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The Lesson That All Progressives Should Learn From Trump

14/11/2016 11:44
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I had to take a deep breath last night when a work colleague of mine - a young, gay man - called me over on my break because he wanted to talk about Donald Trump. "Isn't it exciting?" he said, "Trump is something completely different, I'd probably have voted for him. He isn't a politician, he's something new."

"Yes: a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, sexist, xenophobic sex offender," was my initial reply. Was he serious? A gay man, of all people, advocating Trump? His views afterwards then echoed the views of so many across Europe and the U.S. - politics has failed him, all politicians are out for themselves, it doesn't matter whether or not he votes because nothing ever changes: he is disillusioned and disenfranchised.

I resisted the politico in me who wanted to label him ignorant and leave, and instead began to explain why Trump is so misleading, so problematic, so dangerous. Because if one thing is true, it's that those of us who would consider ourselves advocates of progressive politics really do need to have a word with ourselves, and those in our circles who continue to speak in highfalutin, rhetorical tones and demonise everyone who isn't fully plugged in to our ideals.

Beneath the surface and reflected in the attitude of my colleague, one of the factors underpinning the rise of now President Elect Donald Trump (and also Brexit, although that's a bit more polarised) is the fact that so many feel disconnected and frustrated with the growth of a political culture which places identity and intersectionality atop the hierarchy of social issues when their own socioeconomic situation is so bleak. I disagree with their mindset, but I also understand where it comes from. While the angry, young gay man in me is wondering just how people could be so isolationist and selfish to legitimise such a transparently backwards, threatening and dangerous demagogue, the pragmatist in me is also prepared to recognise that unless we at least attempt dialogue with some of these folk, then we aren't going to win them over - and we really need to.

Silencing individuals with a myriad of ideology and jargon while highlighting their privilege with accusatory bile, all under the pretext that we are 'enlightened' and they are not, has simply not worked - and the result is Trump. Loud, militant and often tone deaf factions within the left have created a hostile environment which is unprepared to listen to or debate with dissenting voices or, indeed, even constructively challenge opinions that we would consider to be regressive - instead, they get angry and they type and they push people away.

Having spent the best part of my life over the last year campaigning for our government to properly deal with homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying, I've been faced with the "but lots of people are bullied, and we shouldn't pigeonhole" brigade. I could scream and shout about privilege, intersectionality, miseducation and ignorance; but, rather, I choose to explain that LGBTI youth face disproportionately higher rates of bullying within education, and the consequences are disproportionately destructive - ergo, we should establish a strategic solution which focuses specifically on this problem.

The same is also true for, let's say, some (not all) of those in the All Lives Matter crew - do we respond by aggressively pointing out that they have become blind to systemic and institutional racism, thus writing them off as ignorant and not worth our time, or do we at least attempt to explain where we're coming from? By all means; try once or twice to engage - and, if unsuccessful, try again with someone else.

Let me share another anecdote with you. One of my family members, who - by all definitions - would be considered working class, once held particularly regressive views; she used all of the language that would get you heckled out of any university union in the country and seemed unable to connect the principles of progressive politics with her own socioeconomic situation. She frustrated me (and often still does), but I spent time with her.

When I told her that I am gay and shared with her my experience at school, and explained to her the prejudices, microaggressions and discrimination that my community face on a daily basis, her opinions on the subject began to soften and she soon understood - so much so that she deliberately began to take note of and rectify her flippant use of homophobic language. When I listened to her vitriol about immigration and the refugee crises, I explained the reality of the situation and encouraged her to dissect and question the opinions that hysterical newspaper headlines had installed in her. When she lit up a cigarette and told me that she agreed with a lot of UKIP policies, I asked her to explain why and I was prepared with rebuttals.

Now, she is coming round. She is waking up, and our conversations will continue until we both weed out the prejudices and xenophobic 'otherisations' that are not innately hers, but rather have been purposely injected into her psyche by a political and media class which really does not have an iota of concern for her lived experiences.

My rationale here is that by changing her mindset, she can change that of her peers and colleagues and while this simple principle, or practice, will not result in any success with the firmest of racists, white supremacists or nationalists (we all know the ilk I'm talking about here), it can work with that middle group of disengaged voters who are continually legitimising and naively relating to the worst political ideologies and factions, who have manipulatively capitalised on their justified frustrations.

So, please, destroy the echo-chambers that you live in, stop castigating everyone who holds an opinion that diverges ever-so-slightly from yours and start engaging in some real discussion, because that is the only way that we are ever going to win back that constituency of Trump voters (and all those across Europe who also align with that new wave antiestablishment mindset but have been captured by the right) who have been alienated: not only by a corrupt, broken and elitist neoliberal system; not only by a political class which has always put it's own interests first - but by us, with our own shortcomings and internally established authority.

This very mindset - this very superiority, this moral 'us' and immoral 'them' is exactly the same sentiment that Hillary Clinton adopted when she described Trump's supporters as a "basket of deplorables". Because yes, while some of Trump's supporters - and I'm thinking the klansmen, the white supremacists, the misogynists, the hardcore evangelical pro-lifers and homophobes - are deplorable: her mistake was to piss off, give a hashtag to and further disenfranchise those softer supporters who took a look at two candidates - one of whom had carved himself as the candidate of change and another who epitomised everything about broken Washington and an elitist, nepotistic political class - and opted for change.

I disagree with that choice, it's not one that I would had made myself and there is absolutely an undying part of me that is angry beyond belief that so many people rationalised their vote in this way - but, honestly, I blame those who colluded and conspired to prevent Bernie Sanders from becoming the Democratic candidate. This election was being pitched on top of an already bubbling mainstream antiestablishment sentiment which can, arguably, be linked back to Occupy. The Republicans opted for antiestablishment, and the Democrats should have too. Instead, they went the opposite way, and laid the foundations for what was to transpire.

The reality is that people who share the views of my aforementioned colleague, but who actually voted for Trump, have endangered the lives and security of minorities across America. While the hardcore Trump advocates (who, for the record, should be written off) will triumph in that knowledge, some of his softer voters may not be prepared to admit that, nor realise it - but that's the sobering truth. And for what? Because they looked past all of his lunacy and went for someone who spoke against the status quo. Maybe a lot of Trump's voters don't seriously believe that he will actually follow through on some of his statements but still wanted to send a big 'fuck you' to Washington. Perhaps that's why such an enormous portion of the electorate didn't bother turning out to vote, as they were faced with two bleak choices: the same as usual or 'something different' laced with rampant misogyny and racism.

On election night last week, I described Trump's electoral victory as the "last cry of the white, racist, traditionalist, regressive base" and I believe that there is truth in that. However, I'd still argue that many of those who did vote for Trump have been duped and I am going to have to continue taking deep breaths before I speak to anyone who has foolishly tapped into his skulduggery - but I'm just not prepared to completely write off every single person who voted for him as hopeless, and perhaps I'm being stupidly naive, but I've got to believe that some of them can be pulled back onto the right side of progress.

By the same token, I've also got to believe that those disengaged voters who didn't even turn out last week can be drawn into something more uplifting - because we no longer have the privilege of apathy.

So I can only hope that we learn from this. I can only hope that the liberal left stops passively pushing people into the arms of the right-wing, I can only hope that partisan American democrats pull themselves together and present a Sanders-like candidate to the electorate in 2020, I can only hope that those fighting against injustice and battling the state in the streets continue to do so and I can only hope that more and more people unite together with them against the corruption, the brutality, the inhumanity that we are faced with.

We have a choice now: tackle our own shortcomings and reconnect the everyday person with progressive values in the hope that we can inspire a true popular antiestablishment movement, or succumb to this increasingly fascist narrative and continue fighting from within our echo chambers.

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