The certain road to disaster - RSA

The certain road to disaster

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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. 

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  • Excellent piece - I registered to thank you for it. 

    I'm a freelance writer out of Seattle, Wa and, as an experienced community and activism organizer, I couldn't agree more. The potential for legitimate change - in our methods, tactics, political systems - coming out of the inevitable insanity is powerful as I've never before seen. Had Clinton won, it would have been a continuance of the grinding status quo. 

    Now is the time to start reaching out and having conversations. 

  • It's also going to require a marked shift in thinking about the nature of community governance.  If the objective is inclusion then governance needs to be bottom-up,  and an important role for local authorities  becomes one of enabling  effective governance at a community level. I have just reread the interim report of the Inclusive Growth Commission.  There is much good material in it, but it does read still as though governance is something which local authorities do to communities  rather than something which they enabled to develop through communities

  • As with Brexit, the disenfranchised have spoken.  So many people on the internet are dismissing this as fear and bigotry.  The question is, will the academics and the rest of the left listen?  Or will they dismiss this out of hand?  A certain level of morality is required for civilization and people are beginning to recognize that. The problem is that with political views people assume that "if you are not for us, you are against us".  Recognize that Trump may not have won so much as Clinton lost. 

  • I'm so glad that you have published this thoughtful piece. We need lifting and the RSA can certainly play a role in this.

    I can't see why the pollsters keep carrying out pointless opinion polls, surely they understand now that people say one thing but do  another. My gut feeling ever since brexit was that Trump would win unless anyone made a serious effort to address the issues feeding the flames and nobody did. I  went to bed last night  full of foreboding expecting this to happen, I really didn;t want to watch the process. Seeing Hilary Clinton bringing out celebrities, saddened me and diminished her in my view. It's a sign of despair,and actually patronising, it does nothing to change the minds of thoose who have lost hope and I am  not surprised that it failed miserably. 


    It will be hard to stop the momentum now without America engaged, the whole of Europe is at risk, Germany possibly even more so than France, German friends I viewed as liberals are furious and see Angela Merkel as a traitor. Across the Western world complacency has enabled the few to prosper excessively leaving many adrift, struggling to exist, with no hope of a better life, without hope, there is nothing to hold society together.People in broken communities see immigration as part of the problem, politicians have failed to address this, it's PCness gone too far, the elephant in the room that can't be talked about, we all experienced it in the Brexit campaign.  The majority of people now distrust the politicians, thank goodness for organisations like the RSA who can provide a space for neutral, reasoned debate and hopefully some solutions and actions too for without those we are indeed in a dark place. The model is broken, it does need fixing and from RSA events I've attended I believe the RSA can provide real thought leadership and ideas for change in the turbulent period ahead.

  • Let's hope that Trump's election prompts a more mature reaction from the urban, educated class in the US than Brexit did in the UK. Both outcomes depended heavily on a core vote from those who have benefitted least from open, liberal social and economic policies.  This group is likely to be poorer and less educated. They are the least likely to have held power in the preceding decades.  So they have a right to protest or even revenge against those who have benefitted.  The RSA should lead the way in thinking of radical ideas to address the social and economic injustices that are now threatening civil society. This has to start with a spirit of self-criticism amongst the urban, educated class, (who hold power and occupy the senior roles and take the highest rewards) with the objective of identifying change that will improve the conditions of those who have been left behind.

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