Why do we keep losing the argument? A response to Trump’s victory.

For the third time in recent memory, I’ve woken up from a restless night to the news of a political outcome that feels more akin to a dystopian nightmare than reality.

My heart goes out to my friends and family in America and beyond who are crushed, and in despair at the result of the Presidential election. I know and deeply resonate with the sudden, terrible feeling that you don’t live in the country you thought you did; the realisation that the majority of your fellow country-people do not share the same hopeful and inclusive perspective that you hold as such an integral part of your identity. It’s important to take the time to mourn that loss, and we are grieving alongside you.

When the initial shock clears (and it will), we need you to help us take a step back and work out why we on the socially liberal side of the spectrum keep ending up on the losing end of these political outcomes. Why is it such a surprise to us that the results are what they are? How can so many people feel this way, and take positions that we find untenable, and us not realise?

I’ve had time to reflect on some of this since the Scottish independence referendum in 2014, and then the recent Brexit vote. The reason these results seem to come completely out of the blue to so many of us isn’t so much because of the existence of a ‘silent majority’… you only need to go down to any pub or bar to hear the exact same views espoused by Trump and Farage… Instead, the real reason is that we have walled ourselves off from these irritants, creating quasi echo chambers where our only associations are those who either agree with us, or who we can have coherent conversations. The distinction there is important – as the problem is comprised of two elements: We avoid interacting with those who hold these opposing views as they seem so inconceivably awful, and when we do, we don’t even know how to engage with them properly.

Deleting people from your Facebook for posting racist, sexist, or otherwise derogatory and intolerant statements might well be part of the issue (as people are so keen to point out), but it is often the only thing that can reasonable be done to avoid getting involved in daily arguments. There is no escaping the fact that the recent wave of populism often seems completely blind to any sort of reasoned debate or discussion, and trying to get a cohesive position from many can be impossible, and frustrating. Asking somebody to provide evidence for their claims, or point out inconsistencies in their logic leads nowhere but anger, and whilst it might well win the argument, it isn’t winning anybody over.

I don’t believe that what we are witnessing is some sort of a working class movement, as some have claimed, and it certainly isn’t a battle between left and right. This is a new kind of class movement, one where those who feel disenfranchised and disempowered, and who may not necessarily be able to articulate exactly why they feel the way they do are attempting to wrest some sort of control out of a system that has failed them. Arguably though, the biggest failiure has been the ability of those of us who hold apparently ‘enlightened’ views to even begin to effectively communicate with these people, or appreciate the real issues that they face. They are real people in our communities, but ones whose views we have chosen to try and avoid conflict, which instead has only served to facilitate their growth.

I’m not sure how we do this, but if we are ever going to turn things around, we need to find ways to both interact with those on the other side of the fence, but also to engage with them. Not avoiding the discussions is probably an important first step.

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4 thoughts on “Why do we keep losing the argument? A response to Trump’s victory.

  1. Trump did win the votes of those who feel disenfranchised and disempowered. I find it odd that those very people, the majority demographic who voted for him, are white males over the age of 45. The one group who historically are on the opposite side of disempowered and disenfranchised. I can only guess that they feel angry and threatened with losing their power, or “the way America used to be.” Who will ever admit that though, let alone look deep enough to realise it themselves. I am sad to say that I think it will be that way until that generation no longer exists, but then we will be able to move on as we wish and believe to be right.

    *Note I’m not saying “all” white males over 45 are as such, but I’m talking about the majority of the group that voted for Trump.

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I think you are right in some ways, but I don’t think that this is purely down to old white males who feel threatened at losing power – and if we don’t recognise that, nothing is going to change. It ignores the huge number of white women that voted for Trump, and also the very real economic disasters in places across the USA where Government at all levels has just abandoned them. Just as former plant workers in the UK who now are faced with no jobs, no prospects, and no help turned their anger towards the European Union, similar has happened here.

      The generational thing is also a bit of a red herring, as the question of whether it is simply a group of people that feel that way, or whether people become more conservative as they grow older. It sadly seems like the latter is true, which is why we need to find alternative approaches to fighting this.

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      1. Curious, what makes you think our views become more conservative as we get older?

        I’m not disputing the fact that people have lost jobs and have no prospects, it’s a sad situation. However if people think Trump is going to bring them relief I think they will find another thing coming. Plant workers’ jobs will be automated away whether they are onshore or off. And with insufficient social programs to help them, and Trump pulling for less business regulation and less taxes, what will become of them? I can see why people feel helpless. But electing a person with the emotional intelligence of a toddler and his own interests at heart (I don’t care what he says, you only have to observe him to see that it’s true), this can’t end well.

        As for the white women voting for Trump, I’m baffled. It still doesn’t change who the majority demographic is though.

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  2. > Curious, what makes you think our views become more conservative as we get older?

    I personally don’t necessarily, but I think it’s a mistake to assume that just because the conservative demographic is older, that that will change when they all die out. Correlation doesn’t equal causation.

    I totally agree with you that those seeking relief by voting Trump are not going to get it. Just like those who voted to leave the EU are going to find themselves even worse off. The challenge is how to engage/communicate with these people in future so that this wave of populist outcomes can be stopped. Otherwise, we are screwed.

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