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“Democrats are out of power, across that great wide ocean. Trump is President-elect, fascist god in motion” So goes a song from my youth, updated for today
Trump. Oh my goodness, where do you start. “Brexit times ten” someone said – no by a thousand would be an accurate retort.
Because there are of course great similarities between the two electoral earthquakes: The “left behinds” turning over political establishments, the triumph of post-truth politics. The legitimising and unmuzzling of bile, bigotry, violence and narrow views of society. To all my American friends, I wish you well in this new world.
But this commonality – written on endlessly over the last week or so – can only take us so far. That’s partly because Brexit was a vote to leave a multinational proto-state, but Trump was a decisive shift of power within one unified set of borders. Succession as opposed to reactionary revolution. But it is also partly because Britain has (had) a long record of essentially being at ease with itself in a way that the USA doesn’t.
Yes, we can see real stresses in the notion of a UK national identity, but this is as nothing compared to the US. There is, still, a prevailing generally affectionate relationship with national – and unifying – institutions such as the NHS or BBC, or sporting success/failure. We have over a thousand years’ worth of assimilating migrants. It is 350 years since the last sustained armed conflict on British (though not Irish) soil.(Forgive my crude, optimistic summation in three sentences, and no offence intended by pre-dating the Jacobite rebellion).
And if the ties that bind us together are stronger and more numerous, the manifestations of dissent and discord are less strident too. Until recently, there was a safety net of sorts that stopped most of our citizens falling too far behind. And the potential for killing and murder is so much lower in our gun-controlled country.
Look across the ocean and we see a country deeply and dangerously divided. The protests against the election result are understandable but what exactly is being said? We refuse to accept the democratic mandate, the outcome of the election? Really?
Well, no, not exactly. Leading figures such as Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders have been careful in their language. Co-operation where possible, resistance and opposition as necessary. Red lines clearly set down. Warren in particular has clearly nailed the argument that fear and opposition to Trump is just a case of sour electoral grapes.
But you can well understand if others are not so measured. Trump aggressively pilloried so many during his campaign. There is what seems to be widely institutionalised racism (that has spawned the Black Lives Matter movement) and in the deeply ingrained sense of disempowerment so well portrayed by Paul Theroux in Deep South you are forcibly reminded that a bloody civil war is less than three generations’ distant.
Looking back it is indeed amazing that the Union survived such savage fighting and sharp political divide. Some may convincingly argue that despite amendments to the US constitution extending suffrage, economic advancement lagged a long way behind political progress – and that progress itself was always at risk.
So if you prefer an economic rather than racial perspective, you can see how a period of sustained growth might visibly erode these vicissitudes. Will a booming economy be able to provide enough energy and power to alleviate despair and disenfranchisement, to distract or even dissolve racial divides?
I doubt it. Even if the US economy is described as “near Goldilocks” (not too hot, not too cold, just right) growth in employment does not equate to jobs paying enough for people to live on, let alone live modestly well. This now seems to be regarded as normal. And future automation is likely to exacerbate that trend.
As the President-elect surveys this landscape, I wonder what he sees? I wonder if he even gets it? Everyone knows that those who do not learn the lessons of history will repeat them – but is the 2016 Presidential election a throwback to the past or, perhaps, unfinished business from it?
Things were so much simpler then…….. A poster from 1982