Perhaps the world needs Donald Trump. But we will have to learn our lessons the hard way

Just how much of a shock was Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election? As we had seen with the UK general election in 2015 and, to a lesser extent, this year’s EU referendum, the polls and last minute predictions were confounded. But, for this observer at least, the sense of shock has worn off.

Trump’s success not only corresponds with the widely documented social unrest of white Americans (working class or not – https://i.redd.it/dei5tr2kuatx.png), it fits into a far wider picture which we have seen develop across the western world in recent years. Trump’s use of Brexit to further his own campaign is, of course, no secret. But the trend goes beyond this. A world which has seen the rise of the Front National in France, Alternative für Deutschland in Germany, UKIP in the UK and the New Flemish Alliance in Belgium to name but a few, appears to have been hurtling towards this moment – towards what Trump would call the liberation of the white working classes, or the reclaiming of national identities.

As we witnessed in the aftermath of the EU referendum, such groups will be heartened by Trump’s triumph. They will perceive his presidency as an opportunity to further their own ambitions and to ride the wave of his success in their own countries. Indeed, we have already seen the triumphant response of members of the Klu Klux Klan to Trump’s win. Many comparable groups around the world will feel vindicated by the US public’s apparent acceptance and endorsement of Trump’s rhetoric on immigration and minority groups. It appears inevitable that their power and influence, in the US, the UK and beyond, will only increase over the course of Trump’s presidency. No one can say what the world will look like by the time of the next US election in 2021.

But the purpose of this article is not to scaremonger. Quite the reverse.

For those of us who disagree with Trump and who are concerned by the wider rise of nationalist sentiments across the western world, his presidency must be taken as an opportunity. An opportunity to say that enough is enough. To engage people in politics who have never previously shown an interest. To alter the passive mindset of our generation of millennials to one of activism, of taking a stand to defend our values in the face of the attacks to which they will be subjected by the world’s most powerful man. Sometimes, opposition can unite. And for those of us, from the most diverse range of backgrounds and political affiliations, who are fundamentally opposed to everything that Donald Trump stands for, we must take this as the moment to start speaking up. To speak up against every single thing which Donald Trump says and does over the next four years that goes against our principles and basic human instincts.

And, to my mind, one thing is certain: that by the time Donald Trump’s presidential term is done, he will not only stand no chance of re-election, but will have served to undermine every single embittered, prejudiced, misogynistic, xenophobic, racist and small-minded word which he has spoken in this election campaign. More effectively than any commentator can at this moment in time, he will reveal his views, principles and policies for what they truly are: hateful, divisive and in no way conducive to effective government or international relations. Most importantly, those who voted for Trump on Tuesday, minus a few hardened followers, will regret it as quite probably the biggest political mistake of their lifetimes.

They will see that his bleatings about improving the lives of the poorer classes could not have had any less substance. Crucially, they will yearn for a return to a politics of unity and hope and for an American President who makes them proud of their country by standing up for the democratic and liberal principles upon which their nation of immigrants was founded.

And for the wider world, all we can do is continue to espouse these principles and hope that the losses required in order to learn our lessons are not as devastating as they may yet prove to be. By the end of Trump’s reign, we might just remember the reasons why the world responded to the horrors of the Second World War by enshrining its fundamental values in a Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and why it worked so hard to protect the lives of vulnerable refugees. While those lessons appear long forgotten today, we must pray that we require less loss to learn them this time around.

* Dan Webster is a Lib Dem member and final-year law student at Durham University. He blogs on civil liberties here.

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10 Comments

  • John Boylan 11th Nov '16 - 1:24pm

    It’s quite possible his term of office will be quite pragmatic ; for one thing he’ll have a Congress to deal with, which will be more mainstream conservative. He infact might not actually as unreasonable as he was in the campaign. Keep an open mind.

    Liberals and Progressives instead of scare-mongering (and this article does seem like that) should learn lessons of why people vote the way they do.

  • Richard Underhill 11th Nov '16 - 1:27pm

    Demonstrators in the USA should be careful to avoid violence. if any of them are seeking violence they are unwise.
    What they should be doing is campaigning for reform or abolition of the system of indirect voting. Direct voting, as in France or for the mayor of Greater London would be simpler. Indirect voting from the 50 states and the District of Columbia would be much fairer if counted proportionally or preferentially.

  • Tony Dawson 11th Nov '16 - 1:46pm

    Having an elected President as anything other than a figurehead is very foolish. Better than having a hereditary King but not much better.

    Unfortunately the USA is heavily-steeped in a semi-religious belief that the founding fathers got virtually everything spot-on. Similarly, the effective gerrymandering which is the Senate OUGHT to be taken on – but won’t be. Even worse gerrymandering (because it was done deliberately and a lot of it was, paradoxically, initially to enable representation of ‘people of colour’) is that which gives the Republicans such a large majority of seats in the House on a balanced vote.

