Friday, 20 January 2017

2016: Year of The Deplorables?

I am an inherently political person. This doesn't make me great company - much as I love conversations about a million topics, there is a high chance politics will enter it sooner or later when I'm around. This blog post will be my attempt, in a ruminating, rambling kind of way, to digest the past year (plus or minus a bit).




Trump

On some level, it's deja vu all over again. A Democrat candidate with lukewarm, unenthusiastic support versus a Republican who seems laughable, stupid, and bereft of substance? Poll predictions suggesting the Democrat will narrowly win, proven wrong in the end? An election where the Democrat wins the popular vote but the Republican wins the Electoral Colleges? In some ways, the 2016 election result feels like the 2000 election result, on steroids.

Many, many, millions of words have been written, are being written, will be written about this election. A huge variety of things are being blamed for the result, including low voter turnout, a whitelashthe "left behind" working class voters, selecting Hillary rather than Bernie Sanders as candidate, the media, pollsters and politicians being in a bubble and out of touch with regular Americans, angry protest voting, misogyny and hatred for HilaryFacebook and Social Media, and even the Bible.
As someone who isn't an American and who hasn't spoken to many American voters, all I can do is speculate and analyse from afar...

Reasons not to vote for Trump

It probably goes without saying, but there is a long list of reasons not to vote Trump...

  1. The man is known to be a rapist, accused of being a pedophile & child rapist, known for perving after his own daughter, and famously misogynistic and sexist 
  2. His platform is built on racism and xenophobia. He's happy to be supported by the Ku Klux Klan, lashes out against migrants, Mexicans, Blacks, and disabled people. He lashes out at any person or group that criticises him, but does so attacking whatever makes that person different from himself - their sex, race, disability, whatever: he is a classic bully. 
  3. Given the tensions within America, especially racial tensions, which have been growing and which have led to protests and riots, it is likely that a vote for the most openly racist candidate in living memory is a vote for violence, unrest, and possibly even urban civil war. It's a vote for bloodshed in America. 
  4. His campaign promised almost no specific policies. (Aside from a wall and religious discrimination against Muslims). Most of his other promises were either vague slogans, or aspirations without any hint at a roadmap of how to deliver them. (Stopping globalisation - fine, that's a policy aim - but how? What's the plan? Is the guy planning to unilaterally tear up all US trade deals? There's no quicker road to economic ruin...)
  5. He changed his own positions dozens of times (flip-flopping like it had gone out of fashion), denied his own statements, and most of his own party disowned many of his promises and claims. He doesn't seem to know the limits of what a president can do, and promises stuff he can't achieve without Congress, while his own party in Congress disowns the promises.
  6. He has been caught in so many lies that it's clear he has even less interest in facts and truth than George W Bush did. (Bush famously said that he prefers "making his own truth"). Trump is a candidate even more dishonest, wilfully ignorant, and downright malicious than Richard Nixon and George W Bush put together. Bush seemed like he convinced himself of whatever 'facts' he wanted to believe. Trump obviously doesn't believe in anything but his own ego. In Trump's world, there is no such thing as truth or facts, there's only his greatness and anything else is periphery. Basically, there is something wrong with him.
  7. He is dangerously impatient and short-tempered. His Twitter-tantrums have been much ridiculed, but high ranking national security experts are genuinely worried about Trump having nuclear weapons at his disposal. It's not just a matter of lack of diplomacy or statesmanship - every indication about Trump's personality is that he lacks self-control or the ability to work constructively with others. He thinks like a (volatile) boss, not like a president in a democracy. 
  8. He has no respect for the law. This wasn't just evident in his hundreds of legal proceedings and trials. It's blatantly obvious when he promises to "bring back much worse (torture) than waterboarding" or when he expresses admiration for Saddam Hussein's approach to executing people without trial if they are accused of having links with terrorists.
Basically, Trump is now the greatest con man on Earth. He sees himself (and has sold his 'personal brand') as a wily, decisive hard man, an American Putin or Erdogan, ruthless, putting his country's interest not just first but willing to combatively defend it and forego any international cooperation, a tough negotiator and hard-nosed businessman, and above all, an underdog fighting against elites.

In reality, he's a spoilt child-man, elite by birth, incompetent at running a business (having turned a multi-billion-dollar inheritance into bankruptcy, and having made less capital gains during his running of the Trump empire than he would have done by investing all his money in a stock market average bond) and unlikely to be taken seriously at home or abroad. Putin and Erdogan aren't nice people, but though ruthless and intolerant of any opposition, they are economically smarter than Trump and they have delivered progress and growth for their societies (in terms of wealth, though not in terms of freedom). Trump's persona is more similar to that of Saddam Hussein or Idi Amin or Kim Yong Un or Benjamin Netanyahu. He believes in his own myth, but lacks the substance to deliver.

