Opinion: the shock from across the Atlantic – the bigger picture

A few days ago Trump was describing the prospect of being “like Brexit but more”. That catches my sense of shock today — though I wouldn’t want to take the parallel as far as he does. I’ve just been exchanging emails and Facebook messages with shocked friends in the US.

Perhaps the system will right itself. Perhaps he won’t be as bad as I fear. Perhaps he will be as bad as I fear, and be forced from office (he faces a civil case arising from alleged child rape on 16 December).

People are right to say that the American political system looks pretty broken, and that it is really hard to see how it might right itself. There’s a striking parallel with the voices who have suggested that voting reform in the UK might have led to a different result on Brexit, because of people voting Leave out of frustration at the sense that their votes don’t count in elections.

But in the fug of initial reactions, two things are screaming at me:

    The choice of authority over wisdom, and stories over facts, seem to have been big things in this US election and in the referendum. It feels like people who feel disaffected and alienated grasping at something that looks safe and solid — and is actually the opposite. That feels scarily like what happened in Europe in the 1930s.
    Trump’s sexual predation (and the horrid photo of Farage trying to kiss Diane Evans when she briefly succeeded him as UKIP leader), calls to mind Christina Wieland’s book The fascist state of mind and the manufacturing of masculinity. It may be inevitable that his opponent had to be a woman, and should be terrifying that she didn’t win.

Like fascism in the 1930s, what we are now seeing is shaking the foundations. An interim answer is to hold to Liberal values, but this feels like a moment of change. I don’t know what new geopolitical way of being is being born, but this birthing needs to be engaged with.

Quietly the balance of power has been shifting, from the US to the world’s two most populous nations — China and India. Enough people are in poverty in both countries to mean that they have yet to reach their full potential. Wise leadership in the US and EU could enable us to make an orderly transition that works for everyone. “Wise” is not a word I would use for Donald Trump. A UK outside the EU would be irrelevant to this, and in the mean time seems to be undermining the capacity of the EU to act wisely. I fear we are in for a much bumpier world re-configuration than people realise.

And Hilary Clinton? Ouch. I dread to think how she is feeling, and will feel in the coming years. Not only the pain of defeat, but the prospect of watching and knowing that she would have made a much, much better President.

* Mark Argent was the Liberal Democrat candidate in Huntingdon Constituency in 2019 and blogs at markargent.com/blog.

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  • Richard Butler 9th Nov '16 - 2:21pm

    The alienation felt by ordinary folk towards the liberal class is almost too profound for words. The anger inculcated by the arrogance of the liberal, is orders of magnitude greater than any hot button pressing done by the likes of Farage or the DM.

    Peoples daily lived experiences inform them of an entirely different world to that experienced by la la la land liberals. Your arrogant dismissal of these lived experiences, in favour of the scribbling’s and bar charts of acutely out of touch academics and middle class NGO employees is akin to the disconnect between WW1 Generals and the Tommie’s in trenches.

    Liberals say build more houses and schools to keep the people from resenting MASS immigration, without the slightest inkling this shiny new resource simply attracts even more migration.

    Next stop Le Pen. Well done arrogant liberals, years spent sneering instead of listening.

    The ignorant masses are forever grateful to be handed down wisdom tickets so as to solve that every day ailment, false consciousness.

  • Katharine Pindar 9th Nov '16 - 2:28pm

    ‘And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?’ Sadly, Mark, these lines of W.B.Yeats, in The Second Coming, sprang to mind when I read your discussion of the grim new situation. But perhaps we do need poetry now. I shall try and concentrate on more hopeful verses, such as Francis Thompson’s, from In a Strange Land:
    ‘The angels keep their ancient places;- Turn but a stone, and start a wing! ‘ Tis ye, ’tis your estranged faces, That miss the many-splendour’d thing.’
    I don’t know enough of the moderns, but perhaps some of us can supply appropriately?

