In retrospect it would have been a good idea to try and disengage from the news cycle after last Tuesday in an effort to cope with my immense feelings of disappointment. I did the opposite – I think I read every hot take available to try and wrap my mind around the victory of an ideology and a figure that I and many others find so reprehensible. After the Brexit referendum in June I had very little to say – I felt profoundly disappointed that ignorance, xenophobia, and nationalism gained such credence through a campaign based on misinformation and cynicism. The many institutional blunders that preceded – and have now followed – the referendum represent I believe at a basic level the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of an ideology fixated on shutting out the rest of the world in an attempt to preserve a great, and almost certainly fictional, past. I felt angry for my friends who either felt that their future was being held hostage by this bankrupt ideology and its proponents, or that their adopted home had rejected them, their talents, and their contributions to British society because of their race or where they were born. And lastly I felt dejected as a believer in what the European project – with all its flaws – represents, not just for Europeans but for all of us.
While the politics that caused Brexit differ in many ways from the politics of Trumpism, they’re quite obviously related – to one another and to similar movements across the world. It’s clearly true that both were able to exploit the desire to blame the “other” for economic and social dislocation that is related, albeit in a complicated way, to the changing nature of life and work in a post-industrial capitalist society. Real people with real concerns have very much been left behind by these changes and are – I will always believe – justifiably angry and despairing.
But for me, that is where the similarities really end. The rise of Donald Trump – a garish, and vulgar con man unashamed of peddling racism, misogyny, and bitterness – to the presidency is a very different outcome than our peer nations have experienced in recent memory. Their reactions to the results of our election are demonstrative of this fact. It’s worth recalling that when France was faced with a somewhat comparable choice for President in 2002, socialists and republicans came together to deliver a resounding defeat to the fascism of the National Front.
We failed to make that same choice. Whatever real concerns we might have, there is no escaping the fact that too many of us said yes to the politics of hate. We failed our friends, our family, and our neighbors whom Donald Trump insulted, demeaned, and threatened. This is even more shocking when we consider the colossal failure of the leadership of the Republican Party to, at any point, say no to this politics of resentment, fear, and bigotry. It is of course clear that this failure was itself done in the hope that throwing their lot in with Trump would lead to majorities in both houses of Congress, clearing the way for luminaries like Paul Ryan and Co. to redeem our nation’s gravest mistake: choosing to show the comparatively modest amount of generosity, acceptance, and solidarity to the poor, marginalized, and maligned we have been able to muster in the last eight years.
It’s difficult to remain hopeful in the face of such events, especially when we think of the potential for our endorsement of Trumpism to further embolden figures like him in other societies. But I think it’s our responsibility to hold on to hope. We have to look to the example set for us by generations of activists in the civil rights movement, the LGBTQ community, and the feminist, labor, and human rights movements that have always understood that building the good society is hard work and takes time. We owe it to each other, especially those that will be left most vulnerable to the return of this brand of populism, to keep fighting for the future we deserve. This requires a redoubling of efforts to build a left movement that genuinely links the struggles of working people – those left behind by deindustrialization as well as the underpaid, precarious service workers – to the real and persistent struggles of racial minorities, immigrants, women and the LGBTQ community for racial and social justice. This will be hard work, and the difficult primary campaign shows that the Left has yet to figure out how to bind these groups together. What must not happen is to prioritize a left-populist strategy aimed at winning back a white middle and working class at the expense of articulating a vision of civil and political equality.
Despite these challenges I still believe that there has never been anything false about hope. That is what I learned from Barack Obama, and it’s why I joined the Democratic Party. But, it’s also important to be cognizant of the fact that those maligned by the Republican campaign are, rightfully so, bracing for a period of shocking regression. The reports of intimidation and harassment by Trump supporters in the days after the election should worry us all. It’s important that we never allow this regression to be normalized. Whether this will be a plunge or slow descent of progress shouldn’t affect the weight of our responsibility or our resolve. We must now be engaged at every level of politics, express intolerance for hatred, and live out our belief in a better tomorrow.