With 50 days left to go, I can tell you that 2016 will go down as the year I listened to a lot of Morrissey.
On the 27th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, America elected a man who ran on a policy of building a wall. Yes, you can boast about grabbing women’s pussies, and then be accused by eleven different women of sexual assault. Yes, you can brutally condemn people of color, Jews, Muslims and throw tolerance and kindness under the bus. But, no, it won’t stop you becoming President.
Yet, in light of Brexit, Trump and the distinct possibility of President Le Pen – Now would be as good a time as ever to ask what kind of a society we are - and what direction we want to move in.
Donald Trump won because his message- ‘Make America Great Again’ -resonated with Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – traditionally democrat states.
The implicit message was that America is broken and that is how millions of Americans feel. These four industrial states have watched the rise of globalisation and free trade, and with it, seen the loss of jobs, the destruction of working towns and a growing feeling of hopelessness.
‘Build a Wall’ was another message. Of course it appealed to those with deep-seated racist views, but it also appealed to those who see immigration as the loss of their livelihoods. Clinton’s message - ‘America is sort-of a bit broken, but not really, it’s still basically great’ – had no appeal, or answer, to that feeling of despair.
And so, as the results came in, it was quickly clear: Brexit mark two -Cosmopolitan Cities vs. Urban Nationalists. Globalisation vs. Isolation.
As I watched, the scene around me rapidly turned funereal: young Americans in tears, displays of sadness, that quickly turned to anger. They were right to mourn. If Brexit and Trump have confirmed one thing, it’s the death of the liberal democrat model.
Unlike some, I do not believe that we have witnessed the death of liberal politics altogether, but now, more than ever, the left needs to organise.
These two major political upsets prove just how divided our world really is, and we can move in that direction - greater polarisation - or we can make an effort to comprehend, to understand and to bridge the gap between cosmopolitan cities and those who feel left behind and disenfranchised.
We need to start talking to people, that doesn’t mean indulging racism, but rather, understanding why people are angry. Understanding that while millions have benefited from the fruits of free trade, millions feel they have not; if the left cannot bridge that gap, then the politics of fear will forever triumph. Not every Trump voter is a vile racist; many feel – rightly- that the system has failed them. Referring to middle England and every US state that voted red as ‘DUMBFUCKISTAN’ is not the answer.
I am not calling for an apolitical populist movement, or saying you should go out and hug a member of the KKK. The left has hard road ahead – it must tread carefully between understanding legitimately aggrieved voters and indulging white supremacists and misogynists. Failure means the rise of the white-victim complex, and only serves to legitimise the ‘grab em’ by the pussy’ narrative. Understanding the shortcomings of the social democratic model, and giving a free pass to intolerance is not the same thing.
It is time for the left to reengage and find a new face, fast. Compassion has always been one of the driving forces of progressive politics – but now it seems that snobbery, and contempt for those who do not agree, hold greater value.
It’s simple: without reengagement there is a vacuum, and this allows the rhetoric of Trump, UKIP and La Pen to appeal to our worst impulses. The left has to prove that it can protect jobs and livelihoods.
The anti-immigration rhetoric is displacing blame away from governments who have failed to turn the benefits of globalisation into investment in public services, building housing and defending people’s living standards. In Britain, we’ve witnessed the greatest failure to build housing since the 1920s, and people are hurting.
Investing in access to cities, building the new renewable energy jobs of the future – these are all plausible answers, but this process has to begin with listening to those we are ignoring.
The second part of this process of reengagement has to be a concerted effort to make young millennials realise that they have a stake in politics too. 46% of American citizens did not cast a vote in this election. I know people who didn’t vote, and since then I have heard them bemoan the result.
How? - Maybe Trump will hand us the answer to this question. It’s time to capture that anger, to remember it – that’s why you vote, that’s why you donate, and that is why you stand up and fight. Apathy does not defend rights and values, people do. 2016 can be the year that reenergises a political youth lost long ago.
You can label me an overly emotional radical. The former is true, but the latter is not. Human beings are emotional – Trump and Brexit offered an appeal to those emotions. Clinton was the Goldman Sachs candidate, and a Remain campaign based on stating facts did not appeal to depressed working class voters in England. The left needs a new emotive thread that speaks to those in rust belt states, Northern England, London and New York.
We’re at the crossroads. We can sit in a circle singing Kumbaya, or we can turn around, get organised, and fight for the values we hold most dear – our future depends on it.
Harry Leadbeater - Californian Correspondent, Berkeley.