I’m no expert political analyst, but the mood seems to have turned decidedly against experts recently. Michael Gove raised the spectre of this ‘anti-expert’ sentiment pre-Brexit, and no matter how passionately we disagree with the content of the feeling (or Gove in particular); the phenomenon looks undeniable and increasingly powerful.
If there is one thing these protest voters (because I’m convinced this ‘anti’ feeling is stronger than its counterpart – policy-free Trump won on a platform of not-being everything else rather than being something) emphatically do not want, it is politics as usual – no matter what the alternative looks like. The twinned Brexit-Trumpocalypses have seen us embrace a suicidal jump into an unknown that somehow holds more promise than the security and inevitability of the status quo. But why are we rushing off our cliffs so eagerly?
Pollsters, pundits, academics, wonks and the media in their vast experience and insight have failed to predict the mood of two nations – twice. The oracles in their ivory towers and glass-walled consultancies missed the financial crash too, and the voter hasn’t forgotten it. No amount of rational persuasion that the expert still has a significant offer regarding knowledge and experience is holding water – people are fed up. The rebellion against the expertise and ‘elitism’ of the metropolitan progressive class couldn’t have more momentum, and yet here we are again, calling for insights from our own echo chamber.
I, along with most of the RSA’s wider circle, responded to the result with understandable anxiety, disappointment and outright fear. I read the opinion pieces and commentary about sexism, racism, inequality, globalisation and de-industrialisation, and cried foul into the collective bubble like everyone else.
But as the demographic break-downs trickled through, it became clear that our strident cries of ‘Sexism is more deeply-rooted than we thought’ and ‘anti-immigrant sentiment is on the rise’ and ‘the majority view is a racist one’ have missed a more salient truth in exactly the way we missed it the first time.
It’s not (just) sexism, or racism, or ignorance. Those hatreds and prejudices are undoubtedly captured in the vote, but they are not its entire character. Trump is undeniably a racist, sexist, predatory demagogue – but I think it would be a mistake to assume all his supporters are.
There is also a huge, untapped, unexplored kamikaze scream of ‘ANYTHING BUT THIS’
Because it’s not what you think:
It’s not (just) men who hate women: 45% of white, college-educated women voted Trump
It’s not the uneducated: Trump votes matched Clinton votes amongst those with college degrees
It’s not the disenfranchised working classes: Bottom-income earners predominantly voted Clinton
It’s not (just) racism/anti-Mexican sentiment: Almost 30% of the Hispanic vote went to Trump – a large proportion considering his repulsive commentary during the election.
It’s not the super-rich: Clinton won over billionaires by as many as 20-1
It’s not conservative oldies who haven’t got with the programme: Just over half of under 35s voted Hilary – what of the other almost 50%?
So who is it?
Exit interviews suggest a lot of people voted for Trump because he ‘isn’t a politician’. Anything but them. His incompetence, inexperience, lack of polish and unsuitability were, paradoxically, hugely in his favour. So he could fail miserably at debate after debate and still win – because success wasn’t the measure they were looking for.
Like the foul-mouthed cartoon bear Waldo in dystopian TV series Black Mirror, Trump represents what a silent majority of people are clamouring for: an anti-politics. An expletive bellowed at the establishment, no matter what the cost. And if we ignore that rage and desire for change and attribute it (solely) to bigotry and ignorance, I believe we will only see this huge societal rift widen ever further. We have to try to understand why ‘politics as usual’ is dead in the water, and what must replace it. Because very, very bad things are going to happen if we keep selecting incompetent, bigoted, violent cartoon bears as our only outlets and leaders.
But I must stress - I’m not an expert...
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