Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Enough of the post-Trump hand-wringing: it’s time to harness people power and push back

Maura Adshead: A colleague who studies Russian politics tells the anecdote about the Russian economics minister, holding a press conference after the 2008 financial crash. In answer to a question about what this meant for the Russian people, he replied; “the situation is hopeless - but not serious”. It took the stunned audience a few moments to realize the translator's error: the situation was of course serious, but not without hope.

The Alec Baldwin character from Saturday night live, the satirical comedy show in the U.S, has been elected president of the U.S. This political situation is about as serious as it gets and I am struggling to find the hope in this blackest of black comedy. Many with an interest in climate change, race relations, women’s rights, minorities’ rights - or "just" the preservation of international law and basic human rights are struggling like me.

Trump's election highlights fragility of stable and inclusive democracies
There have already been a few people asking the inevitable 'what does this mean for Ireland question?' and the answers supplied have mostly talked about trade and taxes. But there is so much more at stake. Trump’s election means that we need to understand the fragility of stable and inclusive democracies.

We need to be fully aware that peaceful, healthy democracies are the great and glorious exceptions in a world ravaged by conflicts. We must remember that the rights and entitlements that we’ve come to expect were hard won. And when we realise all that we have, we need to be prepared to fight to keep it.

Much of the analysis so far is attempting to explain how this happened. And there is a distinctive strand of opinion that remains 'surprised'. Combined with the 'I really didn't think it would happen' set of opinions, is a quick comparison with Brexit, then a short hop to the conclusion that the world is turning, populism and extremism are rising and there is a real danger that these waves of ignorance will tear down the fabric of society. And then it's all just hand wringing and back to the start of this infinite loop: how did it happen? I really didn't expect it; it's just like Brexit; and so it goes on.

Greek chorus of tragedy
I'm not going to join the Greek chorus of tragedy. I just don't have the stomach for it. I see no silver lining and I'm in desperate need of something positive to latch on to. Optimism is too high a bar at the moment, so I'm going for the 'what can we learn from this and how can we grow angle'.

The good news is that the polarization that has occurred amongst US voters is not likely to happen in Ireland because the structures of our electoral system preclude it. In our single transferable vote system of proportional representation, politicians are just as much in need of voters’ second and third preference votes as their first, and this means Irish electoral bases are typically always more mainstream than extreme.

Still, large numbers of Irish citizens are unaware of their potential electoral influence and need reminding of the influence that they hold. And now, more than ever, we all need to acknowledge the political influence that each of us holds between general elections in the every day.

Trump’s election was an exceptional example of ‘people power’. Despite uniform disapproval from the political establishment, all mainstream print media, and a host of celebrities, comedians and commentators – Trump’s message largely by-passed the mainstream and worked its way into thousands of private conversations between individuals and through social media. Just like the Brexit debate in the UK, the Trump campaign’s greatest legacy is to bring out into the open opinions, ideas and attitudes that had been forbidden for decades.

Until the last great wave of popular rising in the 1960s, Africans could be called wogs, homosexuals could be called queer, intellectually disabled could be called spas and cabbages. In the UK, Irish was a synonym for stupid.

The protest movements that spread across Europe and North America throughout the '60s changed that by introducing a new vocabulary of tolerance and inclusivity. Gender equality crept in as firemen were replaced by firefighters, postmen by postal workers and homemakers took the place of wives. Of course, when we changed the language, we didn't remove the prejudices. Discrimination did not go away, but it did get harder to discriminate. By removing the words of oppression, we took away the tools used to discriminate.

People power can put a lid on the tool box of hate
After long years being locked away, these tools are now back in circulation. And it seems that the disapproval of the political establishment, mainstream print media, and a host of celebrities, comedians and commentators is not enough to prevent their use. Donald Trump’s election, however, has shown us that ‘people power’ can.

Through thousands of private conversations at work, at home, between individuals and groups and via social media, the ‘people power’ engine of influence is the one thing that put can put a lid on the tool box of hate.

So away with the dismay. Enough of the hand-wringing and viral Trump bashing: do something positive and push back! It’s time to mobilize positive people power – against climate change deniers, in support of minority rights, womens’ rights and equality.

In Greek mythology, the story goes that Pandora’s curiosity led her to open the forbidden box, thus releasing all the evils of the world. Though she tried to close the lid – all of the contents were released except for one thing at the bottom – hope remained.

Remember, the situation is serious, but not without hope!

Professor Maura Adshead, is Senior lecturer in Politics and Public Administration, Department of Politics and Public Administration University of Limerick


BrendanKORourke said...

I agree that Ireland's PR system and voting for a candidate rather than a party does give us some protection against the kind of turn towards fascism represented by Trump and alas others across the globe. Of course there are downsides of our voting system and Trumpism seems world wide - if you don't see in the some elements of the Provos, you can glimpse it in the Healy-Raes acting much stupider than they are. Though we need to work on getting a more attractive program for the left I think this post is focusing on the most important thing: We must call out what is being done when you vote for Trump or his ilk. We have to do this in a way that does not cut people off from us and does not ignore their fears. We also need to do in a way that is principled and does patronize people by pretending that a vote for such fascism will be read only as cry for help.T

Paul Hunt said...

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde one would have to have a heart of stone not to laugh at the weeping, wailing and lamentations of the camp-followers of identity politics and of the so-called progressive left about the triumph of Trump. They need to ask themselves some hard questions about why centre-left political parties (which previously formed governments) have lost so much of their core support that they are now a busted flush in most of the advanced economies. (And as for Trump he is but one of the five people - he, as President, Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Janet Yellen, Chair of the Federal Reserve and John Roberts, Chief Justice - who will have to come to a modus operandi to provide governance in the US. It's time for people to stop hyperventilating.)

And it's not as if the centre-left was ever up to much in Ireland. From time to time enough voters used it as a make-weight to give FG enough heft to displace FF - as the exception that proves the rule, Dick Spring's dalliance with FF didn't end well. Now, it seems that enough of those voters who switch from time to time to effect a change of government have decided, either deliberately or by default, not to give either FF or FG enough electoral support to be able to form a majority government. It appears they have observed that, with the ability to abuse the excessive executive dominance they enjoy, majority governments can often lose the run of themselves and do enromous damage. So they're going to deprive governments of a majority. It will be interesting to see if this is sustainable in the medium term. (But it is an effective way of keeping the deluded harder left and the pseudo-left out in the cold.)

The powerful and influential special interest groups in the sheltered private and semi-state sectors have been able to restore their bubble era unearned gains. Their counterparts in the public sector are flexing their muscles. It will be interesting to see if the hundreds of thousands of private sector workers who've weathered most of the economic adjustment will accept this with equanimity.