I need to get this off my chest.
First, I think there’s a clear point with which we can all be united. The essence of democracy is the one quality, perhaps above all others, which is essential for an accountable and democratic state. Elections and referendums are a small part; the cultural aspect which allows citizens freedom to act within our laws and moral boundaries is more significant and demands respect.
Now the waters get a little murkier, but stay with me. I believe the political classes have found ways to undermine the principle of democracy, often for personal gain in terms of career or cash, and are using divisive arguments that serve to destroy the foundations upon which our society has been built. The ghastly modern trait of treating an opponent like an idiot, and casting blanket insults over a significant portion of the population is both erosive and devoid of any kind of nuance. As a consequence of this reckless bluster by unsophisticated politicians, twice in the last year I’ve witnessed societies divided after votes, and the fallouts have followed a strikingly similar path.
By now, I’m sure you’ve established I’m talking about the EU referendum—I won’t say Brexit because it sounds like something you’d take to clear your bowels—and the election in the United States of America. When it comes to politics I’m not unusual. I judge things on an individual basis rather than parroting received wisdom from a career politician. That said, I’m a keen observer of the political process and watched both events like a hawk.
The ugly campaigns that transpired bothered me, however, I found the spiteful treatment of fellow citizens more alarming. The chief protagonists were unsurprisingly guilty of Punch and Judy-style of politics, but what I didn’t expect was how much this would bleed into our national fabrics. For example, I’m certain a thousand of reasons exist why people voted to leave the European Union and to elect Donald Trump as president. I’m also willing to bet the majority were not racist, woman hating, or xenophobic, and made an incredibly difficult choice based on long-held principles rather than on the morally bankrupt personalities. Anyone who used bigoted reasoning should hang their head in shame, but millions of people didn’t and are getting convincted of thought crimes in the court of social media. This sort of catch-all, incurious abuse alienates good people, the disenfranchised, and voters whom modern society has failed by insinuating their guilt by association. I know our world has real and frightening issues, every mature adult does, but this post is more about personal reponsibility and a hope that we can avoid the cynical, political traps layed to divide us.
I’m a glass half-full man who prefers finding a solution over whining, and I believe the first steps for some is to admit tangible reasons exist for a democratic outcome, to cease dragging the debate to accusatory simplifications, and then to sincerely tackle the issues in a rational way. Using insults for reprisal or to shut down anyone who disagrees with your point of view never helps. If a person thinks fifty-percent of our populations are simply evil or easily manipulated because they didn’t vote for the same candidate, that person has a closed mind. It’s mildly ironic, but it’s our duty not to sneer and bring about change through engagement.
As an Englishman with many friends over the pond, I wanted to look beyond the hysteria and understand why people voted for Mr. Trump in such numbers. It was easy establish various motivations after personally communicating and watching the coverage during the election cycle. Nobody I encountered fitted the nasty caricatures painted by the media. If I can see this, why can’t the political establishment or the more vociferous of Mr. Trump’s opponents? Some voted for him along party lines. Some couldn’t be paid to vote for Secretary Clinton. Some felt left behind by beltway politics and saw him as an anti-establishment vote or change candidate. I know the Donald is as anti-establishment as a pair of jeans, but I believe they were referring to the career politicians, special interests, and the press pack in Washington. I found it very much like the perception of the Westminster bubble in northern England during the EU referendum, where just like in the Midwest, nothing substantial has replaced the industrial decline. A Sky News roving reporter interviewed factory workers from Johnstown, PA. What came across was a frustration with the current system and a message that they were voting for what they believed was a better future. Whether Mr. Trump is the answer or you disagree, it was easy to sense their motive, and I’m certainly in no position to question it. Modern America isn’t working for them in the same way countless UK governments have left northern England behind. Citizens in working class communities were promised that globalisation would lead them to the land of milk and honey. The poverty gap grew and jobs were lost. Unless the political class take these people seriously and own the policies that have diminished the standard of living outside the glitzy cities, the same people will keep delivering a smack in the face at the ballot box until they experience a real improvement in their lives.
I’ve always believed the path to victory is holding a deep understanding of the opponent and tackling the issues rather than slinging mud at the questionable personalities who hog the airwaves. Arguments are not won by disparaging remarks and courteous communication is paramount. The way to winning hearts and minds is listening, digesting, then offering hope and a realistic plan for improvement. That’s what I expect from our politicians. Feel free to disagree.
Today is Remembrance Sunday and serves as a timely reminder that during adversity we always come together and fight for what is right. I will always strive to honour our fallen ancestors by rising above vulgarity and communicating my beliefs with the common decency they have afforded me. We are better than politicians and nobody should join them in the gutter.