On 8 November 2016, a reality show celebrity and business man with no political experience of any kind became US President Elect, against all expectation. Earlier that year, on June 23 2016, the UK voted to leave the EU, against even the expectations of those vociferously running the ‘leave’ campaigns. These events need some explaining.
Let’s have a look at Trump first. There’s a prevailing view that people who voted for him are essentially racist, misogynist, xenophobic, Islamophobic and generally nasty. Internet memes such as this one make fun of this.
I laughed too. And then, on 8 November, Donald Trump won the election.
Since Trump’s win, there has been a barrage of reaction, much of it working in terms of the categories mentioned in the image above. Most such reactions can be summarised as ‘how the hell did this happen (since he is so obviously an evil dictator-in-waiting)?’. I suggest that such commentary has misread social reality. It’s a convenient but wrong idea that Trump (or Brexit) voters must all be racist, xenophobic rednecks, because these are not the primary reasons people vote for change in a free country with a two-term black president. Most people vote to obtain a better deal in their own lives, not join a hate club.
CNN’s list of 25 theories taken together, tangentially skim the surface of an unhappy society’s discontent, giving some clues. Michael Moore’s 5 reasons are arguably close to the mark, and insightful for a dedicated Lefty who ‘thinks Hillary’s great’. Some think the Trump victory is nothing less than a total repudiation of Obama, but I suggest this is limited to right wing ideologues who forgot that Obama won his second term handily. Obama has been unimpressive, but it’s not serious to claim he was so bad that it gave the Republicans the election. Such reactions on the Right are to be expected, but in the end, uninteresting.
What matters is what is happening on the Left. In general, the reaction of the Left and even some centrist press reaction has been amusing, verging on tragic.
I’ve been visiting the US since 1988, and these days I travel to and work in Salt Lake City for 2 weeks at a time every few months. I talk to colleagues – educated health, business and IT types – and also locals, some working tough service jobs. I ask people all the time about their views. This year, I discovered a surprising number of people from all backgrounds who said they would (presumably did) vote for Trump, while talking rationally about the economy, immigration and healthcare. Earlier in 2016 I had assumed that Trumpers probably did fit into the nasty people cliche, but my anecdotal evidence says otherwise. The same is true if one looks objectively at the 17 million people who voted for Brexit in the UK – they are far from all being racists or xenophobes. We have to assume that a large proportion of Brexit and Trump voters are rational people who are just very unhappy about the way things are for them.
So why would a rational person vote for Trump?
There are different kinds of analysis about these things. The two obvious ones, applied to the US election are as follows:
Orthodox political analysis:
- conservative: Clinton’s not trustworthy, her policies are uninspiring, hasn’t achieved much, represents the corporate elite and is a war-monger who thinks it’s OK to keep wasting billions bombing non-combattants in the Middle East with drones, while Trump will fix Washington, reverse disastrous trade agreements, patch up with Russia, build some infrastructure and … well, we’re not sure about much else, but we suspect that the Mexico wall thing is somewhat tongue in cheek.
- progressive: Clinton will consolidate socialised healthcare reforms, make college affordable, build some infrastructure, reform immigration to naturalise long-term illegals, while Trump has no clue about politics, doesn’t believe climate change is real and will either create a conflagration in the middle east, start a nuclear war, or both.
- outcome: undecided. While the wall of Mexico and universal Muslim ban can’t be taken seriously (at least the latter is unconstitutional), Trump’s key issues – trade treaties, reducing involvement in foreign wars, rapprochement with Putin and immigration – clearly deserve some consideration, although reversing Obamacare is likely to be entirely problematic. Clinton’s more moderate proposals don’t appear that strong since they are mostly a continuation of the status quo.
Moral / psychological character analysis:
- progressive: Trump can’t possibly be taken as serious candidate: he thinks all Mexicans are violent rapists (not quite what he said, but hey the right wing press does it, why should the Leftist press not gloss over a few facts from time to time?), and that it’s fine to grab women by the p***y. He’s clearly an emotionally immature, thin-skinned liar and is morally unfit for office.
- conservative: Clinton is corrupt, the Clinton Foundation is corrupt, she did something funny with email that we don’t understand, but it’s corrupt; Trump may be unpalatable, and we don’t agree with the p***y-grabbing thing, but he’s a straight-talker and understands the working class – he’s been exploiting them for years, so he knows the system and can do something about it.
