They were scarcely Kennedy or 9/11 moments… The associations of their names – the whiff of a bad smell and the surname echoing a confused hodgepodge of meaning – are the only things to live up to expectations. But beyond the easy pickings for stand-ups and political commentators, the ramifications of the Trump Presidential and Farage-inspired Brexit elections have a potential for tragicomedy on a global stage.
Gonna Build Me a Wall
What were your first reactions? Did you laugh, cry, or seek solace in a bottle? Were you compelled to demonstrate in the streets?
What did you feel? Was it an overwhelming condescension? A smug exercise in wiping your hands of events; as, in an act of indomitable self-indulgence, you told anyone who’d listen that the election results were most definitely – not in my name! As if democracy is a one-way street… anymore than a nation state is a walled-up cul-de-sac in a Trumped-up world.
Did the following days allow you to cultivate a sense of righteous indignation as you singled out your fellow citizens as complicit? As if against all the evidence of human history, there is a glorious commonsense day of judgement on the horizon with all the inevitability of another recession.
We’re All Mexicans
What should really hurt most is that we’re all guilty. If you want to point the finger then perhaps it’s best undertaken while looking in the mirror. The only argument can be over a matter of degree: those times when you shrugged your shoulders; the moments where democracy and the collective will were a convenient excuse for keeping your head down and just following orders. Whether you put this down to human nature, self-preservation or you were just responding to something in the wind… this is the personal reflection we all have to deal with.
These highly polarising and shock results on each side of the Atlantic have been long in the making. The propensity to black and white hasn’t come out of the blue but has slowly bubbled to the surface from the grey stew of the recent social, economic and political past.
The impact of Trump and Farage gestates from the equally dubious ‘80s coupling of Reagan and Thatcher, with their one-eyed denial of community and worship of the free market at any cost. Their paragons of might and right – the corporations – have been even more successful than they could ever have imagined. The world has got smaller through communication, infrastructure, treaty, interdependence and the empty ‘triumph’ of capitalism which has stamped down on competition and diversity as relentlessly as a bargain hunter in a queue on Black Friday.
Western consumerism is apparently the only way. Its relentlessly oversold promotion akin to seasonal sofa sales. All you small nations will get ‘free’ credit of course: but you do realise the springs will go by next Christmas, you won’t be able to afford any replacements under the exclusive supply deal negotiated; oh, and you won’t actually be allowed to sit on it as it is designed to only be really comfortable for the few – don’t you? And er, those seats are already taken in any case.
You’ll Do it Our Way
Our way mirrors the pattern of Frank Sinatra’s comebacks. A gradually diminishing resource: increasingly out of sync, off key; inflexible to new ideas and boasting the return of the same old song to any circumstance and venue. As always, those who get the best tickets are most likely to continue to endorse the arrangement. Payback from exporting this model has cultivated dependence without recourse to local need, producing at best envy and nationalism – at worst terrorism; and now the enemy at home. Those insidious fifth-columnists who had the temerity to vote Donald and Nigel and who have stabbed US all in the back.
What has changed is that the front row tickets now go to the corporations: increasingly organisations who have got bigger than the old school super rich individuals and even nations themselves. They routinely hold states to ransom as the mission statement becomes the mantra becomes the consuming methodology; involving shifting jobs, avoiding taxes and responsibility around the globe. Why? Because they can; because they’re encouraged to do so and because when the balance sheet is everything – loyalty, morality and decency are the dirtiest of words.
And because they’re worth it… Government leaders increasingly resemble eager fan boys and girls hanging around international conferences and semi-official gatherings of the right right wing people for the signatures to investment and employment that will get the voters off their back in the short term, making them the envy of their trading bloc partners as they delude themselves in notions that they are indispensable and have arrived in the only global club that really matters.
This all takes place as corporations invoke transient notions of involvement, customer relationship, responsibility and humanity through cynical brand identity; all the while seeking the next incentive like opportunistic whores indulging in economic one-night stands.
A Cry in the Trailer Park
No one – other than the keenest of supporters – are going to credit Trump and Farage with joined-up thinking, least of all a coherent philosophy. It’s knee-jerk, gut-feeling politics. They’re reactionary in tone and resolutely small-minded in action. However, one person’s figure of fun is another’s guru and what was ignored for too long in the midst of a tsunami of satirical superiority is what they represent, exploit or simply chanced upon.
Driving their success is an outpouring of resentment and pain; feelings of individual and collective pointlessness from the victims of ignorance and prejudice and economic practice that has been added to incrementally over a long period of time because, rightly or wrongly, it appears nobody has ears to listen. There exists a huge swathe of people cut away from any financial day-to-day certainties. They may be at times naively unspecific as to what is causing the bulk of their woes, and feel the kind of powerlessness that produces a reaction which may hurt them more than their immediate target, but when you appear to have nothing to lose – who cares? Populist debate rarely touches on their situation other than as a rubber stamp reaffirming the right way; cheer-leading a status quo that has routinely ignored their needs whilst superficially endorsing their usefulness as this year’s temporary employment model or social pariah, it’s as if – who knew?!
