unreconstructed and un-evolved human instinct that American’s possess. The hollowed out and desperate media covered him as clickbait rather than a contender who should be investigated as thoroughly as Bill and Hillary. Imagine what sickening stories of corruption and wrongdoing would and still might emerge from the Trump closet if the Fourth Estate could find its balls again? Or if the Democrats were as vindictive as the Republicans. (I once asked political expert Anthony Zacharzewski why the Republicans always got away with far more than the Democrats, and why the Democrats were always on the backfoot as far as Senate committee investigations are concerned. His response: “The Republicans are much nastier than the Democrats. They’ll do anything to get and keep power.”)
Trump’s campaign, his presidency and what he stands for must not be normalised. Many people have said this. As far as I can see, this principle has yet to gain any traction. He is being normalised, as is all the ignorance, dishonesty, opportunism, xenophobia, mysogyny, bullying, selfishness and sheer nastiness that he stands for. I feel sick every time I hear or read his name.
The UK situation is not much more encouraging, following our own last two general elections, and the ridiculousness of the referendum which has lead to Brexit. I am despairing at the stubborn refusal to reason that Theresa May displays, and the wilful incompetence of Jeremy Corbyn. I am having a serious crises of confidence in our democratic systems.
It seems to me that six years of Tory government, Brexit and Trump are the result of a continuing self-defeating trajectory. Years of dumbing down in popular culture has created populations largely concerned with the shallowest aspects of life. Years of a progressively debased education system has done nothing to alleviate this lack of mindfulness. Decades of encouraging a society that expects instant gratification has led to a culture of impossible entitlement. The now well-acknowledged “ever decreasing circles” of social media preferences (as my friend Hannah eloquently puts it) reinforces status quo thinking in the individual. The constant displacement of collective responsibility to the individual has lead to fragmentation, disempowerment, and exhaustion. The pervasive sense of burden, of life being hard, ignites the survival instinct, which rarely brings out the best in people, and quite often does the opposite. Brian Eno expresses all this far better than me in his New Year post. It’s well worth a read.
In America, Obama’s public dignity has led him to be magnanimous about Trump’s victory. I don’t get this, or what purpose it serves. He is hoping, I think, that the office will civilise and educate Trump, but Trump is too far outside the norms of psychological and emotional response, and so insulated for so long from anything or anyone that seriously challenges him, that I don’t buy this one either. Trump’s first act is to freeze Obamacare, which gives health coverage to an additional 20 million Americans. Obama is on record as saying passing this Bill was more important to him than winning a second term. Where is his anger? Where is his passion? Am I alone in being disappointed that Obama plans to walk away without a word and let Trump get on with dismantling his legacy?
What about in this country? I’ve long thought that in the UK, the left and the young have been so demoralised for so long that we have been supine for twenty years and more. If religion and then television used to be the opiate of the masses, now it is consumerism, computer games, iphones, social media and you tube that continues a soporific inertia. Generation after successive generation has allowed it all to happen as if our politics are inevitable, as if there really can only be one game in town, the game called unfettered neo-liberalism. There is no heart anymore in our publc discourses (unlike on the Continent), no genuine care for government by the people for the people. The politics of protest, along with proper weighty investigative journalism, have been so hollowed out, that only bastardised forms of it are left, manifesting in the Daily Mail and Momentum.
But I am trying not to lose sight of my belief in the basic goodness and integrity of the vast majority of people. I remind myself that 3 million more people voted Clinton than Trump.
I am so heartened by the worldwide women’s marches, reminding me that solidarity and strength in numbers is still possible and that women know how to organise, how to be heard. (Even while I know deep in my heart that the Trump administration has so little respect for women that protest will be ignored until marches involve a million men).
Brian Eno was able to end his post with a rallying cry: let’s fight, let’s protest! Okay, let’s go there.
Let’s stand for election in local government where democracy has the most hope of healthy survival, and where individuals can make a real difference at a local level.
Let’s take on personal responsibility to VOTE in every single election.
Let’s volunteer next time there is a voter registration drive, and do everything we can to encourage as many citizens as we can to vote. And if there is no voter registration drive in your area, let’s take on responsibility for organising one.
I remember the eighties when protest was in the DNA and our lifeblood. Can we regain even a tenth of that righteous angry energy again? Can we invent forms of resistance that are right for now, that can re-energise the young and those of us running on empty? As Obama tried to persuade us:
YES WE CAN. And we must.