What does the Trump Presidency mean for ethical citizens around the world?
Like most of my liberal peers around the world I am in a state of shock. I never expected to be living in a world in which the US was led by a President Trump. Even some of the right wing government ministers in Australia openly said that they hoped Clinton would win the race. Yet here we are. I haven’t had a lot of time to come to terms with what this means for climate change, gender equality, the fight against racism and reducing inequality. I have to admit that I am somewhat fearful for the state of the world with Trump-led US backed by Republican majority in both houses of congress. I know, of course, that this will be felt much more deeply for my American readers and my thoughts are with you in this challenging time in your nation’s history. But what happens in the US matters around the world, and all have a stake in what takes place, even if we don’t get to cast a ballot.
Let’s make no mistake here- climate change and increasing global inequality will destroy us if we cannot come together for decisive action against these global threats. I am fearful of what a divisive climate-change denying member of the capitalist elite as the new US President means for this fight.
But too often fear leads us to be more divisive, to rally with our own against the other. Now is not the time for this. If we cannot come together across the political divide and find common ground, we will fail in our global fight against climate change and global inequality. We need to find a way to connect and find mutual understanding.
Undoubtedly there are many supporters of Trump who are beneficiaries of the global capitalist order. They are wealthy, they control the right wing media, they are invested in climate change denying. They will fight tooth and nail to ensure that do not lose this control. These are the elements that we battle against when we fight against inequality and climate change. But these are only a few. The majority of supporters for Trump, and others politicians just like him around the globe, are not the global elite. They are not beneficiaries of the current state of the global economy. They are harmed by it.
We saw that a vote for Trump was largely from the white, working and middle class, heterosexual male vote. We have seen the same in Australia with One Nation and other extreme right candidates. We see the same in the UK and across Europe. We cannot separate the rise of extreme right from class, gender, race and sexual politics.
In The End of Men author Hanna Rosin argues that modern society favours women and explores many of the factors that show that women have come out on top in the modern economy. Although I feel that her argument misses some of the important gender inequalities that still exists, she raises some very important points. Globalisation and the transition to our modern economy has seen the evaporation of traditional male blue collar jobs in mining, manufacturing and other male dominated working class industries, whilst the mechanisation of agriculture has reduced local agricultural jobs and family run farming has been undermined by globalisation. Similarly, increasing automation and the rise of robotic technology is tipped to wipe out many more ‘male’ jobs than the traditionally female jobs in caring industries such as teaching, nursing and other healthcare professions. At the same time it has become acceptable for women to play a prominent role in the public sphere of work, but society has not altered the male expectation of bread-winning, nor has it made more room for caring (either in the home or as a profession) to be an acceptable choice for men.
Against this background the right wing elite are tapping into the fears and frustration of an increasingly disenfranchised white male working class who are struggling to see where they fit in the 21st Century. Trump and his ilk are the cause of many of these problems.Although the right wing world view is actually responsible for the inequality that drives much of this disenfranchisement, they have found a way to benefit from it politically.
Get Up, a progressive political activist organisation in Australia said it so eloquently in their email on election night:
“Brexit, Trump, and on our own shores, the resurgence of One Nation. There’s a growing nexus between economic disadvantage and racially motivated resentment that is overwhelming all political expectations.
People see great wealth amassed around them in big corporations and billionaire’s pockets, while they’re increasingly locked out of education, opportunity and meaningful work.
Many of them are demonised for their own disadvantage. Many families struggle with two jobs, only to fall short of making ends meet. Many are angry, resentful and ready to lash out at a political system they feel has deserted them.
There has been an abject failure of progressives both here and abroad to understand this, let alone counter it. And when right-wing demagogues tap this pulsing vein of resentment, we’ve mocked it as an ignorant fringe or dismissed it as isolated extremism.
We can’t make that mistake any longer.”
We cannot afford to just write this group of voters off as ignorant racists. We need to understand their pain, and find a way to communicate the liberal solutions to that pain. This does not mean pandering to racism and sexism. This is absolutely certain. I do not want to negate or play down the real fear that this racism, sexism, homophobia, and violent rhetoric has caused. But we know that it is also human nature for a disenfranchised group to take out their frustrations on those in society who are even more vulnerable. So working class white men blame women, blame people of colour, blame Indigenous people. When you get right down the the bottom of vulnerability and disenfranchisement, you get lateral violence which is common in Indigenous communities (because Indigenous communities in US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are the most poorly treated of all of our communities). Lateral violence is bullying and physical violence that occurs when a group acts out their experience in broader society and takes the same tactics within their own community as a way to try establish some sense of power and self autonomy. In no way I am excusing or justifying this behaviour- the sexism, the violence and the bullying we see from sections of the Trump voter base. I only mean to point out that it is tied up in the complexity of social and economic inequality that we are fighting against as liberally-minded citizens.
In the poignant novel Flight Behaviour, Barbara Kingsolver explores the connections between climate change, globalisation and the economic marginalisation of working class communities. It is well worth a read if you want to explore how our fight for a sustainable and just system is relevant to the pain of much of the Trump voter base. Many of the changes that we are fighting for in our economy will serve to reduce inequality and make more space for dignified and valued work for working class communities. We are fighting for the re-localisation of agriculture so that our food system will be more sustainable. This will create more local jobs. We are encouraging consumers to purchase good quality furniture, homewares and clothing and avoid cheap poor quality imports. This is creating more space for skilled local manufacturing. We are fighting for better wages for working class jobs and better supports for the vulnerable and unemployed. This is essential for fighting some of the inequality that drives this disenfranchisement. We are fighting to redefine gender norms so that there is more space for women in the world of work, and there is more space for men in caring roles. This offers the opportunity men to break free from the restrictive ideas about masculinity, bread-winning and acceptable male work. But now it is clear that we need find a way to communicate this so that we can undermine the influence of the right wing elite on the disenfranchised.
Although I find most of Trump’s rhetoric abhorrent, there is one thing that I see value in. There is value in finding ways to support local manufacturing over cheap imports. A sustainable economy needs to reestablish the ability of our nations to make much of what we need locally. If we are the bridge the political divide we need to find these points of common ground. They might be few, but we need to recognise them and work with them.
Unless we find way to connect with the marginalised white working class, extreme elements in our nations are going to continue to tap into thier disconnect and channel it for destructive means. Every nation is capable of descending into horror. Simillarly, unless we address the disenfranchisement of some young muslim men, we will continue to see extreme Islamic groups hold sway. We cannot continue to ignore the disenfranchisement that extreme elements are tapping into. We cannot overcome climate change with divisive politics. But at the same time, we need to find a way to bring the disenfranchised away from divisive conservatism. We need to work out how we bring people together for the common good. I don’t have the answer to that. But I am going to keep trying. Hope and connection is the only way we can make the positive global transformation that we are fighting for.
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