This evening the kids and I tucked into a dirty Dominos pizza, paid for with a bet I put on Trump winning the U.S election. I deeply disapprove of Dominos (basically a cake with tomato sauce on it) but a promise is a promise and there would have been hell to pay if I had reneged on my pledge to spend my winnings on a takeaway pizza. I got £27.50 on a ten pound stake and would have had a good deal more had I not been so parsimonious and waited until after payday to place the bet. If I had bet before I would have won £50 – but ifs and buts and maybes will get you nowhere.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I was not surprised by the Trump victory and couldn’t really understand why all the news media and a lot of friends and colleagues seemed so shocked this morning. This was America’s Brexit moment and because it was America it was bigger and bolder than Brexit ever could be. A Trump victory makes Brexit look like a minor local difficulty; here is a total unknown presiding over the world’s most powerful country. Here is a man who is sexist, racist and God knows what else. Here is a man designed to send liberals from Pennslyvania to Paris reeling with disgust. He is common and vulgar and refuses to play the professional politician. Instead he prefers a bogus man of the people act (rather like Nigel Farage). Bogus because Trump is a rich man who comes from money (rather like Nigel Farage).
I’m not telling you anything you don’t know here. But I am still not really so sure why people are shocked that he won. Any more than people were shocked when Reagan won or when we voted for Brexit in June. Trump reflects the world we live in; he is is a reality TV contestant in an era when our sensibilities have been blunted by hours of bad TV and our brain cells blitzed by too many hours online. His hair looks like one of those dancing kittens that people ask you to like on Facebook. He is the logical conclusion of a culture where being outrageous (Kim, Kanye) makes you way more money than being intelligent or speaking the truth. He reflects our world in the way that Reagan reflects a world where people grew up watching simplistic cowboy films – bang bang shoot the baddies was at the heart of his foreign policy.
And then there’s Hillary. I should like Hillary. I am her key demographic – a middle class, educated left leaning woman. A feminist. A single parent. A teacher. Tick, tick, tick. But I think I would have struggled to vote for her and probably have abstained. Despite her fine words, I see Hillary as a moral black hole, a vortex of self interest. I detested her ‘basket of deplorables’ comment where she stood there and insulted the American electorate. How did she think that would profit her? I found it very confusing. If you want to win people over, the last thing you do is tell them how rotten they are. For all her much vaunted intelligence, it seemed such a foolish thing to do. However much you dislike racism or sexism, telling people they are idiots achieves precisely nothing. I do not think she is alone in having these feelings; sadly I think they are all too common in the political establishment. I never at any point saw Hillary listening to anyone other than Hillary. There is a lesson in there somewhere.
Most people I know are very depressed by the Trump victory. They are taking it personally and seeing it as an assault on the values they hold dear and feel the world has overnight become a worse place. It hasn’t. Sexism and racism will always be there as people feel threatened by people who are different from them and when times are hard – as they are for many people – it is very easy to blame someone else for your problems. How much easier to blame a Mexican for the fact you have lost your job than engage with complex arguments about globalisation and free trade. How much easier to complain that women are given all the good jobs when your steel works closes down and the only jobs going are in Walmart. And if you have money – which a lot of Trump supporters do – fear of the future will make you want to cling on to every penny rather than share it out with people less fortunate than yourself. The reality is that any meaningful progress will only be achieved if we accept we have to share more and waste less – in case you were wondering, the pizzas were shared out and the left-overs saved for tomorrow. But that way of thinking has been so antithetical in recent years where for many people identity is little more than what they can consume.
I see Trump’s victory as a wake-up call. It is the end of a hollowed out liberalism that uses lots of fine words but does nothing to create real change. It is a slap to the pundit classes who refuse to step outside the echo chamber of their friends on social media and talk to people they have nothing in common with. It is a sign that we need to raise our game. Liberal is not enough; we have to be radical.