    The big trouble is that there are monstrous vested interests in preserving the status quo. And Trump’s Supreme Court of potentially youngish right wing lawyers will be there for decades to halt serious change. 🙁

  • Dan:
    I don’t think I could agree with you more and Trump’s tweet about ‘professional protesters’ doesn’t reassure me about the nature of the man. At the same time I think there is another dimension to this in terms of the way that Liberal Values have been exploited by global capitalism and multinationals. Maybe we are reaping the consequences of not addressing this issue within society. The people who voted for Trump have feelings and whilst we may not not agree with the way they have been expressed, we cannot ignore them and hope they will be defeated. It is a shame that the economic group we are about to leave is probably the most forward thinking in this respect. Lets hope the damage will not be too great. Yours is the generation that will prevail but learn as well as win.

  • Joseph Bourke 11th Nov '16 - 4:23pm

    The USA had its Brexit on 4th July, 1776 when the colonial leaders opted for independence from the UK against the wishes of a large segment of the population loyal to the British Crown. It took a while for the embittered feelings to cool on both sides with British troops burning down the Whitehouse and other federal buildings in 1814.

    The primary duty of American Presidents ever since, has been the safety and well-being of the state created by George Washington and saved by Abraham Lincoln i.e. America First. If Trump cannot deliver on this over the next two years, we should expect to see this reflected in the next set of congressional elections in 2018.

  • Trump and 99.99% of those who voted for him are a million miles away from the Klu Klux Klan. Give the guy a chance, if he start’s introducing hateful policies then go for him, but believe it or not just because he’s not a liberal doesn’t make him a bad man. As for the protesters who are out on the streets wrecking peoples cars and property and attacking policemen, they should grow up. The worlds liberals would be in uproar if Trump had lost and his supporters were behaving like that.

  • Jayne Mansfield 11th Nov '16 - 9:36pm

    @ malc,
    Trump was for much of his life a Democrat but why does someone who has made such hateful speeches deserve a chance? He has already given a psychological boost to those who ARE racists, xenophobes, women haters in fact haters of any minority group.

    What ends justify the means as far as you are concerned?

  • Jayne Mansfield

    I wouldn’t have voted for Trump because of some of the things he said in his campaign. Equally I wouldn’t have voted for Hilary either because of her lies and cheating. However, Trump won so lets see what he does before we start rioting in the streets. People forgave John, Robert and Teddy Kennedy and they were certainly as bad as Trump in their treatment of women. Lets see if he can do what the Democrats have failed to do and improve the lot of many low paid, insecure Americans. I don’t hold out much hope, but Obama hasn’t done much for them so lets give him a chance. As for giving people a chance I believe you now support the Labour Party. If I recall correctly their current leaders have asked for medals to be awarded to IRA murders of British women and children, called for more kneecappings and have given many a “psychological boost” to terrorist organisations. Now people like that definitely don’t deserve a second chance.

  • David Pearce 14th Nov '16 - 9:47am

    Trump stands for traditional american values, and the right of the ordinary man to get on and do well. It should be no surprise that he and Farage are friends, because his US win exactly mirrors Brexit. Both benefitted from the support of the dissillusioned poor, from the american rust belt or the de-industrialised regions of the UK. Whereas rich and ethnically diverse California voted staunchly democrat (even californian republicans voted democrat in the presidential election when they voted republican in local elections), poor and ethnically unchallenged middle america voted Trump. For California, read London.

    Scotland does not blame the EU for the woes which beset it, and placed the blame squarely upon Westminster, where it belongs. It was immune to the propaganda coming from Westminster over very many years that the EU is to blame for everything which goes wrong. It isnt. If the Uk leaves the EU there will be no miraculous return to a better past, more likely matters will get worse. All those regions which voted Brexit will continue with the same problems they experience now and will come to understand the EU was not the problem, Westminster is.

    The parties of the left, labour and liberal are to blame for this because they have allowed this wealth disparity to continue. Not simply money, but industry too concentrates away from many traditional industrial areas, and the sense of being excluded by an inability to get a well paid job and further yourself is just as important as simple cash. The right naturally are not interested in the poor, but they too are paying the price of ignoring them, because Brexit will cost them dear and disaffection may yet exclude them from office. The parties of the left should not be surprised that disadvantaged groups are deserting them, because they are being offered nothing.

    There is a huge vacuum opening up in British politics. World politics. Who will fill it? Globalisation caused this problem. Furthered by individual and corporate greed. Trump campaigned against it. He is right.

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