On Trump and Brexit

Today’s result hardly comes as a surprise. It’s more a massive disappointment, with a dragging sense of the inevitable. This seems to be our lot right now: the gods of chaos and war have taken control and are laughing with glee, while the benign entities who inspire us to greater things sit mutely weeping in the corner.

The trouble is, the people are restless. The people are fed up of austerity and being told to shut up and pay their ever-increasing taxes. The people want change, and they have become blind to any detail beyond that. I am certain that a lot of people voted for Trump for genuine reasons. I can understand it – they see him as the brick through the window of the establishment, the mud in the eyes of the city slickers, the one who will finally do something for the rust belt and dwindling national production (this article puts it perfectly – “How Half of America Lost its F**king Mind”)

The sad thing is, he is one of the slickers, one of the worst. Not only a fully paid-up, card-carrying member, but a cheating, lying, self-serving, misogynistic, hate-speaking, trigger-happy lunatic, with no experience in office. But it doesn’t matter a damn thing. He with the biggest bucks gets the best coverage; it’s all that counts. The more I think about it, the more I’m certain it wasn’t even necessary to smear Hillary, to label her untrustworthy, to denigrate her. Throughout this campaign, all I’ve really heard from any channel is TRUMP!, TRUMP!, TRUMP! It doesn’t matter that they’re ridiculing him, or rightly pointing out his serious and worrying flaws. His name is the beat of the drum, and that’s what sticks, like the most persistent earworm. It’s a species of brainwashing; people arrive at the polls with this tune in their ears, and that’s what they buy.

But what really makes me sad is the same thing that made me sad about Brexit: underlying both campaigns is the fear and loathing factor. The climate right now is all about hate thy neighbour. Trump, like Brexit before him, plays on people’s most primal fears, but he can only do that by taking things out of context, exaggerating them, manipulating the facts, and at the end of the account, he’s not supplying any genuine solution for the problems he’s so painstakingly pointed out to us.

Below are some thoughts I put down after Brexit which seem to resonate here and now. All we can do now is just keep up our own little bit to love our neighbours, and pull the cycle back around to one of collaboration and acceptance.


 

(Originally published on Facebook, 25-6-16)
This is a bit long, but I had to put a few of my feelings about the Brexit into words. I welcome respectful comments from any viewpoint.

There’s a particular school of comment on Brexit that is really starting to grate. Something about live and let live; something about don’t make a fuss, don’t be a sore loser; something about rights to opinions.

Before getting into details I want to state for the record that I do believe many people voted for what they felt was the only option, that they truly felt backed into a corner and that the Leave campaign – sadly, more or less mendaciously – presented them a simple solution for their troubles. I also believe we should stand together now the votes are in, focus on community and kindness, and hope against hope that the promised benefits of leaving will begin to manifest.

However, there is no getting away from the fact that the Leave campaign played very heavily on the theme of immigration and the nastier conclusions that arise from this – all our problems are due to foreigners stealing our jobs, benefits and services, ergo foreigners are evil and should be stopped from entering our country.

That is already bad enough – what sort of message are you sending to all the fantastic people of non-British origin who are resident here and doing important work in our hospitals, schools, fire service, courts of law, and so on, fighting to keep Britain running well? But it’s disingenuous to boot, because a) immigration won’t stop now we’ve left, the Leavers have already admitted; and b) it’s not the real cause of the problems. Immigrants are contributing to the economy, doing the jobs Brits don’t want to, paying taxes, adding talent to the market as British talent is leaving. There are some playing the system for sure, but I’d be willing to place a high-stakes bet that the vast majority of benefit cheats originate much closer to home.

But what’s really troubling is the wave of outrage at people calling out the behaviour and comments that this anti-immigrant stance has generated. Hateful, racist, xenophobic comments have been rife in the last weeks. These may have been subtly dressed up in newspaper-friendly terms by the politicians and press, but in other contexts – social media, vox pop, people down the pub – they have been overt and obvious.

Calling these kind of comments what they are – racist, xenophobic and hateful – seems to have become politically incorrect. Bizarrely, there’s a strong current of this from the Portuguese, particularly the (extreme) left, who perhaps feel they are brothers-in-arms with the working-class British who have had a raw deal for too long. That’s fair enough, but I’d also be willing to bet that this raw deal has a lot more to do with the UK’s internal policies, and that there’s a lot more good the EU has done them than bad. (Another of my big concerns throughout this whole campaign is that the EU has been pointed out as scapegoat for a whole series of ills, most of which have nothing to do with the EU).

Either way, there’s no excuse for those politicians who have taken the valid concern of less fortunate sectors and used it to incite hatred, just as there’s no excuse for supporters of those politicians to take the argument, run with it, inflame it and twist it so far from the truth as to be unrecognisable. The argument got so distorted that pro-remain MP Jo Cox was murdered the week before the referendum. She was killed by a man who felt she was so evil that he had to eliminate her – because she was supporting ideas like community, broadmindedness, live and let live.

So don’t tell me to get over it, don’t tell me to live and let live, and don’t tell me it’s not racist, xenophobic hate speech I am seeing. If we don’t call it what it is, that’s the real beginning of the end for democracy and freedom of speech.


 

And finally, this seems an appropriate moment to revisit this wonderful video about the origins we can track through DNA, and remind ourselves just how absurd the notion of “pure” nationality is. Enjoy.

 

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