I am not an American. I do not, nor probably will ever have, a say in the democratic process of the greatest nation on the planet. Nevertheless, the global ramifications of the U.S Presidential elections are so vast and wide-ranging that I feel justified in writing upon it, despite my lack of U.S citizenship. This piece, though its creation was inspired by the recent U.S elections, is not entirely about the election of Mr Trump. It is more about the spate of recent elections in the Anglophone world, and my experiences as a new, youthful entrant to the voting public at a time of great political upset.
I do not associate myself with any particular political party, nor even with either the Left or Right. I consider myself distinctly a centrist; if I am forced to adopt a label, something I am usually loath to do, I would call myself a liberal; indeed, I am almost libertarian in my passion for personal and civil freedoms. I believe strongly in freedom of speech and conscience, the general decency of human beings, and that empathy for others is critical for a society that is not merely tolerant, but truly accepting of other cultures and creeds. Restricting freedoms is anathema to me.
As such, you may imagine my increasing misery over the last few years at the growing intolerance and demand for restrictions of liberty that has grown in popularity across the world. In the middle east, a barbaric theocracy has spread like a cancer across the tortured, broken lands of Syria and Iraq; Turkey, a nation built on the principles of secularism and democracy, slides toward autocracy, censorship and religious-tinged nationalism; in the Philippines, a radical leader openly dehumanises drug-users and tacitly endorses extra-judicial killings; nationalism of the bitter, exclusive kind sweeps through Europe. The U.K has voted to leave the European Union, and now the U.S.A has elected Mr. Trump as its next President and the Leader of the Free World.
I voted to remain in the European Union, but I was not heartbroken, as many of my fellow Remainers were, at the result. I was deeply disappointed, of course; the single market appeared to me as the best economic option for the United Kingdom, and I felt the UK was isolating itself politically from Europe by leaving. However, I was not distraught because I recognised there were genuine arguments for ‘Brexit’, to use that over-used portmanteau. I sympathised with the arguments that the EU was too bureaucratic, occasionally too overbearing in its policies; while I personally support the principle of free movement, I understand that immigration has caused hardship for many Britons through competition and overly-rapid social change.
I only wish that all of those who voted to leave had made their decision on the basis of rational debate and on economic and political principle. Unfortunately, I feel that many did not, but instead voted to leave based on prejudice, an incomplete understanding of the matter and out of a desire for radical political change at any cost. This state of affairs was exacerbated, in my view, by the appalling campaigns promoting either side of the binary vote. On the Remain side, we had apocalyptic predictions of economic collapse and nuclear war; the Leave campaign bombarded us with vindictive anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiment and made essentially false claims about our contribution to the EU. I myself felt intensely apathetic throughout the whole affair, numb with disgust at both sides of the debate. I feel that many Britons felt the same, but rather than voting for the boring, but safe option as I did, they took the admittedly-brave choice to step into the unknown and metaphorically flash the finger at the establishment that they felt had ignored them for years.
I will pause on that thought, and move on to the recent electoral victory of Mr Trump. I, like many people across the world, I think, have avidly watched the political rise of Mr Trump over the election campaign with a changing cocktail of emotions. First it was with humour, as Trump bumbled from one gaff to another, making outrageous statements that couldn’t possibly win him the GOP nomination. Then it was with alarm, as he did win that nomination, and the extent of his popularity became apparent. Eventually, mounting horror overtook alarm, as more details of his odious personality – coupled with the unswayable fanaticism of his supporters – were brought to light. I read the news of his victory on Wednesday the 9th with shock. It seemed inconceivable that the greatest democracy on Earth, an avowed bastion of freedom, had elected a man that appeared to be a misogynist, racist demagogue with no coherent policy except half-baked ideas based upon hate and prejudice. I understand the wish to occasionally make a point to be noticed, the desire for radical change. But how that desire be so great that you would vote for a man who insults a majority of American citizens, who calls for the mass deportation of what he sees as undesirables? A man who regularly threatened to prosecute his opponent and invited a foreign power to access classified information? I do not necessarily believe that Trump means all of what he says, but that makes his election almost scarier. He appears to have no principles, no coherent line of thought, and is happy to lie on a whim. While I think few could call Secretary Clinton a strong candidate for the White House, I personally cannot see how someone could rationally vote for Mr. Trump over her. This is perhaps scariest of all for me. It is rare that I cannot at least empathise with someone’s position, no matter what their belief. It worries me that their thought processes are so alien to me that I cannot penetrate the divide.
As with Brexit, the nature of the campaign has sickened me. Policy debate was pushed far out of the limelight, in favour of mud-slinging, insults, and fear-mongering on both sides. The result in both nations, so far, has been a climate of prejudice, hate and even violence. In the U.K, we had a surge of hate crimes targeted at immigrants, and more recently a savage tabloid attack on members of the judiciary for – ironically – upholding British constitutional law. Unfortunately, the language of many Remainers was not much better at times, vindictively degrading Brexiteers and denying the democratic result of the vote. In the U.S, already there has been rioting and violent protests at the election of Mr Trump. As much as I sympathise with the sentiment, I cannot agree with the violence of the protestors. It makes a mockery of the decent, democratic ideals I as a liberal believe in. Hate, anger and fear led to Mr Trump being elected; his opponents cannot let themselves be overcome with the same, no matter how tempting.
As much as I could go on, I will not. I wish I could end this piece on a positive note, but I cannot at this present time. Now I look in fear to 2017. Why? Firstly, we have the ascension of Mr. Trump to the White House and probable introduction of illiberal, isolationist policy, affecting the rest of the world hugely on issues ranging from climate change to security. Secondly, the upcoming wave of important elections in Europe, including France and the Netherlands, where illiberal populist parties are high in the polls and likely to cause further upset. I can only pray that either the rise of illiberal, hate-fuelled sentiment is a short-term phenomenon that will not last long, or that the actions of these figures will not match their rhetoric. I can only hope.