Today’s announcement of the election of Donald Trump to become the next President of the United States is only the latest stage in a wave of discontented political expression sweeping the Western World.
Since the end of the Second World War, and with particular prevalence in the past three decades or so, the Western World has been dominated by left-wing and liberal ideals. The horrors of Twentieth Century right-wing politics have continued to inspire dread, and even more right-inclined parties like the British Tories have little in the way of truly right-wing motivation or intent. (I will continue to use the ‘wing’ terms for political opinions throughout this piece for brevity, although I personally disagree with the idea that such umbrella terms can provide an accurate picture of divergent political opinions)
The political status quo of the Western World had been largely unchallenged in its liberal approach to the world, until the Financial Crisis of 2007-8. The dawn of a second Great Depression saw an increasing popular ire against the establishment surface, as many felt that a distant political and economic class had been gambling with their future and pursuing goals out of line with the opinions of those they had been elected to represent.
The political left wing has traditionally been associated with representing the views of the many, but after so long a period holding virtual hegemony they had essentially become the establishment that so many were beginning to rail against. Much of the anger has stemmed from the globalised world, with projects such as the EU and NAFTA presenting a picture of national politicians whose interests no longer prioritised the electorates to whom their position was owed. The excessive spending on international projects that actively undermined domestic industries and employment did little to stymie concerns that the political elite were out of touch.
The recent votes in the UK and USA for such radical alterations in the ways these countries will face the world are a natural consequence of an electorate who feel that their political establishment are at odds with their own concerns, whilst the campaigns and their aftermath have provided an eloquent description of the detachment of the two spheres.
The prolonged leftist hegemony of Western political thought had created a complacency that has been well demonstrated during the EU referendum and U.S. Presidential campaigns; both saw the establishment candidates relying more on condemnation of the alternative points of view than an advocation for their own. The huge and public outpourings of grief, hand-wringing, and condemnation in the aftermath have likewise done much to foster and encouraged a continued climate of mutual dislike and mistrust rather than maintain a society in which difference of opinion is to be respected. The refusal to consider the opinions of others, or demonstrate a degree of empathy, has done much to alienate electorates who largely do not possess the bigoted mindsets so readily applied to them by their critics.
The extent of the leftist establishment has come into sharp relief during these last campaigns. The endless processions of highly-paid experts and weeping celebrities that surfaced to urge people to vote safe did little to sway public opinion, and may in fact have actively undermined their cause. In Britain, in my experience, the Cult of Celebrity is a fickle one and many are disinclined to merely do as some wealthy person in the public eye bids them. Likewise, the respect afforded to experts (particularly in academia) appears to have drastically reduced – thanks in no part to the financial crisis, but also the ideological hegemony of many Western universities.
Many reports have emerged of ideological groupthink within places of higher learning across the Western World, in which dissenting ideas are banned and students run the risk of becoming pariahs for questioning a militantly leftist establishment. Someone close to me has recently started university, and found thenself alone in their views as their lecturers present successive classes on feminism and the evils of capitalism without recourse to a counter-opinion. Within the results of last night’s election was a statistic correlating the votes of US citizens with their higher education; the implicit suggestion was that only stupid people would vote for Trump as the vast majority of those with a college education turned to Clinton, yet it could equally be that those sent to American seats of higher learning are often being taught that there is only one way to think politically, and woe betide those who would consider Wrongthink.
The willingness of Western media to present slants on their stories has done much to exacerbate the issues of alienation; most Leave or Trump voters are not frothing racists, and the aggressive condemnation of alternate opinions exhibited does as little to endear people to the established left as the patronising assertions of elites that they know better. Many voters are tired of being told how to think, and an establishment that treats their concerns with such virulent scorn encourages an equally violent counter-reaction.
There is no inherently right or wrong way to view the world, and the division of schools of thought into only two camps immediately encourages an ‘us and them’ mentality. In the Western World of the moment, the rise of so many right-wing movements should serve as a lesson in the dangers of a closed minded system, whatever its beliefs. History is filled with the remains of systems that failed to appreciate the concerns of their people until it was too late and one can only hope that our modern establishments will remember this lesson and allow for peaceful change.