Or, in other words, Donald Trump is Joffrey Friggin' Lanister, aged 60+.

WTF were you thinking, America?

Reasons to vote for Trump

I've seen a number of people asking that everyone take a breath and chill. "Trump voters can't all have been racists" the argument goes, and a Trump presidency is not the end of the world.

So, assuming for a moment that one is not a bigot or a racist, and even assuming that one has a modicum of intelligence why would one vote for Trump?

  1. Being tired of US government stalemate. Obama may be a good man, but he's been a lame duck president for the past six years. Ever since those first post-Obamacare mid-terms, he has been unable to effectively steer the country. With Congress in the hands of Republicans, Obama's been forced to use his veto to block Congress and Executive Orders to bypass it, while Congress has been blocking Obama's policies (and appointments). It never looked as if Hilary would sweep the Democrats into majorities in Congress, so voting Trump basically is a vote for government to go to work and do stuff. (Even if it goes to work to do nefarious evil deeds). Voting Hilary, meanwhile, is a vote for government to continue being stuck in a morass of stalemates.
  2. Buying into the idea of hiring 'successful' business leaders instead of career politicians as president. It's often said that if anyone ran a business the way governments are run, the business would be failing. So the idea of having business people run governments is not without appeal. (After privatising most state-run businesses and deregulating many industries and markets, the next logical step, I guess, is to privatise governments themselves...)
  3. A reactionary anger at the way Trump has been treated by the media and the political establishment. Even though Trump is a billionnaire, a bully, and an incompetent idiot, it rankles those who agree with (some of) his stances that he has been laughed at and scorned. From Obama's mocking of Trump to the many many internet memes, the coverage of Trump has been sneering and filled with ridicule. Similar to the coverage of Bush Jr before he was elected. On the other side, the coverage of Hilary has not been kind at all - brutal and vicious, in fact - but there is a real sense that America's political and media classes have been laughing at Trump, while no one laughed at Clinton. Trump wasn't taken seriously by many, and somehow this was worse than attacking him and his policies. (Someone summed it up on Twitter as "Liberals took Trump literally, but not seriously, while conservatives took Trump seriously, but not literally") In fact, while many attacks on Hilary were misogynistic, much of the coverage of Trump focused on his looks (his silly hair, his orange-ness, his pout, his tiny hands and by extension, his small penis). Were Trump a woman, we'd call those jokes and memes chauvinistic and sexist. Trump was lambasted (rightly) for his crude sexism, but regardless of whether Hilary and Michelle Obama took "the high road", the media and the internet really, really didn't, when it came to Trump. And now he's having the last laugh...

Most voters who voted for Trump really did so out of xenophobia and Islamophobia. Others did so because they are gullible and stupid enough to fall for a con man. Some will have done so because of a perception that, as Republican, his policies would be more in line with the will of born-agains, evangelicals and Christians (i.e. Trump would be good for those wishing to roll back women's rights and the rights of sexual minorities), even if Trump himself is about as Christian as Pontius Pilate. But some people have probably voted, not entirely comfortably, for reasons such as the ones above.

Here's the problem: even if they voted for Trump while holding their nose at some of his more nasty aspects, and for "good" (non-bigoted) reasons, they did, knowingly and wilfully, side with a divisive, racist, sexist, bigot.

That's like voting for Hitler because he would scrap national debt and build some nice Autobahns and launch the Volkswagen. Trump (and Hitler) may not be (have been) Satan, but hey, once someone peddles racism, bigotry and hatred for personal gain while displaying personality disorders, the notion of supporting them in any way, or even failing to resist them with every fibre, becomes intolerable to the point that anyone voting Trump could never be considered a decent human being.

Hillary

I don't know enough about Hillary Clinton, really. All I know is that she's been painted as the bogeyman by Republicans for twenty years. It's hardly fair, but Hillary Clinton is probably second only to Michael Moore in terms of how much loathing she receives from those with any right-wing tendencies at all. She was always going to be a hard proposition to win an election: I thought having a monster like Trump opposite her would give her a chance.

What was noticeable is how little coverage Hillary generated (on this side of the Atlantic). Her primary battle against Bernie Sanders was largely framed by coverage painting Sanders as the underdog, the revolutionary, and Hillary as the boring default choice. Winning the candidacy wasn't painted as a victory for Hillary, but a surprisingly narrow victory over a socialist who should have been easy to beat. Centrist Democrats, it seemed, were not enthused.