- outcome: the facts favour Clinton, unless you are of the variety that sees her as an evil warmonger, a view with some justification. The Trump claim that the Clinton Foundation is not clean doesn’t so far as I can ascertain have any basis in fact (WaPo report). Other Clinton ‘scandals’ mostly don’t stand up to investigation (Atlantic), although there are undoubtedly rough edges in places. One can reasonably assume that any claims of Hillary ‘enabling’ sexual behaviour of her husband are at least equalled by the likely past behaviour of Trump. In the end however, the electorate votes on perceptions, and the connection to facts has never been more tenuous than in this election.
The second of these is the topic of the amusing memo from Germany to the US.
These correspond to two different types of conversations, and when talking heads debate on CNN or people start shouting at each other on Twitter or in the street, they’re having one or other, or usually both kinds of conversation at the same time. When they do that, they are often at cross-purposes, no conclusion can be reached, and people end up ranting.
The problem we have here is that for most rational people on either side of politics, a very convincing argument can be mounted against Trump on the basis of his professional, psychological and possibly moral unfitness for office. The proof of this is the acrimonious clashes of the Republican primary season; the Republican Convention, described by many as a car crash; and the number of Republicans at all levels in the party who publicly repudiated Trump right up until the election. The arguments around policy, once the silliest are decoded into a sane form, might favour either side (although the Left generally refuses to admit this). So in the aggregate, we can assume that if politics-as-normal were occurring, Trump would have been beaten pretty soundly due to temperamental and professional unfitness. And yet he won.
Numerous commentators have tried to pin the result on Hillary Clinton’s personal aloofness, being in bed with Wall St, and the so-called email server controversy. But these arguments don’t stack up. In terms of personality and character, Trump demonstrated himself more obviously repellent to many people, especially women. And there’s little evidence of any great anger in the general public at the email affair, which I think has to be understood mainly as a Right-wing press beat-up. And we have to remember that Trump’s on-the-ground campaign machine was probably no more than 20% the size of that of the Democrats, who are past masters at door-to-door. Any vote against Clinton would surely have to have been on more substantive issues such as her very hawkish stance on the Middle East and Russia, but these took up little airtime during the campaign. There are other attempts to look closely at the numbers and find reasons to do with ‘angry white men’, wall-offended Latinos or other such categories. But one can look too closely at something and miss the big picture.
There’s a big credibility gap that the Trump candidacy somehow made up, and it can’t be accounted for by the conventional arguments. So why did he win? Let’s consider where he won first. Broadly speaking, he won by a combination of votes in those states known as the ‘flyover’ or ‘rust belt’ states – so-called working class people with a lower level of college education – and a significant number of well-educated people all around the country. The lack of college education is usually understood as code for ‘doesn’t understand politics properly’, or just general ignorance, but in fact, I would argue that such people may have demonstrated a form of intelligence lacking among the vast majority of today’s Left. What did they see that the Left-leaning educated person doesn’t? And we also have to ask: why do some highly educated people think Trump makes sense?
It’s clear that policies and personal character are insufficient to understand the outcome. But there is another factor which I think is the most important one. It’s to do with something more basic than either politics or character: it’s about underlying worldview with regard to political power.
Let’s start with what many Trump voters – rational or racist – hate most. It isn’t the financial elite, or globalisation, Islamists or any of the other things that probably make their lives worse, all of which which they do despise. What they hate even more is that the Left not only treats them with disdain, it doesn’t actually care about them at all. They hate the political correctness; they hate the Left’s identity politics that simply ignores the majority; they hate the way the Left can’t admit that a bomb planted by a self-declared Jihadist that kills 50 people could possibly have anything to do with Islam; they hate the fact that just mentioning that maybe immigration should be considered as an issue is greeted with howls of ‘racist’; and they hate the Leftist deformation of moral values, such that family and marriage are seen as casual life-style choices rather than deeply important social institutions. Most of them probably can’t mount a pedagogical argument about these issues, but they intuitively feel such attitudes are wrong.
Without some knowledge of the history of the Left side of politics, these complaints taken separately don’t appear to add up to anything coherent.
