Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Trump's victory, like the Brexit vote, doesn't solve anything, but it puts the system in play and we must be ready for that

Memory soon adjusts to a new reality. A few months ago I woke up (in France, as it happens) to the news of Brexit; this morning's news of the US election is of the same shocking quality. As with Brexit, we have no idea what this really means, but the sense of shock will pass, probably sooner than it should.

It's far too early to start speculating on what Trump's presidency may hold. It's worth remembering, however, that, just as the left was rapidly disappointed by Obama, so may Trump in office prove less radical than his supporters hope. The Republicans will still control Congress, but that party is now so divided that "control" may not be quite the word. And Trump is not an experienced political operator, so the administrative machine is bound to slow him down.

On one thing, however, the pundits are likely to agree: the Democrats put up the wrong candidate. I flagged this up in a post last April: although the polling back them suggested that Clinton would beat Trump, it also showed that Bernie Sanders would beat him much more easily. The U.S. electorate was in the market for radical change. Trump and Sanders were both offering it, but Clinton was not.

Before the shock passes, therefore, it is worth reflecting again on what lessons can be learned for British politics. At the moment we're enduring the triumphalism of the nationalist right, buoyed up by the fact that predictions of post-Brexit economic fallout have not (yet) come to pass. This new right, however, has no plan to address the profound issues of inequality, poverty and social marginalisation that gave rise to the Brexit vote and have now brought Trump to power. Effective as a force of opposition, it will become increasingly vulnerable when things don't get better as a result of its policies.

To prepare for that moment, it is no good rehashing a sort of Blairite/Cameronian globalist centrism in the hope that a chastened electorate will in due course "come back to mummy".  The voters are correct in their instincts, that a system so massively stacked against them requires fundamental change. If the new right can't provide that, then history may view the votes for Brexit and Trump not as definitive in themselves but as the triggers that put the entire neo-liberal consensus in play. It's time to get ready.

Picture credit: Gage Skidmore [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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