This was the blog post that I didn’t want to write – but also the one that I thought that, eventually, I would have to. A few days ago, Maddy wrote very eloquently about her fears and anxiety about the US presidential election. Like so many (my husband included) Maddy was holding on to the hope that Hillary Clinton, an intelligent, liberal, hardworking individual of integrity, would become president. She would be the first female president of the United States. It was about time a woman entered the White House, not just as ‘the wife’ but the president. But after Brexit… well, I felt that it would be better not to hope. So when I rose this morning and my husband told me the news that Trump had got in, the faint glimmer of hope that my soul was secretly holding onto, died.
Intellectually, I can understand why this has happened. There is a majority of humans (a slight one, but still…) that either consciously or subconsciously believe that competition, not cooperation, is the name of the game. That the desires of the individual reign supreme and that the needs of others are irrelevant. For many in this slight majority, all that matters is that the individual succeeds, no matter the cost to other humans or the planet.
Cooperation seems subtly, morally tricksy, you see. Because what if you help someone out and they don’t help you in return? What if they’re cheating the system, and you’re working your butt off and they’re not but they’re still getting the benefits of your hard work…? It’s not fair, is it? No, it’s not fair, but a large, well-run and caring society can buffer the effects of the odd person who doesn’t pull their weight. I care more that the vulnerable are provided for than I care about the fact that some are possibly cheating the system and getting benefits that they don’t really need (although with all the benefit cuts happening in the UK at the moment it seems impossible that anyone could actually be ‘cheating’ the system).
So… those who strongly adhere to the idea that it is better that a few (read: many) vulnerable people suffer so that all the cheats are caught and stripped of their benefits buy into the principles of conservatism, of republicanism, of tradition (these political philosophies also happen to further the agenda of the monster, neoliberalism). And one of the oft-used tricks of these political philosophies is to blame others for the individual’s dissatisfaction or not-as-successful-as-they’d-like standing in society.
“The poor and the vulnerable – especially those who do not share the same language or customs or religion – have always been a politically convenient scapegoat for a society’s various ills. It’s the oldest trick in the book.”
And as someone who lives and breathes books, I also thought that what Alessandro Gallenzi, founder of Alma Books (an indie press) had to say about the election result particularly pertinent:
“What you sow is what you reap. Decades of lack of investment in education and the arts, decades of dumbing-down and anti-intellectualism can only lead to mental apathy and political passivity.”
He blamed the result on an “intellectual sheepishness”.
So what of Trump and the future?
“The upshot is already clear: in short order, the United States could slide from hawkish neoliberalism into authoritarianism.”
Authoritarianism and Trump appear to be very happy bedfellows. Yet, of course, authoritarianism, with its close ties to totalitarianism is something to be afraid of. (Although I’m willing to concede that a benevolent dictatorship is something that could maybe work well for a country.) Authoritarianism is up there with neoliberalism in terms of its potential for monstrousness. Though, interestingly, if you look back on history, totalitarianism can still arise under a variety of political regimes (and -isms): communism, capitalism, nationalism, fascism. (Feel free to play “guess the dictator” at this point if you want.)
But intellectual analysis aside, emotionally, I once again feel like the world has turned upside down. Overnight a backward step, in terms of the rights of the vulnerable, women’s rights, the obliteration of racism, and the halting of climate change, has been taken. And I am soul-sick and weary.
So what can we do? Well, first, we must feel. We must allow ourselves the time to come to terms with our emotions. We must think, and continue to think about what we can do. Very many of us, who are just about coping with our day-to-day lives, and all the challenges that life brings, will have to concede that there is very little we can do. But for the many, many of us who believe in cooperation and not competition, and who want there to be a caring society and a planet that hasn’t been fried to a crisp in the future, we have to fight, and do what we can with the skills and time we have available to us. We also have to remember that the every day small kindnesses that we perform towards each other and the planet matter. But taking a step back, away from history, taking the omniscient position, I have to remind myself that over the centuries, our societies are becoming more liberal and more caring. It is just that there will most likely always be these semi-regular blips, spikes of selfishness and aggression if you will, that will cause us to despair.
Finally, I am reminded that simply continuing – and holding the principles of empathy, love and cooperation close to our hearts – is a way of ‘winning’. Simply enduring. And surviving. For now, it’ll have to do.