I’m currently writing this blog from 37,000 feet above the Atlantic Ocean. I’m on my way back to the UK from Miami where I have been campaigning for Hillary Clinton in the Sunshine State. Like most people I’m shocked at the result. As I reflect on the campaign, I cannot help conclude that there are striking and obvious similarities between the way in which this election played out, and our Brexit referendum in the UK. There was a generational division in the vote with middle aged and older voters delivering the White House for Donald Trump whilst the under 30s - who will live longer with the consequences of this vote - voted for Clinton in a landslide. Immigration was a central tenant for both campaigns and instead of hope, Trump and Brexit traded on hate.
As far as I can surmise, the truth is this; there is a New World Order in play. It’s led by Donald Trump and Nigel Farage. It is scary. But it could get worse. That’s unless the progressives on both sides of the pond act quickly to remind people what progressive politics has done for them and what it will do in the future. We must learn to once again speak with emotion and conviction about our plans and celebrate our historic achievements.
I believe there are four main parts to this new world order; the realigning of our national values, the manipulation of the democratic process, technological revolution and control.
Firstly, there is a fundamental shift in values and virtues. For instance, intelligence, expertise, fact, reason and civility are now seen in the contemporary political arena as vices akin to untrustworthiness and deceit. Instead, the world is implicitly instructed by Trump and Nigel Farage to accept ignorance, misogyny and hate as the best traits to define a nation because they speak to a ‘rebellion against the establishment’.
I think progressives must wake up to this if we are to change the hearts and minds of people who support Trump and Farage at home and abroad. Whether we like it or not, the start line for our conversation has moved backwards. We like to think we are living in a wholly inclusive and tolerant society but just isn’t so.
The truth as borne out on June 23 and November 8, is that Britain and America are more intolerant, more hateful and more divided than at any time in the last three decades. Politicians have exploited difference for political expediency but what is worse, they have been allowed to do it, virtually unchallenged until it is too late and the public’s views are already deeply entrenched on issues such as immigration and the economy.
Our differences are magnified by social media and 24/7 rolling news. Trolling has taken the place of civilized debate. We are told education doesn’t matter as much as it once did, but that life experience is more important. We have come to regard expert opinion and corruption as one and the same. And people have come to believe passionately, deep in their hearts, that there is a better Britain and America out there - one that has been lost - which these votes will somehow rescue.
It’s why we need to see the task before us as one where we renew our commitment to challenging hate and intolerance wherever it appears. We must convince our countries that tolerance, decency and respect are the values we want the world to associate with our great countries and which lead to healthier and happier places to live, work and raise families.
Some will say that time alone will bear this out. In other words, Trump and Farage will be found out for the liars and hateful political creatures that they are; that the countries they have changed forever will wake up to the fact that we have more in common than divides us. They may be right. But I don’t believe we should leave it to chance. Particularly given how volatile politics is at present.
That’s why it’s time for the rebuttal. It’s time to talk up our progress, not just protect it.
As President Obama often alludes to; if you had a choice of which moment in history to choose to live, you’d always choose now. Despite the many harsh contentions of 21st Century Britain and America, our nations are more prosperous, healthier, fairer, more equal and more just that at any time in human history. It is the triumph of previous generations of Democratic and Labour activists.
In 2012, on the eve of the last presidential election, I sat in downtime Columbus, Ohio and listened as Obama explained that elections should always be about two things; “the future and hope”.
I don’t think this election met those tests and I don’t think that is part of the structure of this new world order. Trump will argue he was hopeful about the future as he aimed to ‘make America great again’. But the actuality is, he labored on about the past, wanted to turn back time and hate triumphed over hope.
So if the world is as outraged by Trump’s victory as they appear to be, then it is time to really challenge the far-right. And it starts by reminding the world that the people who have actually stood up against the status quo for centuries have been the progressives, not the reactionaries. The people who are largely responsible for the advances in national prosperity, improved healthcare and delivered a more equal and just society than before, were all progressives. Is there more work to do? Of course there is. But never forget that Labour and the Democrats have got more right than they have got wrong over the last century and we need to reclaim that credit with the public.
And that leads to the second aspect of the New World Order. Democracy.
I believe in democracy but it needs to rigorous and reformed. I believe that in order for democracies to function as they should, it requires the presentation of reasoned, balanced arguments that inform voters and empowers them to make decisions based on the facts. That means our democracy extends beyond the ballot box and the physical act of casting your vote. It extends to the media, the strategists and the pollsters. Each have a responsibility to promote healthy debate, inform positions, prevent catastrophe and present the facts.
All parts of the democratic process should work together, hand in hand.
Too often in modern politics that hasn’t been the case. Balance has been ostensibly omitted. In years gone by our consumption of news was controlled by journalists and their editors who would ensure that the sources were checked, double checked, and true. There were also only a select few sources of news; the main broadcasters and four or five national tabloid and broadsheet newspapers.
Today, we decide what news we receive as we fill our iPad, iPhones and tablets with the apps we want and we follow the journalists, bloggers and commentators we want on Facebook and twitter. The result is that we create echo chambers where rumour fills the time between the traditional tip off and the source being checked. Before you know it a lie is half way around the world. It’s devastating for political campaigns and politicians. Yet as Brits come to terms with Brexit and Americans realise the reality of a Trump presidency, its increasingly becoming a toxic component of our democratic process.