Consider what ‘the Left’ is historically. In most Western countries, the moderate parties of the Left accommodated unionists, workers, green entrepreneurs and those simply interested in an egalitarian society. A great proportion of those who have historically voted for the Labour parties in the UK and Australia, and for the equivalent Western European Socialist parties and the Democrats in the US are unionised workers and ordinary professionals who believe in workers rights. Contrary to the fantasies of Marxists, the mainstream political Left has primarily been a movement for finding an acceptable accommodation between the working class and their employers not a revolutionary one. The common factor for most on the moderate political Left probably boils down to a belief in business serving society rather than society serving business.
Alongside has always been the radical left – socialists and communists from the various European lineages of post-Marxist philosophers, pseudo-philosophers and revolutionaries including Trotsky, Lenin, Lukasc, Althusser, Lacan, Lyotard, Deleuze, Sartre, and Hobsbawm. They are generally speaking, ideologues. And ideologues all have the same modus operandi: they construct abstract descriptions and categories of the world and abstract programmes for making it better. They are not interested in observing reality in any serious way, because it tends to invalidate their theories (this arguably started with Marx’ and Engels’ misreading of the working class they observed and documented in the 1840s onward; see Paul Mason’s Post-Capitalism for a brief account of this). They are not even really interested in the real life experiences or pain of those about whom they theorise, particularly downtrodden workers. In fact the ‘proletariat’ as a political entity with its iconography of selfless heroism (found in all Soviet and Maoist publications, and most impressively realised in the statuary of the Moscow Metro) is more or less an invention of communist theorists rather than a real political movement. Only in the minds of ideologues do the poor volunteer to build railways with their bare hands in freezing Siberia. The realities, documented by many writers including Solzenitsyn, Rybakov, and more recently by Svetlana Alexievich in the oral histories of Second-hand Time are far different.
All of the horrific regimes of the last century have one thing in common – they are or were run by absolutist ideologues or their political followers. It is no coincidence that the communist regimes of USSR and Cuba, Maoist China, Pol Pot’s Cambodia, and the Shining Path in South America were all totalitarian regimes from the same post-Marxist flavour of Leftist politics (apologists for Marxism like to point out that Lenin etc were right-wing deviations from true Marxist socialism, in which workers would be running everything. This entirely misses the point that there is no way to impose a Utopian ideology other than via totalitarianism). The regimes of Hitler, Franco and Mussolini, usually identified as being from the political right and the theocracies of the Middle East, narrowly understood in religious terms, are totalitarian states derived from various state-based or religious ideologies (e.g. traditional Islam). None differ much from their Leftist counterparts in the sense of being total programmes for society. Every one of these regimes is or was run by a small intellectual or religious elite whose prescriptive rulebook is imposed across society. Even states run as a personality cult (Qaddafi’s Libya, Hussein’s Iraq, Zimbabwe) follow the same description, the only difference being that the rulebook is custom-made. In many totalitarian regimes, there is a concerted attempt to erase previous culture and history – Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot, and today’s ISIS all specialise in ground zero thinking.
The more recent progeny of Marxists and post-structuralist philosophers are what we could broadly call post-modernists. This lineage includes philosophers such as Heidegger, Lyotard, and Derrida, as well as the current generation of social ‘scientists’ lurking within Western academia, particularly in the US. Contemporary post-modernists specialise in today’s identity and gender politics. They are the self-appointed arbiters of language and values, and similarly to the previous generation of communists who always knew the mind of workers better than they knew it themselves, they undertake to feel both the pain and the outrage on behalf of the real victims of society’s ills. Indeed, many of their concepts, including that of victimhood are theoretical inventions rather than reliable descriptions of reality, just like the ‘proleteriat’ of the classical communist. A highly amusing and sobering demolition of these ‘thinkers’ is provided in Roger Scruton’s Fools, Frauds and Firebrands: Thinkers of the New Left. A definitive book for understanding what went wrong on the Left is Raymond Aron’s Opium of the Intellectuals, published in 1955. Thomas Sowell’s Intellectuals and Society is another insightful critique of the Leftist intellectual mindset.
For those who study political history, the connection between totalitarianism and today’s Intellectual Left, including its postmodernist attitudes is well known. However, most voters don’t have the background (and after all, what decent person would subject another to the turgid writings of Deleuze or Habermas?) to know this. And yet they detect the bullshit – they just don’t know what to call it. And make no mistake, post-modernism, moral relativism, political correctness and gender politics are big-time bullshit. Here’s a tiny primer on post-modernism and its terrible children.
