Hope and Fear
The two big electoral shocks in western democracy this year , the British vote to leave the EU and the American presidential election, have a few things in common. One of the biggest is the analysis of the unexpected support for candidates or causes that, just a year ago, you’d never have thought stood a chance. In both cases, a story has come out about voters wanting to send a message to the establishment. They’re unhappy with the way their country is now and they want to take back control, to make it great again. These platitudes are meaningless on their own, but they won votes. And the question I’ve been struggling with is, why?
The reason I found both results to be such a shock is the fear and the hatred of others that became such a big talking point. It was wrapped up in concern for infrastructure that was struggling to cope, or concern over terrorist attacks, but when one leading light stands in front of a poster that was eerily similar to Nazi propaganda and another talks about a blanket ban on all members of one of the world’s biggest religions (not to mention being endorsed by neo-nazis and the KKK), it’s hard to avoid the feeling that fear of others is a big part of why people voted for these causes.
But it’s not as simple as saying that. Of course it’s not. And most reasoned analysis says something different: that the platitudes were much closer to the truth. People are unhappy with the way things are. Unhappy with being ignored, with feeling like political systems are set up to serve the elite, those already in power, at the expense of everyone else. Everyone else is struggling to make ends meet, they’re deeply unhappy with the way things are, and so it’s natural that they have fear for the future; the present is bad enough and things have only been getting worse over time. If there’s someone to blame for that, someone to blame for making it worse, they’ll take that and support the people who point this out and promise to make it better.
The problem is that the people who promise to make it better are part of that elite. They don’t really want significant change, but this is an easy way to win votes. Point out that people are unhappy, position yourself to be on their side, and say you’re the only person supporting them.
The alternative, that most of us who don’t want to stoke fear and hatred need to recognise, is hope. Again, it’s important to acknowledge that there’s a problem, much like the hate-mongers are saying. Acknowledge that things aren’t working as they are and need to change. But show how it can become better in the system that we have, rather than tearing it down and starting afresh. The current message, which to paraphrase is simply “this is the best we’ve got, and look at how bad it would be if the other side won”, hasn’t worked. There needs to be a new message. One of hope. One of potential. One of a bright future that includes everyone, rather than an us-vs-them battle.
Published on 22 December 2022