Everybody is commenting about Trump. They’re talking about his plans (or lack of), his unpredictability, his fitness for office, his government appointments. They’re talking about what his election says about America, what the consequences of Trump might be for the USA and the rest of the world.
In the aftermath of Brexit and the debate about experts, ‘post-Truth’ and populism, the pending Trump administrations makes many of the challenges facing politics in Europe pale in comparison. Look at Trump’s cabinet appointments, Mehdi Hassan has and he uses the label ‘kakistocracy’ – government by the worst. I don’t think many people could put it better.
I think to me, of all the far-reaching ramifications of Trump and Brexit, the consequences which matter the most are deeply personal. They seem to fly in the face of so much of what I believe in, as a citizen, as a political activist and as an educator.
As a citizen, I believe that people should have as many opportunities in life as possible and that it should be the role of government – at all scales – to try and expand and extend opportunity to people who wouldn’t otherwise have it, be it due to poverty, disability, sexual orientation, geography or other barrier. Alongside a belief in openness, tolerance and, broadly-speaking, internationalism, you’d describe this as liberalism or progressive politics. Set against this, leaving the EU and the election of Trump seem to represent the dismantling of a state designed to promote opportunity, the closing of borders and a rhetoric which encourages division and hate. I read a fascinating article by John Gray which considers the errors made by liberals in how they understand the world and present themselves as a political option. Gray is critical of liberals and some of what he says has to be listened to. I don’t believe we have to give up though.
As a political activist, I recognise the challenge presented by the populism of Trump and Nigel Farage. Within a febrile media climate which expects politics by soundbite (no doubt favouring Trump’s decree-by-Tweet approach), it is difficult to go into the depth required to persuade people about the liberal-progressive alternative. Thinking more practically, is it possible to marry progress and populism? Surely it is feasible to have a liberal vision which is populist but meaningful. The political arena has always been full of people who have remained true to principles, but never had the power to make a difference, Jeremy Corbyn is perhaps the latest such figure. There must be a balance between a popular narrative and clear principles and values.
As an educator, the election of Trump and what that says about the world, I think I am affected most profoundly. I find myself trying to reconcile my purpose as a teacher, of a subject intended to broaden people’s understanding of the world, with a society that has opted to forego internationalism and open-mindedness. That said, another facet of Trump-Brexit is the unpredictability of our world. This perhaps offers some solace to teachers, especially of traditional academic, liberally-minded subjects, as the knowledge and skills which it offers to learners are perhaps the ultimate transferable skill, preparing them for a world which will always change.
The world is changing and one thing for sure is we do not know what the impact of Trump or Brexit will be. Only time will tell. Think back to a world which had so much hope regarding the promise of Barack Obama’s presidency. Consider how his potential legacy could be so swiftly and fully undone; reflect on the barriers which he could not overcome and, as a result, the goals he couldn’t achieve. Nobody could have fully predicted the course that the Obama administration took. We must be similarly open-minded, striking a balance between caution and optimism, as to the impact which Trump – and Brexit – could actually have. Only time will tell.