Post-modernism: the main thing that matters about post-modernism here is that it essentially rejects the notions of objective reality, objective truth, the idea that theories about the world can be ‘grounded’ or that reason has any primacy over other modes of thinking, including emotional responses. The practical consequence of such thinking is that only subjective accounts of the world matter, and are treated more or less equally, since no one or other has a greater claim to any sort of truth. Concretely, the more extreme forms of this thinking say things like:
- science is just another ‘narrative’ about how things are, and is no more true than religion or any form of animist, transcendental or other way of explaining the world;
- all religions are equivalent and must be treated with ‘respect’;
- no culture or tradition is better or worse than any other;
- in short: reality doesn’t matter, only beliefs and feelings do.
In the social science schools, post-modernist thinking has given a licence to humanities theorists to generate an entirely new kind of nonsense, via the appropriation and misuse of scientific terminology, particularly from linguistics, philosophy and physics. The problem had become so pronounced that in 1996, Alan Sokal, professor of physics at NYU and UCL manufactured a nonsense paper that discussed quantum gravity as a ‘social construct’, and succeeded having it published in a major US humanities journal (the ‘Sokal Affair‘). He examined the episode in his book Beyond the Hoax.
For further reading, here’s a handy page on post-modernism.
Moral relativism: a logical consequence of the idea that all cultures are equally valid is that there are no moral universals, and that instead, all moral positions are to be understood with respect to their own cultures. Thus, it is wrong for the West to judge traditional Islamic or African culture for their customs. Of course when it comes to looking at actual customs, such as stoning women for adultery, lashing blasphemers or Female Genital Mutilation, many a moral relativist becomes evasive or goes into denial that such customs have anything to do with their host culture.
Similarly, since all religions are cultural systems that must be inherently respected, terrorist bombers are never ‘real’ Muslims. Post-modernists get in real trouble with the question of human rights. At a theoretical level, because there are no universal moral positions, there is no such thing as universal human rights (such as freedom from torture and slavery) – these are just a Western pre-occupation that fails to respect other cultures. At a practical level however, human rights have been hijacked by the moral relativist to defend anyone, even Anders Brevik (Norway’s greatest mass murderer), from perceived oppression to their emotional well-being. This is a serious problem because it has damaged the original (enlightenment, say Lockean) understanding of human rights, which if understood as freedoms from, i.e. proscriptions (against torture etc), are crucial in any secular democracy. The post-world war 2 UN Declaration of Human Rights changed this by adding numerous prescriptive rights, such as social security (Article 22 of the UNDHR) and ‘rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay’ (Article 24).
Other confusions abound. Ayan Hirsli Ali deftly summarises another problem – that of equating all varieties of oppression of women around the world, regardless of the vast real differences between their situations in Western Europe compared to say Pakistan or Saudi Arabia. This confusion prevents some Feminists advocating for Muslim women, with some going so far as to say that the women of oppressive Islamic theocratic regimes don’t need help, as this would be condescending and disrespectful of their culture.
Beckwith and Koukl’s Relativism – Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-air is a good modern introduction to the failures of moral relativism.
A nice discussion of the topic with Roget Scruton on the topic (YouTube video).
Identity politics: post-modernists think only in abstract categories, and cut society up according to their perceptions of oppression. Broadly, everyone is either in the Elite (some kind of capitalist or related group of privilege) or some kind of victim. Since post-modernists take it as their responsibility to feel, know and explain the experiences of others, particularly victims who are apparently more interesting, they define the social victim categories we are now forced to use. All victims are of course minorities oppressed by an Elite, and so we have individual victim categories, and consequent grand lumpings such as Black / Asian / Minority Ethnic (BAME), and Lesbian / Gay / Bisexual / Trans / Intersex / Questioning (LGBTIQ) and many others (the ontological strangeness of collectivising the interests of people who do know their sexual leanings with those who don’t or aren’t sure of course cannot be openly questioned).
Post-modernists have two special tricks. The first is to convert a category (i.e. an abstract classification under which an individual may be statistically counted) to a group, to imply it forms a political entity, and then to describe how that group should think and act. This is no different to the Marxist’s re-creation of the economic category ‘worker’ as the political entity of heroic proletarians, something that doesn’t exist in the real world.