  • I think you’re mixing two things up. Leaving the EU has been building for years, In truth if a referendum had been held at any point from 1979 to 1993 there is a very strong chance we would have left the Common Market. And later than that a referendum would almost certainly have stopped at Maastricht or Lisbon. Selling the EU is simply not an easy win in England.
    Trump won mostly because as some people have been saying all along Hilary Clinton was not trusted. I thought she a good candidate, but Americans didn’t. Further more it is rare for US governments to get more than two terms. So on that score it was a normal result. This is maybe the most pertinent point. Elections are national events, not global ones. Having lot’s of policies and things that make you appealing to people in other countries who can’t vote for you means very little in a national election.

  • ethicsgradient 9th Nov '16 - 3:56pm


    You are correct it is a rust issue with Clinton. That is the bottom line. he could have said anything “i’ll put up tariffs, I’ll protect blue collar workers, I’ll do everything to help the rust belt and the left- behinds”…. Those same people would answer” tell me any thing, give me toffee and Ill just think your lying and cynically telling me what I want to hear”.

    The madness is the trump is a blatant liar, yet so far he has no history of lying to the electorate (because he has not been a politician before). If he do a series of u-turns then he will also lose trust and the people will come to reject him.

  • We should be worried that such a campaign delivered Trump the White House (don’t forget we now have “Dead Cat” Crosby with Queen honour and “Lock her up” Trump with the biggest job in the western world) and should be worried that the forgotten are choosing Trump, Farage and May to deliver them to a better life.

    Trump himself could surprise us, certainly it will be far easier to surprise us positively than negatively, but his campaign style being rewarded and resonating with so many who feel their lives can’t get any worse is very scary.

  • ethicsgradient 9th Nov '16 - 5:40pm

    I will attempt to do a synopsis of my reading of this result. (1of2 comment too long)

    Overall it was a Clinton loss rather than a Trump win. A rejection of the status quo rather than a new glorious vision. why did this happen (I’ll put things in order of importance)

    1. Trust issue with Clinton. Summed up as a questionable history (property deals, Clinton foundation access). Clearly shown to have lied about the emails. Seen as representing a political elite/professional political class, that consistently promises and then does not deliver (can’t be trusted). Looked to protect corrupt/scandalous associates around her.

    2. The economy. The massive massive federal debt and stagnation of low wages and industrialization are huge factors. Trump is seen as a successful businessman (it is debatable) and more capable of getting the economy working than politicians who have perceived not to have got anything sorted in the last 10 years. i.e, Give someone else a chance as they have not managed it.

    Huge welfare support also would not work here. blue collar workers/low paid don’t want to see more welfare, what they want to see is more jobs/ protected jobs/better pay. This I think i why Sanders would not have done well (same reason Corbyn will not get votes for saying he will magic /2 trillion for infrastructure spending). People see more welfare as adding to the budget deficit.

    Clinton economic plan was not seen as credible. She was weak on this.

  • clive english 9th Nov '16 - 5:46pm

    As some one who held a job in royal mail for 25 years, starting as a postman, and whose mother was a nurse, I don’t think I am particularly a member of the elite and I can say for absolute certainty that the very working class friends and family I have care very deeply about homes, schools and hospitals. it is frankly people like the deeply morally repugnant Mr Butler, who thinks these things don’t matter who is the real elitist. Along with the lovely Mr trump who thinks its anti establishment to stiff his staff, close casinos owing debts to his small and medium size ordinary working and middle class creditors, and somehow patriotic to build his projects with cheap imported steel whilst claiming to care about steel workers.

  • Dylan Greene 9th Nov '16 - 8:41pm

    Hilary Clinton? A better president? Are you liberal?

  • Stevan Rose 9th Nov '16 - 10:15pm

    It doesn’t matter who you vote for, the Government always gets in. Meaning there may be subtle nuances but basically the establishment will rule regardless the party in charge. Americans said not this time. Trump is not a Republican, he is a fraction of how scary a Christian fundamentalist, socially conservative, anti-Gay, anti Women’s rights, Tea Party Republican presidency would be. He’s an independent who used the Republican Party but could have fitted his agenda directly into the Democrat Party had the opportunity arisen. He would just have changed tactics slightly. Trump, deeply flawed as a human that his is, offered / offers something different than more of the same. Obama promised so much and delivered so little, not his fault he was fighting a hostile Congress, but he failed. Trump might or might not but for tens of millions of Americans he’s worth a try. What have they got to lose.

    Trump’s personal and business record is atrocious. How bad does the situation have to be when a majority prefer atrocious but radical change to establishment safe figure. It is not really for us to judge here in the UK. But take a look at Detroit in particular and other major industrial cities abandoned, worthless, bankrupt, impoverished. Tell me that if you lived in a neighbourhood with 50% unemployment, 50% derelict housing worth nothing, drugs, violence, hardship no citizen of this country would ensure, that you would vote for more of the same or for someone, anyone, saying they’re on your side. Maybe he’ll deliver, maybe he won’t, but you can’t be worse off. Trump is President because the Democrats failed and conventional Republicans failed.

    Campaign rhetoric is over now. The wall won’t happen but the borders will be reinforced. Foreign nationals convicted of crimes will be sent back whence they came. Clinton won’t be jailed. Gay marriage will continue. Lobbyists beware. He says he will rebuild the infrastructure creating millions of jobs. Judge by his actions from this point on not the campaign rubbish. Watch who he surrounds himself with, who he nominates for the Supreme Court and Cabinet posts. He may surprise.

    As an aside I am deeply angered by emails from this party’s leaders today referring to a win for the politics of hate and division, then asking for money. In contrast President Obama pledges to cooperate fully and says all America is rooting for Trump’s success.

  • Philip Rolle 9th Nov '16 - 10:20pm

    I think that Americans felt that voting for Clinton meant voting for Obama’s third term. His pusillanimity ( have I spelt that right?) in office has tipped the balance in favour of Trump.

    But Trump’s a wrong un I’m afraid.

  • Diane James and Suzanne Evans, maybe if they were men you would have worked out they were two different people?

  • DJ,

    You said

    Trump himself could surprise us, certainly it will be far easier to surprise us positively than negatively

    that might work for you but put yourself in a Trump voters shoes and everything he does to surprise you positively will be like drinking a pint of cold sick to them. They will get more and more irate and flock to the next Uber Trump until someone does something and that is unlikely to be anything good.

  • Stevan Rose,
    I agree with some of what you’re saying, but I dunno Trump got more Republican as the campaign went on. Having said that, if you look at interviews with from years back he comes across as a somewhat more considered character than he has during his run for office.
    Maybe this is the end phase of a certain kind of globalism which liberals and the mainstream left used to view with a lot more scepticism than in recent years. Certainly if you go back to the early 1990s and even up to the 2008 crash there was a lot more criticism of it and a much more a “anti-establishment” bent. Maybe a few years in office and some good positive movement on issues of personal freedom has sort of masked the wider reality that it’s not been terribly good at improving people’s lot. There’s much talk about Left Behinds (a phrase borrowed from evangelical Christianity which implies a sort of eternal bliss for the chosen pious believers and purgatory for doubters), when really what we’re talking about is decades of stagnation on an epic scale. As you say look at the empty derelict suburbs of Detroit (used to haunting effect in It Follows) and our own dead industrial Poundland towns or for that matter sit down to watch a documentary about Greece or the suburbs of Paris. People become anti-establishment when establishments fail them. And that to me is the crux of the problem. It’s not really about demagogues turning the mob’s head or nebulas anger. It’s result of abject failure.

  • A lot of the comment above is nonsense. The economic conditions in the States are not that bad, and Trump voters have it better than most. Their economic situation has actually improved under President Obama.

    They are not poor people groaning at their terrible misery. They are middle class white people who have been taught to be afraid that their relative privilege might be taken away by black and hispanic people who are beginning to approach their own economic position.

    In other words, it’s not economic pain they’re feeling. It’s the psychic pain of losing the comfort of knowing that you’re at the social apex just because of your race. That’s the issue that Donald Trump claims to solve.

  • David.
    All your doing is name calling. . Actually listen to Trumps speeches. Over and again his themes are deindustrialisation, your jobs are being sent elsewhere and so on usually followed by “it’s crazy” . Another favoured argument he uses is that employment figures include people who stop looking for work and are no longer eligible for benefits. A big part of Trump’s appeal is protectionism and he has been saying variations on this thing since the late 1980s. Bernie Sanders grew very popular offering a different form of protectionism. Both also talk about the gradual erosion of middle class incomes. Of course not all Trump’s supporters are living in abject poverty but not all of them are suffering from an inflated sense of white privilege either. The reality is whether you like it or not Globalism is dying largely because it doesn’t actually work that well for a lot of people in the countries most keen on espousing it. And I repeat my earlier comment. Elections are national not international contests. How people are doing elsewhere sadly has little bearing on them.
    I would not vote for Trump if you paid me too. I think he his a flim flam man and I do not like the Republican Party. I think the real problem on the progressive end of things is that some are so busy fretting about the possible dangers of The New Right they’re seeing the electorate as the enemy and are not offering much. Sort of fingers in the ears, la la la, everything is great everyone who disagrees or can’t see it is a deplorable.

  • So many Socialists and Liberals – me included – though the world was ending when Thatcher and Regan came to power. In the end some things got better, some got worse and both will go down in the history books as successful leaders. Give Trump a chance. Hopefully he’ll get some clever people around him, forget some of his daft ideas and do well. America needed to change, when 70% of the population of the richest country in the world has less than $1,000 in savings, something is very wrong. Perhaps not all the swamp needs draining, but some of it certainly does.

  • This week makes it more vital than ever to ensure continuity of our own independent nuclear capability.

    We clearly cannot rely on the USA to have our backs, nuke-wise.

    We must make sure that Trident’s replacement is ready as soon as the current system goes out of service.

  • Glenn: Trump’s campaign speeches do not bear even a passing relations to the facts. They are simply a litany of buzzwords kept together by syntactically vacuous filler.

    His only clear theme is the validation of prejudices and making a powerful and prosperous plurality get to pretend to be an oppressed minority.

  • David-1
    There’s just no point in this conversation.

  • Iain Sharpe 10th Nov '16 - 1:34pm

    @Martin “Diane James and Suzanne Evans, maybe if they were men you would have worked out they were two different people?”

    It’s just possible that some element of Trump’s majority comprises relatively liberal-minded people who have been irritated once too often by unwarranted accusations of sexism or other ism (and implied bigotry) for unintended and minor slips.

    Conflating two people or confusing one for another is an easy and forgivable thing to do, although you may be among a happy band who would never make such a faux pas.

    Surely in such cases a polite and helpful correction is better than attributing Mark’s error to malign attitudes towards women.

    Just a thought!

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jun '19 - 10:24am

    Rockall is an uninhabited lump of rock in the Atlantic which has become newsworthy.
    Rockall is British because the Royal Navy planted a Union Flag on it during the Cold War.
    My father, an RAF officer, was on the ship.
    He told me that the reason for the trip was to prevent “the Russians” (the Soviet Union) from claiming Rockall and using it to observe a British gunnery range.
    The weather in Rockall can be vigorous. The Navy put two men ashore to cement the flag to the rock, but it was washed away and they had to do it again.
    I mentioned this at an Alliance conference at a time when John Alderdice was leader, probably in Belfast. I referred to the extension of fishing limits to 200 miles by Iceland and was met with some surprise.

  • Richard Underhill 15th Jun '19 - 10:33am

    Credibility of the UK’s claim is Rockall may be an issue,
    but, look at a map and consider what the USSR did at Svalbard, north of Norway.
    Soviet citizens were installed to mine coal, probably at a substantial financial loss.
    Norway is a member of NATO, which has a strategic interest.

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