‘Their world is collapsing, ours is being built’

Alexander Groes 20 November 2016

The thought that has been running through my mind this past year, through the referendum, its aftershocks and this bizarre presidential election campaign, is how will they remember this in 20, 30 or 40 years time? Is 2016 the end of American democracy as we know it? Or will people forget how bizarre the campaign was as Trump becomes a milder and more checked Republican? Will Brexit be remembered as the beginning of our great impoverishment and isolation? Or will not much change apart from the size of Toblerone bars?

The truth is that 2016 has ushered in a terrifying new era of violent politics.

From the rise in racial and xenophobic abuse post referendum,to the Daily Mail’s headline attack on the judiciary as the “Enemies of the People”, there is evidently a return to not just ugly but violent politics. The referendum legitimised victimising ordinary people, the will of the mass was seen as a license to let loose with racism and bigotry. The Daily Mail’s latest stunt proved that trend still continues, the media shows little concern for what forces they might be unleashing by attacking an institution which protects us all. In countries with judiciaries which lack completely independence, from Russia to Egypt, those who don’t get along with the government tend to meet ugly ends – only being publicly thrown in prison in exceptional circumstance, with normal procedure being death in suspicious circumstances.

The old political complacency that people once had, that politicians would come and go and all would be boring, indistinguishable and empty has surely gone. To ignore politics now seems idiotic. Politics is in vogue again; the stakes are too high to ignore it. The apathy towards politics by the public may finally be gone. But the old defined limits and rules of politics are gone.

What we’re seeing now is politics unleashed. As I’m writing this, the same pattern of abuse as post-Brexit is beginning to be reported in America as Trump meets Obama in the White House. Worse, the man responsible for that abuse will sit in the White House in 70 days. No one can say that politics doesn’t affect them anymore.

We learnt with Brexit that violent rhetoric has violent consequences. Expect a rise in abuse, crimes and murders legitimised not just by Trump’s election but his rhetoric. By his words harkening back to the “good old days”, presumably meaning the days of years like 1963 when police would set dogs and firehoses on civil rights protestors. The “Whitelash” reaction has only just begun. Republicans have so far failed to hold back Donald Trump and I doubt that they will be able or willing to do anything when he’s in office.

John Adams, the American republic’s second President said “There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”. Only Trump and the Republican establishment can determine whether this election has destroyed American democracy or just lead to it becoming significantly uglier and more racist.

Trump inspired a rage that has brought down the American political establishment. Unlike with Brexit, where populism merely brought down the regime, the populist leader now has free reign to form the resulting political order. The trend is undeniable; it doesn’t matter if Trump doesn’t become some kind of dictator because the pattern has already been set. The era of the liberal ideals, where we left other people to get on with their lives unless they directly impinged on ours is over. It now explicitly matters who you are, where you came from and what your gender, ethnicity or sexuality is.

Populism is also a reactionary kind of identity politics, asserting white supremacy and “Menisim” as a direct reaction to liberation and feminism. The fact that most Brexit voters agreed with the phrase “feminism has gone too far” shows that we’re dealing with a fully reactionary force and an outright rejection of liberalism. The views of the alt-right, of Islam as terror as immigrants as criminals have broken into the mainstream, they have become “common sense”. People reject liberal ideas as somehow unrealistic or “politically correct”, seeking easy answers which create a divide between us and them, us and the immigrants, us and the Muslims.

Whatever populism is, it is most certainly winning. The title quote, “Their world is collapsing, ours is being built” was Marie Le Pen’s response to Trumps victory. Our daunting task as a generation is to make sure that does not happen. The world won’t slide back into a fascism of the 1930s. Any fascism will be new, different and terrifyingly modern, with mob rule in the style of the internet. But if we let it happen, it will.