The second trick is to invert the special interests of a minority, such as the ‘gender fluidity’ that is the real experience of a small segment of society, into a central need of the majority. Hence we are told that gender is a choice for all of us. This is clearly a failure in logical thinking: what is true is that there are some (very small number of) people for whom gender is a variable choice; and that the rest of society needs to understand this and accept those people as equal members of society. However they don’t need to experience it first hand – clearly they can’t. Similar logical inversions are being documented in Western school systems.
Individuals who fall into minority categories (more than one is desirable) are assumed to also exist in real political groupings and to conform to the moral indignities devised for them by social engineers. All others (i.e. the majority of society) are required to feel shame at their oppression, and to treat all minority people with unconditional love and respect.
The only problem with all of this is that it doesn’t correspond to the real world. Of course there are some types of crime are committed solely on the basis of hatred of innate qualities, such as being gay or black. But this doesn’t mean that a gay, black, Muslim or any other kind of person primarily identifies as their imposed minority category or that these categories should exist as separate political entities as opposed to being issues for all of society. Most people would ordinarily identify as themselves (e.g. Hanna Goldstein), their profession (e.g. architect), their home locality (e.g. from Amsterdam), or a specific immigrant cultural group (e.g. Jewish). But in identitarian logic, if you are a Dutch architect who happens to like other women, you’re a Lesbian and part of the LGBTIQ ‘community’. Similarly, if you’re a Birmingham DJ whose parents came from Jamaica, you’re Black and thus BAME.
The agitations of post-modernists have thus created some real political groups on the basis of these minority categories, and in doing so have introduced social divisions that need not have existed. The historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr had this to say on the dangers of identity politics:
movements for civil rights should aim toward full acceptance and integration of marginalized groups into the mainstream culture, rather than … perpetuating that marginalization through affirmations of difference.
In this world, if you are black, gay or a Muslim in the West, you are automatically a) a victim, b) good c) in need of compassion. If you are all three, you are automatically a saint. The one thing you can no longer be is yourself.
The problem with intersectional feminism – Helen Pluckrose in Areo Magazine.
Political correctness: Political Correctness is a natural consequence of the post-modernist worldview. It’s not just not being able to call a blind person ‘blind’, or to use the word ‘punishment’ in schools today, it’s nothing less than an attempt to control language and ultimately thought across society, and make it conform to the identity categories and relativist value systems of the Intellectual Left. If you can’t say certain things, it’s harder to think about them, and impossible to have public discussions about them. Those who critique or even question Islam for example are ‘Islamophobes’, and Islamophobes are evil, since obviously they oppress Muslims. All that one has to do to prevent discussion of Islamist violence or Sharia law is yell ‘Islamophobe’ and any debate is halted in its tracks. But what does ‘Islamophobe’ mean? It means an irrational fear of Islam. Now, since Islam is an ideology (and/or a religion, depending on your point of view), it’s perfectly acceptable to have a fear of it, in the same way that one ought to have a fear of other totalitarian ideologies such as National Socialism (i.e. Nazism); such a fear may reasonably be termed ‘irrational’ in the sense of ‘dread’ or ‘horror’. Whether this conception of Islam is correct or not (Sufis, and many Western Muslims would certainly argue that it is not) is beside the point, which is that there are certainly versions of Islam to be feared (Wahhabism, Salafism, the writings of Sayyid Qutb and Hassan al-Banna for example).
Being a Muslim is an entirely different thing from Islam. But we can’t talk about Islam in the Left-wing press or on TV, so we can’t make progress on terrorism, jihadism or the situation of women in Islamic communities.
This linguistic nonsense diverts attention away from the good work of the many Muslim reformers, such as the Muslim Reform Movement, Muslim Press and many others. For those who prefer to look reality in the face and talk about it calmly, Raheel Raza articulates the kind of conversation we could be having about political Islam.
The dead hand of political correctness is applied in the same way to any issue upon which serious Intellectuals deem themselves the only true experts, to control language, shame the unwashed majority, and shut down debate on the pretence of preventing offence to the relevant victim group. It is intolerance dressed up as its opposite.
It’s worth noting that the mainstream media (MSM), while not otherwise overtly part of the Intellectual Left, has adopted Political Correctness in a near-maximum form, presumably based on a fear of offending viewers. We probably need to consider Fox News, Rush Limbaugh etc as occupying their own ‘mainstream’, although Fox News, historically a channel with no utility at all, may have finally found its raison d’être in exposing the sillier excesses of Political Correctness. The consequence is that the MSM, already gravely compromised by its inability to do proper independent journalism, can no longer even talk normally about most topics. Amusingly, the Left Media are having great difficult grasping the problem (NYT example), equating complaints about Political Correctness with the buffoonery of Donald Trump.
Political correctness doesn’t just touch controversial topics like Islamism: it now infects the school systems of the UK, US, Canada and also Norway. In many schools in the affected countries, it is a sin to make any child feel bad by chastising him or her, or conversely to encourage excellence or intellectual competitiveness. There is a growing trend away from excellence whereby everyone comes first and gets a gold star (just for being there), since otherwise the high achievements of gifted students would cause offence to the rest. The wisdom of ‘child-centred learning’ in the UK has led to a generation of uncontrollable, under-achieving children who all ‘graduate’ with flying colours from school, but many of whom are discovered to be insufficiently literate or numerate for entry into university (UK CPS report, 2010).
Things have gotten so out of hand that Universities in the US are struggling with maintaining a normal research environment when members of the student body infected with the PC virus demand safe spaces as shelter from trauma sustained when confronted with challenging ideas, trigger warnings on syllabus literature, and surveillance to police ‘micro-aggressions’ of others whose normal speech cross yet another unfathomable PC line. What we are seeing here is nothing less than a regression to an infantile victimhood mindset, the very opposite of what young adults need to understand and deal with the world.
As if this were not enough, political correctness also permeates government agencies and police forces, to the extent that crimes committed by minority groups are ignored by the relevant agencies for fear of being accused of racism. The Rotherham case in the UK and the scandal of Swedish police covering up rapes by recent immigrants at a music festival in 2014 are just two of hundreds of examples.
Considering the pervasive nature of post-modernist thinking today, one has to ask: what kind of society results? When police won’t arrest a paedophile ring because the members are from an immigrant minority, when university students successfully protest to ‘no platform’ speakers they don’t agree with, when discussions on important topics like immigration and radical Islam are shut down by self-appointed thought police yelling ‘racist’ or ‘Islamophobe’, we’re heading towards a non-society characterised by dysfunction and neurosis. We are witnessing a displacement of common sense, rational thought and open dialogue by emotionalism, fear, and the curtailment of free speech.
What does all this have to do with today’s Leftist politics? Well for a start, identity politics is Leftist politics: the Intellectual Left has come to see itself as the valiant saviour of its designated minority victim groups and has somehow forgotten about ‘society’ as a holistic entity. For this reason, among of all the disasters of post-modernist thinking, I think we have to consider Identity politics the worst and most insidious.
The Democrats in the US seem to be largely oblivious of all this as does the modern British Labour Party. During the 2016 US election campaign, the Democrat campaign machine tended to address certain minorities (usually LGBT) at rallies, forgetting others and never really addressing that uninteresting majority, the ‘working class’. Clearly, if you turn up to a rally or watch the speeches and debates on TV, and you find that what you consider to be your main issue is mentioned except in purely abstract terms, you are likely to conclude that this party is not for you. It’s even worse if the rhetoric appears to focus on making things better for ‘blacks’, ‘Muslims’, ‘gays’ and so on – the reaction ‘hey, what about us?’ is only natural, and it’s not hard to understand resentment by some against those favoured minorities. It’s not fair on people who happen to be in a minority category either – the vast majority of those are just people interested in the same economic security as everyone else rather than special rights assigned to them by academics.
Modern Leftist politics is heavily based on emotional responses and manufactured outrage rather than real world issues. But people in the working class are mainly concerned about their economic situation. Consequently, when it comes to the modern Leftist worldview, a growing proportion of the mainstream are just not buying. They don’t mind calling a spade a spade. If a black man shot a cop, he’s the bad guy. They’re not interested in erasing male and female gender categories because a tiny proportion of society is transsexual. They’re quite happy to say that a Jihadi bombing has something to do with Islam. They’ve figured out that in the eyes of the Left, they’ve fallen by the wayside since they don’t represent a clear victim category, and worse, since they don’t buy into the victim / shame schema, they are actively shunned – hence the recent badging as ‘deplorables’ by Hillary Clinton.
