The american journalist Edward Murrow once said ‘Our major obligation is not to mistake slogans for solutions’. On caps, t-shirts, jumpers and placards throughout this presidential campaign four little words have come to define the election. ‘Make America Great Again’. Millions of ordinary, decent americans have rallied behind one man and four words. Misguidedly, you may argue. But when the only viable alternative is Hillary Clinton, pawn of the establishment, white house clone and stage-managed careerist, many have opted for the toupee, however outrageous and outlandish his soundbytes.
In a way, Trump fits in with the whole american underdog psyche. It ain’t over till it’s over. First they said said he couldn’t run. He did. Then they said he couldn’t win the republican nomination. He did. Now they say he can’t take the white house. He may well. The elementary mistake that people are making with the Trump phenomenon is to assume that he himself has whipped up all this anger and discontent amongst working-class people. This is not true. The fact is this anger had been boiling under the surface for years. Long before Obama. Before 9/11 even. What Trump has done so effectively is bring this long-felt irritation with the political system to the surface, in a quite spectacular way.
Donald Trump is not the focal point of a racist underbelly in american society. He is the symbol of a cry for help from millions of poorer americans who feel totally left behind by an out of touch elite on Capitol Hill. They feel they are not being listened to and that politics has stopped working for them. This anger against mainstream politics is sweeping not just the United States but the west as a whole. We have already seen it in Britain with UKIP and then the Brexit vote. It’s happened in Greece with Syriza. It’s happening in Spain with Podemos. France with the Front Nationale. The Netherlands with Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party. Their standards of living in terminal decline, alongside knowing their views are held in total contempt by their rulers, people are rising up against big banks, against corporations and against big government. For many people in America, they feel politics is run by a remote, detached and unaccountable clique. It’s all about Hillary, Barack and Bill….well what about them?
The focus of much of their anger has been directed at the high levels of immigration from South America, particularly Mexico, in the southern states. Trump talks tough on crime and wants to build walls. Blind anger does not yield the solutions they crave or the changes they desire. But when they are constantly, glibly dismissed, what alternative do they have but to raise their voices?
Many of us here in europe do not live in areas of high immigration and therefore do not experience some of the straining effects it can have. Undercutting of wages, immense strain on public services and infrastructure and difficulties in integration. I should stress at this point that I am not myself at all opposed to immigration. I’m not for a solitary second trying to suggest that the vast, vast majority of immigrants are anything other than law-abiding, diligent, hard-working people who come to our and america’s shores with so much entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic. They make a hugely valid and substantial contribution economically, culturally and socially. I myself come from a family of immigrants. My mother left Ireland for London in the 80’s in search of a better life. There she met my father, who himself had had to leave Newcastle-Upon-Tyne in the North in search of the same dream. Most who seek to come to america, regardless of colour, class or creed share the same goal. But I fail to see the issue in people having to apply to work in a country, based on the skills that that country needs at that time.
But for Hillary Clinton and her ardent supporters to dismiss those who voice concerns about immigration as semi-evolved, illiterate racist buffoons may get her many retweets and likes on twitter, adulation amongst biased media commentators and raucous cheers at campaign rallies, but it only adds fuel to the fire of disenchantment. As we saw with the working class, Labour vote in northern England voting overwhelmingly to leave the European union, people do not take too kindly to having their arguments and concerns dismissed out of hand with screams of ‘that’s racist’ and ‘that’s offensive’ by wealthy people who don’t have to live with the real consequences of unrestricted, mass immigration on an unprecedented scale.
Unless people begin to look at and try to understand the reasons as to why people are flocking to this golden-haired, real-estate mogul, this deep division and bitter resentment will only continue, long after this election, whoever the victor. Some feel as if they have nothing to lose by voting for the former apprentice star. Whilst many liberals wrap themselves up in a little electronic bubble on social media, they forget millions upon millions do not share their progressive, liberal consensus. We on the left must realise that we do not have a monopoly on compassion and decency. Americans and those on the opposite end of the political spectrum to us are perfectly decent, normal and patriotic people. Their views are not any less legitimate or unacceptable than ours. Those who vote Trump are not a gang of crazed, pitchfork-wielding rednecks who hate foreigners. They are, in the main, hard-working, proud and kind people. To demonise them uniformly in this way fails to grasp the pull Trump has.
National identity, patriotism and culture are what really matters to many hard-pressed americans. They feel an erosion of their national identity is changing their communities out of all recognition from the places in which the grew up and loved. It takes time for immigrants to become integrated into new communities. Learning the language, getting used to societal norms and etiquettes takes time. Diatribes about GDP numbers, dubious unemployment figures and relentless cheerleading from know-it-all loud mouths in New York and Washington about how great things are, and have been under Obama, only drive the wedge of division further into the bedrock of american society.
Metropolitan liberal trendies in capital cities fail to grasp that immigration, alongside huge concerns about terrorism, particularly from militant islam, are legitimate concerns. America is still reeling, all these years later, from the horrifying events of september 11th 2001. People are scared. They want action. They want prevention. Striking the balance between an open and fair immigration system, a culture of inclusion and welcome for immigrants and a screening process to root out those who seek to divide and destroy is immensely difficult. But Hillary’s solution of pretending there is no issues at all attached to immigration and that americans shouldn’t worry about militant islam, and that those who question are all disgusting racists, is actually driving the kind of division in communities that Trump’s opponents fear he will cause should he take the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue tomorrow.
Straight after the financial crisis of 2008, people wanted sturdy government and leaders that were going to stabilise the situation. Now that we seem to have passed this crisis, the appetite for remedy and reform is boiling. As the rich get richer, lectures about necessary cuts, rhetoric about prudence and patter about how they all in this together from wealthy congresspeople and senators in Washington, doesn’t bode well with the people who bore the brunt of the crash.
All that said, Donald Trump alone is not the answer. As a proud son, brother and boyfriend his crude words on women horrified me. (Somehow, he managed to negotiate that scandal…perhaps memories Hillary’s treatment of Monica Lewinski after her affair with her husband still resonates with people). His calls on an outright ban on muslims entering the United States is absurd and pretty disgusting. His refusal to pursue some form of gun control legislation make further mass murders like Sandy Hook and Orlando inevitable. The bullying and downright racist behaviour of some of his supporters at campaign rallies is deplorable. But him winning tomorrow may be the rocket that the smug, self-satisfied elite need to start listening, start reforming and start making america truly great again.