Donald Trump has been elected President of America. At this point, we can't know for sure what this means. On the evidence of his campaign, it means social and ethnic division in America, the tearing up of postwar Western norms, a rapid reversal of the nascent global response to climate change, and international security, including in Europe, under grave threat. Yes, I'm pessimistic.
Analysis will be in abundance. Before it starts in earnest, I want to point out something quite simple. The rapid return to certainty following Brexit amongst those who are paid to research, write about and analyse politics in advance of this event has been foolhardy. The failure of US political elites to heed clear messages that have been sent for some time was negligent. That foolhardiness and negligence has left us ignoring what has been staring us in the face. Next stop, France 2017.
History is not on the side of the progressive worldview. The quarter century complacency that has accompanied progressive thought and action now has to end. Now. If you believe in a world of equality, continual human development, the ability to come together and solve even the biggest challenges we face and create unimagined prospects for the entirety of this species, then, frankly, the fight is on. Those values are not going to be swept forward by 'history'; they need to cultivated, articulated and persuasive.
History sends few messages that are clear. One that is crystal clear is that it is easier to turn us against one another than to unite us and sustain that unity. Sometimes a wave of hope can come together. But the minute we just surf the wave and forget what created it, then it crashes in fear and division. Hence we have moved from a movement of change in 2008 to a swarm of anxiety and fear in 2016.
So uncertainty is good. It can be powerful. The RSA exists to help people engage with ideas, to mobilise in ways that can lift us all. We retain the optimistic outlook that ideas and change associated with them are not the preserve of elites; they only come to life, make a difference when they become the property of us all. We must have to humility to embrace uncertainty but not let it debilitate us. The experts call it operating in conditions of volatility, uncertainly, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). We are just one organisation amongst many but we want to play our part.
There has to be a better way than this. It will require heavy lifting. In the US, in Europe and the UK civil society is weakening. The ability to resist authoritarianism is declining. We can pass moral judgement or we can imagine and build. That sounds incongruous today. But it is ultimately the only way. And it starts with uncertainty.
Anthony Painter argues that the roots of the new populism are explicable but instead of reacting to it reflexively, there needs to be greater collective effort to create a convincing alternative worldview.