“President Trump”. Two words you never imaged you would hear together. Well it’s happened. And it’s happened for easily identifiable reasons. That is if you weren’t asleep for the last 30 odd years. Unfortunately the majority of people, including the so called “educated” left, have indeed been asleep at the wheel. Well, the alarm is going off loud and clear now. There can’t be any more excuses for not hearing it. It’s time to wake up.
Let’s clear up right from the start what this vote represents. While it does represent the angry white man vote, that is far too simplistic an assessment. What this is is the continuation of public disenfranchisement from society and ultimately the political system that has been occurring since the advent of neoliberalism in the 70s/80s. Angry white working class men (amongst others) are a symptom of neoliberalism more so than a driver of the ultimate result – a President Trump.
This is important to realise. We can shout all we like about a stupid bigoted populace, but these people – the ones who have lost their jobs to globalisation and have been left behind by society – are at the pointy end of neoliberalism and the social dislocation it leads to. They’ve seen what the allegedly more educated amongst us haven’t seen – that neoliberalism is a socially destructive practice that is decimating communities. They have experienced decades of stagnating wages, growing inequality, growing under-employment, and cuts to services and welfare. That they have arguably grasped the wrong end of the stick by voting in Trump is lamentable and, frankly, depressing. But they’ve lived the reality of neoliberalism while the educated middle classes have been largely sleep walking through the last 30 years.
It’s important to remember that as un-likeable as some of these Trump voters are, they are after all just human. When pushed into a corner they will get emotional and fight. Exactly the same as you would. If you are looking for someone to blame, blame the politicians and media that have manufactured the enemy for these people to target their emotions against. Immigrants, blacks, Latinos, uppity women, Mulims etc.
There’s an interesting psychological phenomenon that I’ve talked about before called ‘System Justification’. It explains why people support a system that is fairly objectively bad for them. This phenomenon explains why the lower and middle classes have largely supported neoliberalism as offered by both major parties in countries like Australia, US, UK, NZ and Canada for 30+ years. But research into this phenomenon also hints at ways to overcome this irrational justification. Appealing to base emotions and a sense of ‘us vs them’, particularly in terms of nationalism and/or patriotism, is seen as a way to override our inherent desire to not rock the boat (or perhaps more accurately – not bite the hand that feeds us). And whether on purpose or not, Trump’s campaign has tapped into this and mobilised a lot of people who were previously too afraid to buck the system.
In the coming weeks we are going to see a lot of attempts to blame bigotry for this result. The establishment media and politicians are going to rely on this to deflect blame away from themselves. To be clear, there is a huge amount of bigotry going on here. But let’s not confuse the symptom for the cause. Outright bigotry, in this context, is largely a symptom of reducing people to base animals forced to ferociously compete for a smaller and smaller portion of the pie. The answer to this problem isn’t to denigrate the very people who are suffering the most under neoliberalism. It’s to try to educate everyone about what’s going on. It’s not immigrants or Muslims who are to blame for massive job losses and growing under-employment. It’s not women or blacks who are to blame for structural budget deficits and insane amounts of military spending while cutting spending to essential public services. It’s not the unemployed who are to blame for the fact that there are multiples of job seekers for each job vacancy and a frankly evil moralistic agenda which punishes people for not working in jobs that simply don’t exist (and will exist in even lesser amounts in the future with growing automation). It is the fault of the professional political class (like Hillary Clinton) and a neoliberal system that reduces society to an economic system that primarily functions to benefit the elite.
The signs have been there for a long time for those willing to make the effort to look. Working backwards in recent history we’ve had – Brexit, Syriza and Podemos in Greece and Spain, Tony Abbott in Australia, growing right wing nationalism in Europe, the GFC which saw the middle and lower classes decimated while inequality grew and bankers got bonuses for wrecking the economy, Bush Jnr – elected not once, but twice. We’ve been sleep walking through life for nearly 40 years. And the nightmare of a President Trump is the result of that. Support for establishment neoliberals like the Clintons, Obama, Blair, and Labour parties across the western world are the problem, not the solution. It’s time to wake up. It’s time to stop accepting the status quo. It’s time to stop believing in the delusion that prosperity built on debt (both financial and environmental) is actually real prosperity. It’s time to question the media narrative. We rejoice when unemployment falls, like it has under Obama, because the media portrays this as an event worthy of rejoicing. It’s not. Learn what the unemployment figure actually measures. We rejoice when economies grow. Why? Learn what growth actually means, not least the effect it has on our natural life support systems.
There are no more excuses left for not noticing the collapse of civil society and the frankly barbaric treatment of the disadvantaged in our societies. In short – wake up!