Waking up depressed – again


For the second time in four months those of us of a liberal and international outlook have woken up in state of shock. Trump’s election in November and the UK Brexit vote in June mean that our hopes that the world may become more open and tolerant have taken a severe setback; it may take decades to recover. Deficiencies in leadership on our side of the argument are not the real problem. True, Hillary Clinton, for all her strengths, had made some unfortunate decisions that damaged her credibility and made her a target for resentment. True, Labour’s campaign for ‘Remain’ was handicapped by the inept leadership that Jeremy Corbyn displayed.   However the winning sides in both instances achieved their victory through an unpleasant cocktail of arguments that appealed to the electorate’s worst nature.

In both countries electors were fed an incoherent but effective combination of the following arguments: there is an establishment (whether in Washington, Whitehall or Brussels) that runs things the way they want and have contempt for ‘ordinary people’; immigrants and immigration are a major part of the problem – they are stealing your jobs; we can take back our country and make it great again.

It would be a mistake to assume that the people who voted for such arguments are very angry. They are not. If they had been, they would have taken to the streets long ago: there is no civil unrest in small-town Ohio and Pennsylvania or in Newcastle and Sunderland.   Those who voted this way are taking advantage of a rare opportunity to make a gesture of defiance – to stick up two fingers* as we would say over here. A good analogy would be our local Norwich City football fans; they are now regularly booing the manager and the team at home games because they are not getting the results they need to take them back into the Premier Division. Once the final whistle goes these fans return home to tea having made their gesture and they get on with the rest of their lives.

We will not overcome such attitudes unless and until we offer positive alternatives to the real basis of ‘ordinary people’s’ concerns. The fact is that the modern knowledge based and service driven economy is creating greater inequality – and this is a global problem.

Shortly before the 2015 election campaign the UK-based aid charity, Oxfam published an excellent report entitled Even it up: Time to end extreme inequality. The report commented that:

“Extreme economic inequality has exploded across the world in the last 30 years, making it one of the biggest economic, social and political challenges of our time. Age-old inequalities on the basis of gender, caste, race and religion – injustices in themselves – are exacerbated by the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots… Worldwide, inequality of individual wealth is even more extreme. At the start of 2014, Oxfam calculated that the richest 85 people on the planet owned as much as the poorest half of humanity.”

Now defining a problem does not constitute a great advance to its solution, but it is a first step. Those of us on the social-democratic left must develop a coherent and credible narrative on how wealth creation and wealth distribution can be managed in the 21st century. This must be international rather than national in content. It will be necessary to build international alliances while developing progressive domestic policies to manage the economy in a way that inspires confidence and maintains electoral support.

A long and ambitious task I know, but one that is essential if we are to build a better world for our grandchildren. I await a signal from here or from overseas that the task is beginning. I believe that we will soon see the emergence of an international community, amplified through technology, formed to counter protectionism, isolationism and xenophobia. If this appeals to college-educated people so be it.

Meanwhile I can only offer my deepest sympathy to my friends in the US. It’s not their fault: I’m sure that none of them voted Trump.



* The story is that the two-fingered gesture emerged at the battle of Agincourt in 1415. The French had threatened to cut off the index and middle fingers of any archers they captured. But since the English won, the archers then stuck up these two fingers to show they still had them. Sadly historical research shows this derivation to be a popularly accepted myth.


4 thoughts on “Waking up depressed – again

  1. From your democratic friend in the U.S., we are numbed by the outcome of the election. It is disturbing on so many levels both domestically and globally. We have yet to process all the ramifications. It is the first time in recollection, that all three branches of government are with one party – which will test our system of checks and balances. Right now in the major cities of the US, Anti Trump demonstrations are taking place and this may be just the beginning. When power can potentially go unchecked, both the US and the world must be ready for dire outcomes.

    Very distressed.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Second sleepless night over this debacle! Lots of talk about how Hilary Clinton was not the right candidate I am not convinced that either Bernie Saunders or Joe Bidon would have done any better and maybe even worse.

    My Dad phoned me yesterday, he is 88 and said ” I never thought that i would see the extremism of my childhood years return, didn’t we learn the lesson” Obviously not.

    Corbyn’s response was along rambling statement that could have come directly from the annals of Socialist Worker. He and his out of touch followers are part of the problem not the solution.

    What keeps me awake is the forthcoming elections in Europe, my French relatives are really fearful of a La Penn victory in France on the basis of anything is possible now. As frightening is the prospect of a revitalised Farage, he has got it right twice, Europe and the US Presidency, The nightmare prospect is that the next election in three years could be May verses Farage, with May standing as the champion of liberality and Labour a tragic also ran.

    We have many more sleepless nights to come!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hello Martyn

    I got back from Japan last night and have over the last few weeks viewed the USA presidential campaign through a Japanese perspective. Trump’s isolationism is a threat to Japan which must now decide to re-arm- possibly with nuclear weapons to counter North Korea – and contrary to the present Japanese constitution as absolutely and rightly required the USA in 1945. Nobody in Japan is happy about this or Prime Minister Abe’s proposed constitutional changes to allow it.

    When the world’s greatest power rejects its international responsibilities the world is at the mercy of charlatans and warlords. This will be the second time the USA has chosen isolation over responsibility. After 1918 the country rejected Woodrow Wilson’s proposals at Versailles and refused to join the League of Nations. The consequences are well known – economic disaster, the rise of fascism and the death of countless millions – including many Americans.

    As noted by Karl Marx, echoing Herodotus and Tacitus amongst other despised experts, those who do not understand history will be condemned to relive it. If there is justice they may suffer the fate of Don Giovanni. As Trump is conducted down to Hell he will no doubt proclaim in a loud voice that it has all been fixed by Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Establishment and is deeply unfair. He will at least have the company of numerous friends – many of them Brexiters.

    Peter Knowles

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s