Trump, meanwhile, turned the election into a reality TV show. The media could not get enough of the grotesque entertainment factor. Even many in his own party were embarrassed, and Hillary probably got more mentions in news coverage about Republican names (and newspapers) endorsing her than in articles about anything she stood for. Even Michelle Obama got more media interest than Hillary - basically, the media were bored with her. She was seen as the default next president by everyone in politics, everyone in the media, and so they covered the entertaining train-wreck that was the Trump campaign, completely ignorant that 'any publicity is good publicity' for a con-man / celebrity / personal brand creator like Trump.

Clinton relied on the "anyone but Trump" vote, and tried to recruit Republicans to her cause. It turned out that the "anyone but Hillary" vote was more motivated / numerous than the "anyone but Trump" one.


Futurology: What Now - DOOM and gloom

I started writing this just after the election, and every day adds more scary appointments to the list. I feel like two of the most unsettling science fiction novels I know are starting to come true (The Sheep Look Up and Random Acts of Senseless Violence).

In fact, one of the first scenes of The Sheep Look Up has just actually come true, and Trump is the most Prexy-like president the US has ever had.

I also believe that a US-instigated nuclear war is now a realistic threat. Here's why:
  • Trump is not coolheaded. There are people with nukes under their fingertips who are nasty (Putin, Netanyahu, Stalin, etc.), but not since Stalin has there been anyone as paranoid / maniacal been in charge of nuclear arsenals. And the current political climate around the world no longer feels like using nukes would be 'mutually assured destruction' so long as they're not used against Russia or the China mainland, so Trump might be stupid enough he could get away with nuking someone...
  • When he and his ego are under attack - as he will be, continually, as president - he has a habit of uncontrollably lashing out
  • Imagine a 9/11-like attack on the US while an unhinged Trump is in charge. Would he wait for an investigation before nuking Iran or Saudi Arabia or Syria or Iraq? He might not be mad enough to nuke Russia or China, but can you be sure that he wouldn't nuke Mecca?
  • Trump's dynasty looks like the cast of a reality TV show. All of them (and there are many) are now potential targets for terrorists. All of them will now require security. What will happen if the security apparatus fails one of them? What if one is attacked? Does anyone have confidence that Trump wouldn't lash out with every weapon at his disposal if one of his daughters is beheaded? In many ways, Trump is ISIS' dream president: they would love to have an all out war of Muslims versus The West / rest of the world. No other politician is likelier to hand it to them on a platter than Donald Trump.
  • If he runs for re-election, and his numbers are down, what better way to appear as a 'strong man' than to nuke something? 
  • I can think of a number of locations he may think he can nuke without suffering a counterstrike / grave repercussions. Iran's nuclear power plants, the artificial islands China has built all around the 'South China Sea', ISIS strongholds... 

The sea being whipped for its weather.
While nuclear war is (only?) a risk / possibility, one thing which is pretty certain is that for the next few years, political decision making will be completely divorced from reality. Like Xerxes having the sea whipped because of a storm, Trump seems to think that reality is a matter of opinion, and that he can simply shout it down if it inconveniences him. (His tactic for dealing with all attacks on his campaign was to mirror the accusations, louder and shoutier...)

  • Federal America is going to turn its back on tackling climate change and becoming more sustainable. Let's face it, the US have not exactly been leading by example so far - but after decades of dithering, there were at least some signs of progress in the past couple of years. Now that progress is knocked back.
  • All the nastier aspects of Bush's and Obama's administrations' policies are going to be exacerbated. Drone assassinations, extraordinary renditions, human rights violations - and this time, it's likely they will apply on home soil, to American citizens, too. 
  • Genuine American problems are not going to be dealt with. Police shootings of black people will not be tackled. (The problem there is that US police have pathetically little training, and that all the emphasis is on enforcing their will and escalating situations, with no emphasis at all on de-escalation.). Expect more shootings, more Black Lives Matter protests, and ultimately, deadly violence that will make the Rodney King riots look like a teaser trailer.
  • Obamacare will go down the drain. Fortunately, that has no effect on those outside America...
  • While Trump and Putin may currently be having a bit of a love-in, chances are Trump is going to knock heads with various global leaders eventually (including, quite possibly, Putin). Expect unilateral sanctions, trade wars, and economic warfare reverberating around the world. He probably thinks China / the rest of the world needs the US more than vice versa. There's going to be a rough awakening for him. 
  • Chances are, four years from now the US will be in a worse state than it was in 2008: it will have few international allies left (Bush left office with Tony Blair America's only friend. Trump will leave it with no friends at all), its economy will be f***ed (similar or worse than the economic crisis Bush left behind), and the government will invest all its energies in stoking fear and exploiting people's resentments rather than fixing anything.. 
  • On the bright side, if America and Asia have a falling out, the EU might end up the benefactor of that squabble, as the one major world power which is a serious and trustworthy partner for trade and international agreements..