Just the Job
A large segment of the populations facing up across the Atlantic – the core Trump and Farage supporters – have had enough of short-term working; the insecurity of zero–hours contracts, the worship of corporate convenience; of appearing numbers on a list; of being told to be grateful for having employment regardless of whether it allows them to entertain any meaningful participation in the society they contribute to, or even the means to simply make ends meet. Jobs are routinely chased down to the lowest global denominator in a cracked record of a system that spits them out in short order to a condescending job service and spiteful benefits provision – all the while to the script of a political and media backlash where they’re told it’s all their fault anyhow.
The banking crisis, years without meaningful pay increases, the Mac jobs; Walmart taking out competition in small town America like a colonising commercial army and subsequently dictating all the peace terms are just the tip of the iceberg of recent times: surface expressions of a complexity increasingly portrayed in black and white terms (literally as well as metaphorically) and with the blame constantly attributed to the victims – the easy targets; those awkward citizens with no self-regard or manners, the ungrateful, the undeserving, the uneducated, the immigrants, the flotsam of hard times; the price worth paying.
No Gain Without Pain
As these people pay that price – always being at the forefront of the fallout from global economic crises, systemic ‘mistakes’ and engineered redundancy – the world’s wealth is being hoovered up to an unprecedented degree by the few, reflecting how the game has moved on; leaving emblematic industrial towns full of people as obsolete as any rusting factory works.
Resentment is exacerbated by a market philosophy warped by attitudes and political input that decrees the only people who justify or actively need an incentive, or who are allowed to entertain aspirations, are the rich and professional. These people from no state, these citizens of the world who provide another dimension to greed; where the deal and instant gratification far outweigh any responsibility to anyone other than their own hubris and bottom line. In a world where it’s never enough to make a good profit any more… you and your kids don’t even get the minimum wage, decent education or basic services.
Reasons to live and social mobility are squeezed back to those of another century as political classes look after their own; at worst expense-fiddling, empty corporate mouthpieces with no sense of public service. Fellow citizens are eyed with complete contempt and thrown the we’re all in this together line when it suits. Ivy league and Oxbridge become intern researchers following the gravy train to a few years in Parliament or on Capitol Hill – where you can get to make those all important lobby contacts that foreshadow the real business of improving your own bank account with a future of fat-fee directorships, consultancy and influence.
If that wasn’t enough, these corporations with their mega ad budgets, tax breaks and itinerant production then saturate outlets, media and veins with their highly profitable sugar and fat-laden choices of nutrition. It’s like subsidising your own downfall and addiction. Sugar and spite then need a target: let’s all make fun of the chavs, the thick northerners, those obese wannabe diabetics, belly wobbling, tacky tracky-wearing estate dwellers, Midwest states of mind, rednecks, benefit junkies, hicks, drug dealing ‘spics’ and trailer trash. Gorge on the litmus tests of (feel) superior reality television and the entertainment of derision to make yourself feel good.
The Creep Crusaders
Political, economic and social disengagement prevail and oh, the irony of it all – the damned, dispossessed and desperate climb into bed with the devil(s) who at least pretend they are listening. Messrs Trump and Farage… undertakers for the Liberal consensus? Corporate avengers? Multicultural malcontents? Opportunistic charlatans? Champions of bringing it all back home? Or lightning rods for the true (mean) spirit of the times?
Delivering this whopping great transatlantic middle-finger also delivers a platform to two people who couldn’t care less of the fate of ordinary working people. Off the back of discontent two relatively unpopular mavericks indulge the school bullies’ revenge and have used the situation to get one over on their own very narrow notions of the establishment. Where personal slight probably has more to do with motivation than any macro policy of wresting back control, borders and a way of life.
And what of those who would be expected, or are supposed to talk for the dispossessed? Is this the biggest failure of them all? Niche metropolitan elites with no experience of, or feeling for, what they purport to champion. Who are the real foreigners in our midst?
The Labour Party, left wing metropolitan groups and publications staffed by Oxbridge coteries that primp and pander to equally tiny elite readerships; Blair and Clinton besotted by big business and celebrity – they all pay lip service to the epidemic of poverty and hopelessness that is only a convenient issue at election times. Globalisation has torn up the rules and left it to those rich enough to make their own. They always have – it’s only the scale and speed that’s different.
Empathy is in short supply; much social media is a blind alley of political disengagement and distraction for a dull life: thrashing out, flailing around indiscriminately at the injustice of it all which is reflected in their choice of the strangest of targets – though what can you expect if you push or marginalise people enough ?
It’s hard to be precise or put the emphasis on any one cause over another in this broad sweep. The reasons overlap like the slow brood of discontent that has travelled decades and found an unlikely outlet in Trump and Farage: defining these causes will probably keep academics and observers arguing for years.
A combination of expedience and indifference means it has been easy to wash our hands of the plight of the ordinary; to dislike, to feel superior, to make fun of them and their culture, to effectively leave them behind. This is especially true as they are less likely to vote or use the right channels to make themselves heard and increasingly reel from the sharp end of rapid change, unable to see a role; a future even. It’s always been easy to ignore them and it’s still easy to ignore them. However, it’s not so easy now to ignore the consequences of their actions.
Whatever explanation you subscribe to; you’ll need to find a way to deal with the fall out. It’s going to take a lot more than a tic tac or a pint to take away the bad taste of what is likely to evolve over the next few years.