Caitlin Logan: Why a Clinton election can’t stop what Trump has started


CommonSpace columnist Caitlin Logan says the US must face the circumstances which have taken it to the brink of a Trump presidency

IN the ominous afterglow of our brave new Brexit world and the sensory attack that has been 2016, it seems perfectly possible that we are again standing at the precipice of something truly deplorable.

Today is America’s 57th presidential election, and one which feels more urgent than any in recent history, because it demands an answer to a major ideological question.

One point on which we can be certain is that whatever result emerges in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, it won’t be enough to heal the fault lines which have been brought to the surface as the focal point of this election. 

Read more: US election day: Scotland and the presidential hopefuls

Donald Trump got one thing right when he called his campaign a "movement" – this moment is far bigger than him, and defeating him won’t make his supporters, their anger, or their fears go away.

The perfect storm which has allowed this movement to rise to such significance in US politics is not dissimilar to shifts we have seen in the UK and other parts of Europe, where far right parties and policies have become a part of "acceptable" politics. 

It’s not difficult to find parallels in how the battle for Brexit was fought and won: playing on resentment and fear and railing against "the establishment", all the while scapegoating those worst off for the problems that brought us here in the first place.

In perhaps less obvious ways, this can also be compared to the pro-independence movement in Scotland. At the emotional core, much of what has driven people to support Scottish independence is the same as what has driven support of rightwing populism in other areas: distrust, disillusionment and alienation from a centralised political establishment, combined with a growing awareness of socio-economic inequalities, have left too many people feeling that the current state of affairs simply isn’t working for them.

The key difference lies in how this disaffection has been harnessed. In Scotland we have been lucky to have political leaders and activists who have worked to channel those feelings into a positive, inclusive vision for the future, while in other countries the vacuum has been filled by those intent on stirring up hatred and vilifying 'others'.

Donald Trump got one thing right when he called his campaign a "movement" – this moment is far bigger than him, and defeating him won’t make his supporters, their anger, or their fears go away.

That being said, Scotland does not enjoy special immunity or inherent goodness, which is why it is so important to continually challenge ourselves and the language we use. Part of that also means avoiding the urge to lash out at everything 'mainstream' as inherently corrupt and conspiratorial – that path can lead to very dark places if critical thinking is not applied, and looking to the situation in America should be stark proof of that.

In many parts of the world, people are jumping at the chance to support something, anything, which represents a significant change to the status quo. The fact that this call has too often been left hanging only to be picked up by those on the far right cannot be blamed solely on those shrewd individuals.

Is it Ukip’s fault that the UK is not only leaving the EU but that the Tory government is content to embrace xenophobia as a broader political strategy (because when you find something that works, you run with it)? 

Is it Trump’s fault that Melania Trump and Kellyanne Conway aren’t the only two humans who consider him acceptable?

Of course they have had a role to play in leading us to this point, but responsibility also lies with the many more who have failed to challenge their ideologies or present alternatives. 

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Michelle Obama made the statement at the Democratic National Convention which has since been adopted as a mantra by Hillary Clinton: "When they go low, we go high." 

Some in UK politics have treated their goal as more of a limbo contest, with the Conservatives trying to out-Ukip Ukip, and Labour trying to out-Tory the Tories. On a day when many were shocked and concerned by the xenophobia running through the Conservative Party conference, the Labour press team chose to highlight the Tories’ failure to sufficiently reduce immigration numbers.

Meanwhile, the spectacle of Trump’s candidacy is in many ways the logical conclusion to the growth of the 'Tea Party' and mainstream Republicans’ willingness to take that movement under their wing and elevate it to appeal to its supporters. 

Let’s not forget that if Trump hadn’t been in the race, the Republican nominee would be Ted Cruz, a man who may be more politically aware and articulate, but who is also vehemently anti-immigration, in favour of sweeping anti-Muslim policies, and more consistently opposed to LGBT and women’s rights than Trump.

It would be naïve to imagine that the defeat of Trump will mark the defeat of the crisis of democracy facing America. It won’t be that easy, and it shouldn’t be, either. 

It would be naïve to imagine that the defeat of Trump will mark the defeat of the crisis of democracy facing America. It won’t be that easy, and it shouldn’t be, either. 

There are some serious questions which politicians across the political spectrum in America need to answer, for the people supporting Trump because they’ve lost all faith in their political system and their own society, and for the people victimised by the ideology of Trump and many of his supporters.

That this race is still so close at the 11th hour should be a source of shame to everyone who has been entrusted with political power in the United States, because it is a mark of their failure to represent, to speak to people, and to offer something worth believing in which isn’t predicated on tearing others down.

From this, the UK and other countries need to take a lesson. I fear that our Tory government will fail to recognise the parallels, but they do so at their peril, because when they excuse and normalise more exclusionary and divisive rhetoric and policy each day, they only pave the way for something worse to take their place.

On the left, too, the view is often expressed that out of respect for the very real reasons for disillusionment among some of those giving their support to reactionary policies, we perhaps shouldn’t be too harsh in the terms we use to describe their ideologies. 

For example, calling a large section of the population "a basket of deplorables" might be ill advised. Well, that may be true, but it’s also important to remember that respecting a person and respecting their views are two very different things. 

Read more – Arun Sood: A view from DC – The 2016 election and the future of US 'race' relations

Unchallenged, the poisonous seed of bigotry will only grow, and we all hold responsibility for watching that happen. As Martin Luther King Jr. said: "There comes a time when silence is betrayal."

To some extent, it is complacency which has brought us to this point. Complacency, or a sort of ostrich syndrome, where too many have found it so inconceivable that the worst could happen that they forgot to do anything about it until it may well have been too late.

To return to Michelle Obama’s appeal to "go high": I’d say we need to go one step farther. We need to be sure that rising above doesn’t simply mean ignoring. Going high has to include raising others with us by providing a worthy alternative to hate and taking the time to explain why the politics of exclusion will never get us where we need to be. 

Only then will we have the chance of getting there together.

Picture courtesy of George Makris

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