I’ve been meaning to write about this since the day Trump got elected and Leonard Cohen died. Seemed fitting somehow that Leonard would not want to live in a Trumped world. He no longer belonged. His vision and compassion was no longer wanted. I was filled with a deep sadness on both counts, and part of me wanted to go wherever Leonard went. Follow class and dignity to wherever it resides.
Like many have shared I felt something died the day Trump was elected. It was as if I awoke from a dream that was revealed to be a sham. I had been living believing that slowly we were progressing as a species. Sounds stupid and naïve to write it, but that’s honestly how I felt. I felt we were evolving, and Cohen was the embodiment of that. I felt we were making progress in being more compassionate and understanding with each other. It was not OK to bully people; being gay was OK – nearly; the position of women had attained something approaching parity; cultural differences and the value of diversity were being slowly recognised as an asset to a country, to a company, to the planet; most nations had agreed on some kind of action – however small – to negate climate change; the world was moving towards clean energy.
And then someone who believes in none of these things was voted in as the president of one of the world’s most powerful nations. 28% of Americans voted for a lying, ignorant narcissist, and thumbed their noses at women’s rights, blacks, gays, climate change, etc in the process. They simply wanted to return America to a time of near full employment (cars, manufacturing) and where men could abuse any woman they wanted with impunity.
Clearly a quarter of America’s population felt left out of the political process as they saw their lives slip into underemployment and poverty. Mexicans and Muslims, and anybody else who looked different to them, were taking their jobs and they’re angry. They have every right to be. I realise now that it’s one of the many failures of democracy and its elected representatives to adequately explain what is going on – what globalisation and automation are doing to the job market; why jobs are disappearing. No support offered in terms of meaningful retraining, and certainly no longer term vision of where retrenched manufacturing workers might fit in a new economy once traditional sources of employment dried up. People outside of politics who weren’t concerned with presenting false promises that everything would be OK had been saying for years that traditional manufacturing industry in the West was collapsing, and that alternatives needed to be explored. But nothing was done, government subsidies propped up dying industries and then the GFC blew it all apart. No conversations with affected workers took place about what the future might look like and what their options were. They were left high and dry by the political classes to fend for themselves and fed up with the whole goddamn business they voted for Trump. No matter that he had 5 kids from 3 wives; no matter that he’s filthy rich and a compulsive liar. It really didn’t matter who Trump was, what he said, or what he believed, as long as promised to stick it up Washington and bring back the good old days.
It’s hard to see how Trump is going to keep this miserable 28% happy. Infrastructure projects might do it for a while. But the bigger picture for me is where to from here for the planet; where to from here for do-gooder lefty leaning liberals in Western countries like Australia. For people like me. How do we reclaim the agenda? How do we get things like the rights of minorities back in focus? How do we bring back compassion as part of a nation’s psyche? Somehow we need to talk with these people who are angry; we need to acknowledge their anger; and we need to present them with viable alternatives so they don’t feel like all those ‘others’ are wrecking their life, and taking away what they see as rightfully theirs.
Maybe they’re kind of right. Maybe as a species we simply don’t act to save ourselves until we reach crisis point. That’s what we’ve always done. Maybe we need a war. Maybe we need to see and feel the results of massive dislocation of the economy due to climate change. Maybe when Tuvalu and Kiribati disappear the rest of the world might take notice. Maybe most of us are simply unable to think about others and the future for more than few well meaning minutes. And not until shits hits fan will we act. We can only focus on ourselves and the present. Perhaps the ability to foresee the consequences of our collective actions merely screens the inward looking shallow nature of our true selves?
Maybe we can entertain notions like equality and gender equity when most of us have adequate employment and a living standard that is pretty comfortable. But when things slip back towards the poverty line we revert to self-preservation mode and inherently blame ‘the other’ for our woes.
I have never felt this way before. I’ve generally been optimistic about what the future holds. But I don’t like the circling China is about in the Pacific. I don’t like Trump’s disregard for old alliances and his reckless willingness to discuss using the US’s nuclear capability. I don’t like the hopelessness of the UN as a body without any clout. (Israel routinely ignores it and does what it likes and always gets away with it.) There is no global political leadership. As eloquent and articulate and loving as Obama obviously was, he too was unwilling or unable to effect widespread meaningful change. (Except inside America’s border with Obama care. And what of a people who seem angry that someone dared to help those who need a hand paying their medical bills??? What is with these people???)
It seems quite feasible to me now that a large war is not too far away. It’s not Trump’s fault. Our ineptitude has bred his success. He’s just another card in a collapsing pack that adds to the instability – he doesn’t have the intelligence to be part of any solution.
I was in Vanuatu working with vocational educators when Trump was elected and Cohen died and I was desperate to talk to someone about it. I broached the topics with the people I was with. Their response? Is there an election happening? Who is Donald Trump? What’s wrong with him? And they’d never heard of Leonard Cohen. So there’s another kind of naivete that exists in many parts of the developing world. Their world is far from perfect but they are not tormented by the horrendous and sad stories that our 24/7 media world feeds the globally connected citizen. Trump and Cohen are irrelevant to them. They go about peaceful lives doing what they can to make a living and feed their families and don’t seem any less happy for it. They certainly don’t have the material means to travel but their disconnected cocoon of a tropical paradise seems to deliver a kind of peace and resignation that is far from the angst that my newly discovered naivete wreaks upon my being. Perhaps I’d have been better off being born in Vanuatu.