Put plainly, today politicians can choose to manipulate the public very easily. They fill social media with lies and deceit and then sit back and watch as opinion poll after opinion poll demonstrates their gambles have landed. They never need the approval of an editor or a favourable journalist to get their message - however warped - out into the public domain.
No two people have done this better than Donald Trump and Nigel Farage.
In the UK the democratic process was manipulated to allow the country to vote to leave a union of 28 European countries, that saw Britain lead in the world, negotiate international treaties and trade deals and foster the longest period of peace in our continent’s history. In the US the first black president will hand over the keys to the White House to a man who is openly supported by the KKK. This isn’t a positive direction for anyone and it certainly isn’t progressive.
I’m not suggesting democracy always has to be inspiring, but it has to rid itself of the intrinsic iniquitousness and depravity that now underpins its ability to function as it should.
However, I don’t wish to categories all Trump and Farage fans. Progressives did stop listening and that should be a lesson we take away from 2016.
Anti-immigration is a large part of the Trump/Farage appeal to many people, but the year 2016 is also the year in which politics has had to confront the harsh realities of a technological revolution that has not been to the benefit of generations of workers. For the 11 years that I have been a student of British and American politics, we’ve known that advances in technology were costing people jobs, particularly those over the age of 50. We actively choose not to act on the basis that the remedy for this problem was simply too difficult.
But we got away with it in 2005, 2008 and 2012 because these people effected weren’t voting.
Now they are.
Trump’s success in Ohio and Michigan and Brexit’s success in places like Barnsley and Sunderland are testament to the feeling of abandonment felt by many millions of voters who have seen their jobs become redundant in an economy that puts a premium on the power of technology over the power of people.
Between 1997 and 2010 in the U.K. it was the creative economy that was the second fastest growing behind the financial services. Jobs in graphic design, social media and multimedia journalism substituted the traditional jobs in factories and mines that were no longer needed. The same can be said for the automotive and aviation industry in the US, where great feats of engineering and scientific discovery have increased the efficiency of productivity but reduced the necessity for human hands to build.
Now the republicans led by Trump and UKIP led by Farage have seized the chance to speak to these people’s grievances and have appeared to put their futures first in their list of political priorities.
It’s Labour and Democratic territory but it’s been lost to hard right extremists.
It will be uncomfortable for some progressives but in order to win these voters back we need to be prepared to have conservations along the lines of British jobs for British workers, British homes for British workers and Benefits for Brits.
As Obama went on to say in Columbus in 2012, ‘I don’t believe that government can solve all of our problems, but I don’t think it’s responsible for them either. I don’t want to spend all of our time blaming other people. I believe we’re all in this together. I believe that we have to take responsibility for ourselves, but also look out for one another”.
And it was his focus on responsibility that hit home with me because it speaks to the Trump and Farage appeal around ‘control’. If people really do want more control of their lives, then they must be prepared to take more responsibility. The shift in power that we are seeing in the UK and US towards greater control for the population - toward a more direct form of democracy - means the state or the establishment can no longer be to blame for the troubles facing working and middle class families.
The line that it’s ‘people power‘ who are ‘giving the establishment a good kicking‘ is often part of a Farage interview script. But what will he do when it’s not the fault of the EU or the establishment? What will Trump do now that he actually is the establishment?
In my view, having now campaigned in both countries in 2016 and seen for myself what is happening on the ground, it is clear that Trump and Farage are not politicians, and this is not a new world order, capable of coming up with progressive policies to change the fortunes of millions of Brits and Americans. Only progressives can do this.
Right now too many people have hate in their heart. You see it and hear it in cars and conversations, in schools and churches, in offices and street corners. Immigration stirs something in people that leads to venom. We are so blinkered by the narrative of hate and division peddled by Farage and Trump, that we fail to think for ourselves. To imagine something different.
As the brilliant LBC presenter James O’Brien said this week, by voting for Trump, ‘people have voted to make their lives better and others’ lives worse.’ The same can be said for the people who voted to leave the EU.
Progressives must take back the narrative on immigration and the economy but also show, once again, the value in taking responsibility for yourself and your community. History proves that we are the ones who think big, who create bold policies that positively transform countries. It was Labour in the UK and FDR and the Democrats in the US that after the second world war, had the foresight and the vision to create the New Deal and the NHS, the Marshall Plan and the Welfare state. We built housing and New Towns, put a man on the moon and had the first black president to lead the free world.
So let’s see this calendar year as a moment to shrug off our collective timidity about our progressive record and about our capacity to deliver big again in the future.
I know that there is much to be genuinely downbeat about if you’re a progressive in trans-Atlantic politics right now. Brexit has unleashed demons in every town, city and region of the UK and the 45th president of America is openly racist, sexist and allegedly a serial sex offender.
Both UKIP and the republicans have fought campaigns on the most pernicious platforms since before the Second World War. They have encouraged their electorates to replace reason with fiction, to ignore science and fact and instead put premiums on difference and division. Their words have resonated - even to the households of people who should know better. The toxicity from one neighbour towards another is visible in all communities the length and the breadth of both countries. So it would be easy to walk away and quit.
And yet as I return to the UK with friends who traveled stateside to be the change they want to see in the world, I take away the words of Hillary Clinton, the most inspiring female politician of my lifetime, who said in her concession speech on Wednesday, “To all the young people, please, please never stop believing that fighting for what’s right is worth it. It’s always worth it. And we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives.”
And with that, we progressives prepare ourselves to confront the challenges of our generation and say loudly and clearly that we are fired up and ready to go again.