Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. A reality TV star real estate tycoon sleazebag, the actual, literal epitome of the smug white male, who ran on a platform based on division and fear, has been elected to be the most powerful person in the free world. And, despite the fact that Clinton technically won the popular vote, he didn’t just squeak in — he cleaned up. Republicans took the house and the senate as well as the presidency.
I’m not disappointed — I’m devastated. I’m crushed.
I woke up this morning and took my baby for a walk in the rain. Then I deleted Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I can’t spend the coming weeks like I did yesterday — staring at my phone in a haze of nauseous disbelief, wondering how we got here as a species.
I have to believe this is a sign of wider progress. It’s a last-gasp knee-jerk of a disaffected, worried population who feel that the system as it stands is broken. Millenials voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. People of colour voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. Progress always happens — it’s just that sometimes it takes a while, because it’s harder than the alternative.
It’s easy to be generous and kind within your own family or your community, and I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone on earth believes that they are. People vote for things like Trump and Brexit because they believe they’re protecting the interests of their loved ones (and themselves). White people voted overwhelmingly for Trump because they see the end of the great white majority barrelling towards them. Men see their generations-long free ride coming to an end. Mix it up with economic inequality, looming climate disaster/robot apocalypse, ISIS and the Kardashians, and it’s easy to see why people feel that the status quo is failing them.
It’s hard to care about people who are different to yourself. It’s not just hard — it’s actively against human nature. We are designed to divide ourselves into tribes, and to work to secure resources and protection for those we see as like us. Tolerance and inclusivity are difficult. They require constant thought and work. They require acting against our base instincts and digging deep for our better natures. They require accepting that there’s enough to go around — and if there’s not, that what there is is still worth sharing.
Those things are a tough sell on a good day. I read a book a long time ago that talked about our “culture of scarcity”. Our system of economics and government is based on the fact that there’s a finite amount of resources to share out, even as that system requires constant growth just to maintain itself. This idea seems so ingrained in us now that I’m constantly dumbfounded by my garden — I’d forgotten, somewhere in this haze of modern life, that food not only grows in the ground, but from seed that the food itself creates in huge numbers. A tomato, given sunshine and water and time, will create a whole crate of other tomatoes. Everything in nature cycles and recycles, contributing to the growth of other things. Meanwhile, we fill vast swathes of landfill with single-use plastic straws that will be plastic straws forever, and eat deep-fried chemistry experiments because they’re cheaper than vegetables.
We forget, I think, that we live inside of an epic, wonderful system, where everything works together and nothing is wasted. (I think we also forget that it’s a closed system. There are no new inputs once we’ve turned everything into straws.)
Trump’s trumpeted policies (such as they are) are based on protecting “us” at the expense of “them”, like life is a zero-sum game. There’s not enough to go around, so if we need more, we have to take it off someone else. I can get a job if we take your job away. Your rights come at the expense of my ability to say what I like without being made to feel bad about it (which, even if true, is not remotely equivalent).
The system is broken all the way down, left and right. I just don’t think Trump can — or wants to — fix it. Governments act in the interests of corporations and CEOs rather than people, and tell us that because that helps the “economy”, it helps us. Meanwhile, the economy can grow without the average person getting any better off, because the economy is now based on punting money around as corporate profit or interest on debt, rather than on actual humans doing actual work.
The political left isn’t offering an alternative to this system — they’re offering tweaks and reality checks. Hillary’s platform was basically that the system is complicated and difficult and doesn’t work very well, so there’s only so much that can be done because compromises must be made. It’s a shit platform, and it’s not enough.
But Donald Trump is promising to take the system apart in the wrong direction. To annihilate women’s rights and minority progress. To throw out the flawed but better than nothing healthcare system Obama has fought for and replace it with… something unspecified, but “better”. The problem is that Donald Trump’s version of “better” still sees neoliberal capitalism as the answer. The market will still save us, it just needs even less regulation and even more competition.
This isn’t a new way — this is the old way, but without the marketing layer that pretended it wasn’t racist and sexist and designed to fuck over everyone but whoever’s on top.
Corporations have proven they can’t be trusted to act in anyone’s interests but their own. The environment, workers’ rights… these things require the intervention of government to make sure they are protected. Corporations don’t have moral compasses, despite the fact that every corporation is made up of people who should. Capitalism, neoliberalism, democracy, money… these are all systems we invented, as human beings, to help us live and work together. They’re not ends in and of themselves. They won’t be here after we’re gone, because they don’t exist without us — but it feels like we’re now serving them, instead of the other way around.
“Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was … nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years”
Some interesting ideas: