Now is not the time for tears or despondency. Donald Trump’s election as President of the United States warns those of us on the left that we are running out of time. Some have called his election our final warning; the worrying truth is that it may already be too late.
What happened in America on Tuesday night is no isolated incident. In France, Marine Le Pen’s Front National welcomed Trump’s victory by claiming, “Their world is collapsing. Ours is being built”. Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s far-right leader, hailed Trump’s success as “great news”. In Greece, the far-right Golden Dawn party declared “a great global change is starting”, before congratulating the Republican candidate. In the Netherlands the leader of the Party for Freedom claimed “the people are taking their country back – so will we.”
Such jubilation shows that we on the liberal left have much to fear. The Brexit vote and Trump’s election serve as blueprints for far-right victory in western democracies. It is no longer good enough to stick our fingers in our ears and hope that enough people will buy into our vision of a better future.
Just as Hillary Clinton’s campaign presumed that the “Obama coalition” would carry her to victory, the left in Britain has become too presumptive about the people we believe will come out and vote. Rather than earning votes, or attempting to understand genuine concerns about our ideas, we have simply sat back in the belief that everything will turn out right. These last few months show that is not the case.
Trump’s victory was a clear rejection of the political status quo. Jeremy Corbyn was right to assert that at the base of Trump’s victory was an “unmistakable rejection of… an economic system that simply isn’t working for most people.” America was crying out for an outsider and the Democrats’ worst mistake was selecting a candidate to challenge Trump who couldn’t be more “inside” if she tried.
For too long, a large proportion of electorate have felt neglected and ignored, and that sentiment has been growing over the last two decades. For the men and women who get up every morning and head to work for ridiculous hours and too little money, Trump’s promise of a change – whatever that change might be – was extremely appealing.
Some commentators have suggested that economic link simply doesn’t exist, that the only reason Trump managed to win on Tuesday was because he effectively tapped into hidden racist and misogynistic sentiments. The facts do not appear to support this interpretation. Donald Trump won 5 per cent more of the black vote and 2 per cent more of the Hispanic vote than Matt Romney in 2012. And this was not a case of America rejecting Clinton based on her gender, either; she won the popular vote by between 1 and 2 per cent.
There isn’t a majority of racists, homophobes and misogynists in the United States. But there is a majority of people fed up with the failed political and economic consensus. Trump’s victory rests with the fact that hard-working decent people wanted a different answer to their problems.
And if there’s one thing that we can learn from the unexpected result on Tuesday night it is that Jeremy Corbyn can win here in the UK. This is not about left and right, as such; it is about a willingness to stand up to the status quo and call for a genuine change in the way we do politics. That is what Nigel Farage was doing when he campaigned for a change in our relationship with the European Union and for standing up to political elites – and he won the argument over Brexit. From a different perspective, it is also what Jeremy Corbyn is doing. And he can win the argument too.
There is the same majority appetite for a shift in how politics in developed states across the Western world as we have seen in the US this week. The left now has to step up to this task – or the world really does face a march towards its own oblivion.
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