Trump and the Brexiteers: What do they have in common?
They are offering dubious, sometimes xenophobic, solutions to a problem their worldview and privilege is the main cause of.
The problem is inequality and its myriad of symptoms: in how wealth is generated and shared, in how likely you are to succeed in life, in how likely you are to get sick, in how likely you are to have status, in how likely you are to feel a sense of worth and belonging.
The narrative of Boris and Trump is the winner’s narrative, the idea that those who succeed do so because they are hardworking and gifted and those who fail are indolent losers. A tale with little room for the accidents of birth most of its advocates benefit from or from the ubiquitous intervention of fate. A simple narrative for the age of clickbait headlines and lizard brain tribalism.
The testimony of the billions of dispossessed, who worked just as hard and were born just as smart, is muffled by their lack of power. The plight of those brought up in poverty is dismissed by the unthinking belief in the outlier, the improbable rags to riches story we take as evidence for the fecklessness of those less fortunate. Like the 100 year old smoker that we use as an excuse to spark up another Marlboro Light.
But stories are warmer than cold hard facts. Social mobility may well be paralysed. Inequality may well be at record levels. Our political parties may well be prominently ruled by the elites. The make up of our parliament may well be grossly unrepresentative. The seriousness of these issues may well be correlated to the deification of rampant selfishness. However, the narrative goes that these problems are not caused by the way we choose to run things.
They are caused by Mexican rapists, bureaucratic Europeans, Chinese spivs and swarms of militant refugees. If only we could rid ourselves of those parasites we could become great countries again. Because a billionaire megalomaniac in the White House and a bunch of old Etonians in Downing Street is exactly the antidote to the long slow death of social mobility.
Neither Trump nor the Brexiteers (nor any of their viable opponents) are proposing to tame the elitist establishment that feeds them. They may pay lip service to reform but they are rampant proponents of the way things are done. They are the creme de la creme and they benefit from their position. Not that their ideology shouldn’t be on the ballot paper. But in a fair functioning society it shouldn’t be the only feasible choice.
You could level the same argument at those of us who supported Scottish independence, that we too were fooled by a similar narrative. That we believed that we only needed to rid ourselves of the outsider to become a better country, and some people probably did see it that way. However, there was one key factor about that referendum that was different: the potential outcome of Scottish independence presented a tangible way to move to a more democratic system. We knew great prosperity was already here but that it lay in too few hands due to the barriers that system places in front of so many.
If the UK was already representative, there would not have been a Scottish referendum nor would there be a Brexit referendum. If the USA was representative there would not be a vacuum for Trump to fill. In fact the obscene inequality that the Brexiteers and Trump represent, the turmoil they capitalise on, are all a direct consequence of lack of representation.
For although there are many causes of unrest, they all stem from a sense of inequality. A great determinant of whether a nation is fair or not is it having in place an electoral system that produces governments that represent all sectors of society and beliefs.
A vote for Trump and a vote for Brexit are just votes for the same system. We are giving those it is rigged in favour of the legitimacy they need to go on perpetuating it. Both America and the UK will still only have two very ideologically similar political parties to choose from and those parties will continue to win a mandate from a small fraction of the potential voting population. Both of those parties will espouse the same ideas. They will continue to serve the agenda of, and be funded by, the few. They will do so while peddling the myth that every individual has the freedom to succeed if they work hard enough, despite all evidence to the contrary, while peddling the myth that our woes are caused by outsiders.
Revolutions do need to happen in both of our countries. However, they are probably not the revolutions that are being sold to the masses by the privileged elite. You don’t solve inequality and democratic deficit by dancing to the beat of those who move in the highest echelons of society. Both countries need to reform their political systems to make them fit for purpose in the modern world. The first and biggest step would be to adopt proportionally representative voting systems to once more allow those muffled voices to be heard. We will then have a platform that will allow meaningful change.
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