I feel like over the past few months I’ve had to fight off a distinct sense of the world going awry. My last post on Brexit was an attempt to reconcile the increasing difficulty I was encountering trying to get rational, well researched debate on the subject. People were throwing nonsense around citing it as fact. I chose to Remain, based on all the pro’s and cons I listed there, and would never judge someone at face value for voting Leave. What has since happened, however, is that racism and bigotry have been strengthened. The underbelly of the Leave movement is filled with anti-migrant sentiment that had brooded for years. I had hoped it would play less of a part in the referendum than it eventually did, but the issues since are testament to the idea that, actually, it was a victory for racists, whether those in the Leave camp intended it or not.
This is why Trump is so scary to me and I’m sure many Americans across the pond. Trump in and of himself is not overly dangerous; he has a lot less power than people assume the Leader of the Free World actually does, but it is not Trump we’re worried about. It’s his fanatical base of supporters, the message he sends out and what his victory would represent. Bear in mind that since the dawn of the millennium, we have had equal years of Democrat and Republican Presidents in the US and close to equal of Labour and Conservative lead Parliaments, but at opposite times. During the past 8 years of Obama’s term, the US has made enormous strides in terms of social equality, diplomacy and healthcare, undoing much of the damage of the previous administration. The UK, in just the last year, is forcing NHS doctors to accept contracts that they can’t and won’t work, has tried to reduce benefits for the disabled and families and is now hurtling out of the world scene like Sputnik. Reported incidents of racism have risen nearly 50% in the last few months alone since Brexit, we have no idea what the government wants to negotiate on (It knows full well Europe holds all of the cards, it just won’t admit it) and while I have huge admiration for Cameron managing to get a gay marriage bill through Parliament, his successor in government has been divisive in the extreme as home secretary. She is unlikely to be seen as a voice of reason by those in the centre or left, and is not strong enough for many voters on the right. In short, Teresa May could preside over 4 years of gridlock and dead weight, or she could fundamentally divide the country in a far more insidious way than Trump is doing.
This is part of why I wanted to write this blog. When I was a teenager, first learning about the United States, I used to feel a sense of moral superiority. It focussed on guns, race and capital at the expense of health. I used to feel proud that my country, while not perfect, was at least broadly tolerant in a way that the US never seemed to be when presented to us across the pond. I used to feel as though it was a country so divided over issues that seemed to have obvious solutions to me and many of my friends. As it turns out the US at least knows what divides it, in a way the UK didn’t. Liberal, open marketers like me, social democrats and even centre-right conservatives completely misjudged the populace of this country in a profound way. The Leave campaign did exactly what Trump is doing now, it is founding it’s own reality based on innuendo and lies, lies that we thought would be debunked easily and efficiently. But it didn’t matter, people didn’t want to hear the truth anymore. They wanted to hear the stories that supported their biases, on both sides, and in the end the Leave campaign did a far better of job of selling their reality than the Remain campaign did. The UK is not a country I feel proud to live in when that level of suspension from reality is the defining force in the political sphere.
So how could I possibly defend the US? After all, its issues are even deeper than ours in many ways, and Trump has proven that if you play your cards right you can create a reality far more appealing than the one that actually exists. But here’s where the differences start. After every debate, barring the Vice-Presidential ones, Clintons numbers rose as people saw her and were exposed to what she was actually saying and going to do. They were rejecting Trump in the moment, because they were no longer being pummelled with news story after news story, just the bare face of the two people on stage. And Trump looked bad every time, especially after the third debate. Only later did he start to gain ground, as the debate faded from the mind and people returned to social media, going back to their echo chambers and exacerbated by the Comey revelation last week that turned out to be nothing. Contrast that with the debates last year for the parties in the UK. The political barometer never really budged. We never saw the bare face of any of the candidates, and we didn’t really care to begin with. I look where we are now and I know where I’d prefer to be in a political race. One where the issues actually seem to matter to the public.
In the UK, we leave our political affiliations and passions to the side most of the time, choosing to keep such things to ourselves. We have always had a stiff upper lip culture, one that makes us perfect queue lovers but terrible tippers. The Poppy was a symbol of quiet remembrance for those that have fallen in the name of the defence of the country, one which was worn not out of pride but of respect. We instead leave our anger to our own personal spaces, including the things we read. Because of this, it’s enabled the media in this country to turn the Poppy into a charged symbol of defence. It then turns its back on the countries those soldiers died fighting to return to democracy by demanding Brexit like a spoilt child because it has no real opponents.
I admire the population of US because it has never had any doubts about what issues like that mean to them. Despite Trumps assertion that the election is rigged, most of his own supporters do not agree with him. His attacks on a gold star family were attacked from every side of the political spectrum and are only really justified by his most racist supporters. His comments about women were horrifying and again more people moved away from him. These things matter in the US, but here, when a members of UKIP are regularly found to be racist and misogynistic, their numbers go up each election. We don’t seem to care anymore.
The reason why Trump continued to bounce back is that he is channelling an anger and a passion that is void here in Britain. Such expressions of emotion are for Shakespeare, for comedy, certainly not for politics. But they are a core part of who we are as human beings, and for many US citizens that has been missing in politics. Trump supporters have been angry, scared and lost in the winds of change that have taken the US from being a relatively conservative country by Western standards into the 21st century in the last 8 years. Clinton is trying to get the opposite message out with the same passion to the disaffected elements of the new generation and minorities, but millennials like myself are a cynical bunch when it comes to politics. Obama appealed to that sense of idealism and got about as far as any other Democrat would have. We’ve stopped caring about what’s right, and focus on perfect ideals of what could be. I complained about Russell Brand for this reason last year, and when he supported Ed Miliband (you know, the person he felt it was right to support for a whole range of reasons) he was derided by my generation as a traitor to his cause, despite Labour having easily the best chance of contesting the Tories. Corbyn is now running on the same fuel, but that can only last so long. My generation cannot be trusted to win elections for you, and I certainly wouldn’t trust their judgement in any case.
What this election has shown to me is the side of America that I wish Britain could learn from. The side that looks at the world and goes “That’s not good enough for me”. The side that fills stadiums at political rallies. The side that shouts and chants for its leaders to do more, rather than quietly applauding at every conference. Yeah, Trumps supporters are scary, but they’re scary because we know deep down that we’re not actually that different. We’re scared too, scared of them, scared of ISIS, scared of the future of the world in so many different ways, from climate change to social equality. What they have that we in Britain lack most of the time is an unbridled sense of belief that the world can be solved by one man and his words alone. Before I judge that too harshly, I would like to point at the members of Momentum and the nonsense they spout on a regular basis about Corbyn. Suspension of disbelief is not restricted the right of the political spectrum, nor is it entirely void here. But members of Momentum would not fill out stadiums for Corbyn, especially not on a rainy day.
I don’t want to talk about politics with someone in Britain. The conversation is almost always one of cynicism, not of passion. I would love to go to a rally in the US for either party. I would not be against voting Republican in a normal election cycle (and this has been as far from normal as any in my lifetime). The election cycle in the US, while nonsensical and exacerbating to some, keeps political discussion constant and unwavering throughout the 4 years of a presidential term in a way that doesn’t happen here. Trump supporters are brutally honest in their views when asked, something that is often found funny by those on the left, but which is charged by their experiences. They don’t want a liar leading them, and whether Clinton is guilty or not, the message Trump sends them is “She’s lying” every time. She is less trustworthy than Trump in most polls, and even ardent Democrats will admit the last year has been extremely tough to take when it comes to trusting her wholeheartedly, and that matters to the voters in America in a way we dismiss here. Politics in Britain has become a case of who not to vote for, not who to support (honestly this feels like the main reason the Tories won the last election. Who else would you vote for?). Some might say the same thing about this election in America, but I don’t think tens of thousands of people would fill out a hall to shout and chant for their political leaders unless they wanted to vote for them regardless of who was standing against them.
The friends I’ve made and people I’ve spoken to have only further reinforced this idea, and my desire to eventually live in the States. As much as I know my view of it is on a grander scale than the day to day lives of the populace, the country as a whole has a drive and distinct feeling that things matter. It might be that people disagree on the issues, but they matter to them and aren’t just a side-note. The cynicism that pervades the British psyche these days is something I want to leave behind me and forget exists. I know of course that it exists in America too, but at least I know it doesn’t exist everywhere.
Also, the food is fantastic, it’s history and impact on the world is amazing and I’m becoming slowly converted to the idea that guns are fantastic pieces of engineering that make a really cool noise. So it’s not all politics :P.