Well, unless the Electoral College produces a massive, desperately needed surprise, or Trump gets assassinated early on (there's always hope), America is going to be a force for evil and lacking in credibility and leadership for at least the next few years. (NOTE: Yeah, that didn't happen. But it shows how long I've been toying with this draft blog post)

Futurology - the light at the end of the tunnel

Brexit, Trump, the rise and rise of populism and xenophobia in the richest countries - it's been a bleak year. But there is some reason for hope.

  • Demographics. We're now in an odd bit of the population pyramid, where it is quite top heavy, thanks to a chunky baby boomer generation and lower birth rates since the 60s. The old outnumber and outvote the young, and the swing towards nationalism and racism is to some extent the outcome of that. Yes, there are plenty of young racists and old liberals, but both are minorities in their demographic groups. The good news is that old people die, sooner than young people, and ten or fifteen years from now, the tops of the pyramids will be getting leaner again. Until then, if your elderly relatives voted Trump/Brexit/Nazi, it may be time to shuffle them off to the retirement home and throw away the key...
  • Political activism. For as long as I can remember, (i.e. since the mid-90s), politics were seen as a hobby for wonks. Something inherently nerdy, pursued by a mixture of power-hungry, smug dickheads, and sanctimonious preachy losers. 'We' won the Cold War, capitalism and consumerism were the only game in town, and the age of inspiring, sincere and charismatic leaders seemed past. Instead, we got politicians micromanaged by spin doctors, polished insincerity, and boring, replaceable guys in suits. Now, the shocks to the system delivered by Farage, Trump, Johnson, Le Pen, et al are shaking things up. They're upsetting not the "elites" or the "chattering classes", but all the basically decent people who have become a bit complacent and disengaged. And that, in turn, may lead to some new blood flowing into politics. We do need new, sincere, smart politicians. Crusty old socialists like Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders have managed to fire up young people, but it's become quite apparent that they lack the ability to move beyond rhetoric. They talk the talk, but don't know how to walk the walk as they don't have the trust and confidence of their peers. We need more people like Jo Cox, Mhairi Black and Jo Stevens in government. Sadly, there are not (yet) enough of them around - hard working, idealistic, realistic, young politicians who stand for their causes, rather than their own aggrandisement. There are, however, signs that some people of character are now feeling the urgent need that our political system has for good people to take part... 

  • After economic / opportunistic migration comes ideological migration. The past decades have seen massive movements of people. I am one of those. People have moved for education, jobs, economic opportunities. As a result, the liberal classes of old Eastern Europe are now working across Western Europe, largely without having a vote in national elections in their destination countries. Poland's liberals live in the UK and Germany, so Poland is now hard right wing. Meanwhile, millions of 'ex-pats' (migrants) from rich Western European countries are enjoying life in sunnier climes around Spain, Portugal etc., while often lacking votes in their home countries or their destination countries. What seems to have happened is that people with flexible minds across the European continent have removed themselves from the electorates. They can vote in EU parliament elections, and local elections, but by and large, have lost the vote in national elections. While not all of these migrants are liberals, I believe it's a safe bet that the majority are internationalist and liberal. So Europe has shifted to the right, perhaps in part as a result of a shrinking left wing voter base. I think there's a good chance that the next stage of migration will be more ideologically driven. People will not just migrate and work, but migrate, work, and acquire citizenships in their destination countries. And, in the next few generations, people will migrate more and more for political as well as economic and meteorological reasons. Lots of Americans and Brits now look to Canada and Trudeau and ponder whether utopia can be found there. Lots of Eastern Europeans living in the UK are now wondering whether to naturalise or emigrate - and where to move to next. Five years from now, there will be millions more voters across Europe, as migrants who removed themselves from national electorates decide to re-acquire voting rights. Ten to twenty years from now, migrants will be major forces in national elections in a number of states - and they are likely to shift the political centre of gravity in a number of nations. 
  • Maybe we have reached Peak Stupid. I certainly hope so. Watching Trump and Brexit unfold, hopefully other nations will see how the US and UK slowly crash and burn. Hopefully, lazy voters across Europe will turn out, finally afraid of their own populist wannabe-fascists - afraid enough to vote even for boring / uninspiring / less than great politicians. And maybe even America and the UK will learn from their own disastrous decisions.  

If 2016 was the year of the Deplorables, maybe 2017-2020 will be the years of painful lessons, and maybe, four or five years from now, people and nations will have learnt something from these horrendous mistakes. What other hope is there?


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