There’s a common thread going round the interwebs at the moment, in relation to the sudden upsurge of right-wing populism we’ve seen in Brexit, Trump and the possibility of a Le Pen presidency in France. That thread says that it’s mostly the fault of the left, ignoring the concerns of ordinary working people by insisting on mass immigration, too much political correctness, and high state intervention whilst attacking all those who dare to disagree.
This is, of course, simplistic rubbish.
There is another thread doing the rounds. It’s one which suggests that Brexit, Trump, Le Pen voters are idiots, borderline racists, and sheep brainwashed by the right-wing tabloid media. We should ridicule, shout down and ignore these people who are, by siding with such awful people, not worth properly engaging with.
This is, of course, also simplistic rubbish.
Most of those on the left are not members of the fabled “metropolitan liberal elite”, they are ordinary working people as well. Most don’t believe in “mass immigration”, just everybody getting a fair chance, regardless of any accident of birth. Political correctness is not a tool to oppress and beat people with, it’s a way of ensuring that everyone is treated with due respect.
Those who voted for populism did so, not because some of us have differing views, but because the politicians they voted for touched a nerve with them; possibly by saying what they thought, possibly by playing on their fears.
But these voters are not (all) racist. They are not (all) brainwashed Daily Mail and Sun readers. They are not (all) stupid. They are mostly normal people with normal lives, normal jobs, normal problems, hopes, fears, loves and hates.
And they are all human beings and voters. Left and right, they are all human beings and voters.
The problem is that we have totally lost sight of this. We shout and yell (well, tweet… sometimes all in caps) at each other, dividing ourselves into separate camps and resort to ad hominem attacks and name calling; racist, cuck, fascist, snowflake, idiot, libtard… getting precisely nowhere.
And nobody, not one single one of us, is right about everything.
“Ah!” I hear you say, “There can be no compromise with extremism.”
This is true. Sometimes there can’t be any coming together because some views really are unacceptable. When people are motivated by racism, anti-semitism, sexism, homophobia, islamophobia etc. you really cannot and should not compromise.
But you can listen. You can try to understand where views, all views, come from on a personal level.
Then, and this is scary, you can try to persuade.
Most of us hold some sort of political views, but are so politically illiterate and uneducated that we are unable to fully back up those views with evidence, statistics, proper arguments or, well, anything really. We have some basic things in our heads, but we need to educate ourselves more so that we can actually have proper debate and discussion.
One reason for the rise in populism is a disillusionment in politicians, and this is part of the reason. When politics loses sight of principles in the pursuit of style over substance then we lose the leadership we need, the example we need to show us how to debate, persuade and actually try to win people over to your way of thinking.
Yes, this is also pretty simplistic, but we need to start somewhere. We need to talk and listen. To understand that we are dealing with other human beings in issues which affect all human beings. We need to educate ourselves and others.
I mean, it might not work, but we just can’t go on like this. Can we?