What the Brexit and Trump results have done is to expose the true nature of the Intellectual Left as social engineers who don’t consider less educated workers as a relevant group and who think society should be run on the basis of emotional victim politics, not common sense. Both votes defied conventional logic because a higher than expected proportion of people who might normally have supported some of the reasonable policies of the Left instead voted for the side they felt was actually talking to them rather than ranting at them about minority victim rights, or just ignoring them altogether.
It has to be noted that Clinton won nearly 3 million more votes than Trump, but within the archaic US Electoral College system, these votes were in the ‘wrong place’, i.e. mainly on the coasts, possibly from younger people brought up in the emotion-based victim politics era. The irony here is that many such voters undoubtedly believed they were voting against the politics of division, but in fact they are voting for an ideology whose modern form is founded upon the politics of division.
Thus, the Trump win was by no means a foregone conclusion – it could have easily gone the other way. But it’s quite clear where Clinton lost (Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio) and why: lack of engagement, lack of interest, and ultimately the condescension towards the ‘deplorables’. (See the Cook Report for a full statistical analysis of the US 2016 election).
Similar arguments can be made about the Brexit referendum result: the Left suffered heavily because the Labour party in the UK, headed by Jeremy Corbyn, has morphed into an ideological Left entity and away from its mainstream working class roots. Millions in the working class Labour heartlands reacted against this and failed to vote to Remain, the position half-heartedly defended by UK Labour. Their vote could reasonably be interpreted as a general protest against the lack of a champion for their very real economic woes.
Undoubtedly, many millions of voters for Trump and Brexit will live to regret their choices in a material sense. This is not to say that the alternatives in each case were good. However, the problem with the Trump and Brexit positions is that neither comes close to being a coherent political programme, and indeed severe damage to the UK and US, and the wider world may well result from both choices. Further, the unsafeness of both Trump and Brexit as political propositions has been clear over the long run, and there is no reason to suppose that those who voted for them were unaware of the risks. But in the end, the insufferable nature of the Left’s engagement with the electorate turned millions away.
It does not seem unreasonable to say that both of these votes were ultimately a rejection by a significant proportion of the relevant electorates of a particular culture of political discourse.
What Future for Politics?
Where does all this leave politics in general? The main conclusion I draw from both the Brexit and Trump campaigns as well as the general flavour of political discourse over the last 5 years is that we are entering an era where the political continuum on which people’s thinking resides is no longer the Left-to-Right one we know so well, but a new one whose ends I would label Rationalist and Emotionalist. If I wanted to invite more brickbats, I might label these ends ‘careful, evidence-based analytical thinking’ and ‘fact-free, subjective emotionalism’. However, I never liked the linear band model of political thought to begin with. A better model would be a disc, with emotionalism on the boundary and rationalism at the centre. That way we could start to think about accommodating a plurality of ideas that traditionally come from the Left and Right, and try to find non-ideological solutions based on reality.
To take one example, there has to be sensible middle ground on on the question of healthcare funding that is not either purely socialist or purely commercialised. In the US for example, the best healthcare is available from providers like Kaiser Permanente, Mayo Clinic and Intermountain Healthcare. These are all non-profit, full service organisations that function more like the socialised systems of small European countries rather than open markets that US citizens have been conditioned to thinking are the only solution for everything. There are however counter-examples in the form of the French healthcare system (high quality but economically unsustainable) and the US Veterans Administration (a government monopoly well-known for less than optimal healthcare provision to US veterans). At the other end of the spectrum, the US healthcare system as a whole is profoundly unsustainable, burning 18% of GDP compared to around 10% for other Western countries (including France). A workable middle ground would follow many of the recommendations of Clayton Christensen in his Innovator’s Prescription, which are based on observations of the US and other healthcare systems. Unfortunately, what we usually hear at election time are unworkable ideas rooted in either purely socialist ideology (UK NHS) or the pure commercial solutions of the likes of Paul Ryan and now Donald Trump, who can’t wait to take Obamacare apart and revert to a situation where around 30 million US citizens can’t get care.
To have political conversations properly means getting away from ideology, looking carefully at facts and also our requirements for a moral society and constructing solutions that have some chance of actually functioning. There is no hope of doing this in a political culture of the emotional identity politics in which offence-taking has been turned into an art-form. We need to get back to reality.