Left-leaning, liberal, comfortably off. Yes, that’s me. I am one of the individuals that Keith Hann, referring to Trump’s victory in the US election, would like to see weeping ‘at the next surprise history has up its sleeve’. It’s kind of weird to read of someone’s delight at a distress that you have yet to encounter.
So, am I distressed at the news that Donald Trump is President elect? Yes, I am. But I am distressed at what Trump’s election represents rather than the wearisomely predictable ascent of yet another crude and corrupt leader – that’s just history repeating itself. The presidential campaign we’ve witnessed between Trump and Clinton (what a choice!) suggests there’ll be no going back as far as ethical and seemly behaviour in such contests is concerned. And that’s sad.
More than that, this election (and I would argue Brexit) are redolent of a me-me-me society that is positively Darwinian in its attitudes to fellow humans. It’s tempting to believe that politicians are the creators of certain attitudes. Certainly, many left-leaners in the UK would posit that Margaret Thatcher’s policies marked the beginnings of the selfish society. ‘Trickle down’ theory was just a trick: it was never likely that the less-taxed dosh of the wealthy would make it into the grubby hands of the less well-off. The great council house sell-off was not a foot on the property ladder for all, it was an extension of the gap between the poor-ish and the poor.
However, to suggest that Thatcher was the beginning of me-first politics and society in the UK is to give the Iron Lady too much credit. Thatcher was merely a mirror held up to our collective faces. I voted for her – twice – although I find it hard to explain why now. I guess that instinctively most of us don’t just want to survive, we want to live extremely well and to have more and more and more to enhance that living. We work hard. What we earn is ours. Generally, we’re not begging to pay more tax. And there’s the rub. Sure, it’s sad to see the awful circumstances that many other people live in but, hey, that’s what charities are for, isn’t it? How much do we give to charity? Well, charity begins at home, doesn’t it?
Yes, of course there’s a fine line between compassion and being patronising. And that’s why we need politicians and leaders who don’t hold up a mirror to society but who set the bar for us to aspire to. It does not mean that such politicians need to have led perfect lives, or be exemplary in all their behaviours. It does mean that they need to inspire confidence through their honesty and integrity in the context of their own lives and the way they speak to us, and to other politicians and leaders.
And this is what distresses me. In the UK David Cameron thought he could make political capital out of a public vote. Whatever your feelings on Brexit, the fact is that it came about because of a play for power which backfired. In the US Donald Trump is president because he wanted the job enough to buy it. The more that wealth and political sleight of hand win in our governments, the less voices of reason, inspiration and integrity are heard.
Like Keith Hann, I await with interest future surprises. And if people are trampled on and defiled because of them, I shall weep.