A Donald Trump presidency and the Brexit referendum are nothing but symptoms of an underlying problem affecting all politicians – a lack of ideas.
All hail 2016, the year that we finally learnt to stop trusting pollsters. Donald Trump surged to the presidency yesterday evening on a wave of high energy, Pepe the frog memes and millions of Americans going “fuck it”. Of course, there are many who are dismayed at the outcome, but they can take solace in knowing that even though America did not elect a female president, they were progressive enough to send a living meme to the White House. The Donald has managed to let gaffe after increasingly offensive gaffe slide off his sunset orange skin, with fairly derogatory remarks about Muslims, Women, other Republicans, war heroes, Fox news presenters, and pretty much everyone in between becoming “the norm” over the last 12 months. That wasn’t the only issue – on the campaign trail Trump lied more than Tiger Woods after a trip to Vegas, making increasingly outlandish claims about everything from the unemployment rate to the size of his hands.
Many are worried by Trump because of his rhetoric, and some are claiming his ascendancy to the highest office in the land is a precursor to a neo-fascist revolution. Whilst he has undoubtedly said some very worrying things, and has picked the most insane running mate since Sarah Palin, the fact that he is an overweight, pampered septuagenarian with the intellectual capacity of a particularly slow bonobo ape does somewhat temper the fears. After all, no one has ever led a revolution from a mobility scooter. Furthermore, nothing he has said hasn’t already been said by some of the more fringe Republican members of the Senate and Congress, so if you were worried that this rhetoric didn’t exist before, don’t worry: you were just shielded from it.
So how did this narcissistic ball of terrible hair make it to the White House? Are Americans really that gullible? Has the media shaped discourse in such a negative manner that everyone really does believe that there are millions of undocumented criminals just itching to jump over the border the second another Democrat gets in?
Well, there are probably several reasons as to why America is having its Waldo moment now (on that note, between Cameron’s pig story and this Charlie Brooker has a lot to answer for), but the main one is a fatigue with what people consider to be “the establishment”. Clinton was symbolic of this group: whilst she was undoubtedly qualified there are many who would have taken umbrage at the fact that she was chosen because it was literally her turn, as if the presidency of the United States were the queue for McDonalds and big brother Barack had snuck in first whilst the parents weren’t looking. Then there’s the dynastical element of her bid, which led to the humorous situation of avowed lovers of meritocracy and fairness defending an outcome that normally would have made them shudder. Add in some negative press about mostly nothing (or nothing that you couldn’t also pin on about 99% of other Western politicians) and an inability to use a White House VPN and there we have it – a most unlikely presidency.
Then there is the unending stench of corruption that has followed the Clintons around forever. Whilst Trump was able to revel in his lack of tax receipts and shady deals, anything marginally dubious action of Clinton’s was analysed endlessly by certain parts of the media. Combine that with the never-ending rabbit hole of dodgy conspiracy theory about everything from her health to the assertion that her and Bill had people murdered was only going to swell support for Trump. However, this dislike of the status quo was not alone in driving Trump to the presidency.
There are some similarities here to Brexit, including “establishment fatigue” and the mischaracterisation of both as working class led movements, when they were both mainly made up of a chattering middle class with nothing better to do but read opinion pieces and lament their lost youth, and white people who ironically banded together as a voting block to signify their dislike of identity politics. But the religious element of Trump’s win shouldn’t be forgotten. Whilst it is unlikely he will overturn Roe v Wade, the assumption that Republicans are mostly “anti-abortion” helped a lot of Mormons and Catholics (and others) to hold their nose and vote for the once pro-abortion candidate. It’s the same reflex that keeps them giving to their Church in spite of multiple paedophilia scandals – a desire for self preservation and a world that sees things exactly like you do, all the time, forever.
And here we hit the crux of the matter: the world is big and scary, and things are changing more than any other time in human history. People just want to feel safe, and there’s nowhere safer than a past that can’t be changed. Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s South Park has personified this concept into “Member Berries”, and there really isn’t a better analysis of what’s driving a lot of this political turmoil. What drove many to vote for Brexit and Trump is an idealised past that only exists in clichéd television shows and the minds of baby boomers. When things were simple; when things were better; when one average job could support your bog standard nuclear family with ease. People want that back, but it’s not coming back.
Many are concerned that this is the major political upheaval of our times, but the real problem is going to come later. When Trump can’t bring back those manufacturing jobs because they literally don’t exist, the protest voters might turn in to actual protesters. And this is an issue that we will see develop across the globe as people turn to the angriest political choices: it wasn’t the poor people and immigrants doing the real damage, and frankly it wasn’t even the famed 1% – a combination of ever changing circumstance, improved technology and automation is making our societal organisation as obsolete as Trump’s conception of humility. Things need to change, but no one is giving new answers – and we can either accept this now, or after another few years of whatever 2016 was.