2016 was certainly a year of political upheaval, with major events on both sides of the Atlantic and an apparent changing of the tide in continental Europe too: not the year that many would or could have predicted. 2016 paved the way for a new kind of politics, in which people simply refused to listen to facts and reason – but the tide has been brewing for years.
Rising inequality and economic insecurity have generated a populist backlash against the political establishment and economic model as a whole. The rich are getting richer, and the gap between the rich and the poor is further increasing – the richest 1% now has as much wealth as the rest of the world combined, according to Oxfam. Oxfam also calculated that the richest 8 people in the world had as much wealth as the poorest half of the global population. People are understandably feeling left behind, and given the opportunity they have dealt a bloody nose to the establishment
Capitalism would work under two conditions; that there is growth, and that rewards of that growth are spread and shared – unfortunately this is known as socialism, a word that has been deemed as dangerous within the mainstream political consensus. Be aware of the red under the bed, not the likes of Philip Green who may leave you with no job or pension. True laissez-faire capitalism by design favours the already wealthy and has created further inequality, it gives businesses and the markets the means to exploit their workforce and take the fruits of their labour for themselves.
We have entered a race to the bottom, where wages have not increased in decades and people’s standard of living has been steadily declining. Trade Unions have little sway now in collective bargaining agreements, and many workers have barely any employment rights or access to regular or guaranteed working hours – instead they should simply be grateful for the little work they are given each week.
Unfortunately inequality and isolation go hand in hand, where one goes the other will surely follow. The capitalist system makes us worry about our relative standing in the world, we become vulnerable to judgement about other people – not to mention the fact that we never quite feel enough: we’d always be better if we had that new TV, that new car, a bigger house, a 2nd holiday home in France, a 3rd luxury yacht.
With this feeling of discontent and isolation the seeds were sown for someone to harvest, and in 2016 there were two movements ready to play dirty to take advantage. Vote Leave and Trump harnessed raw emotion in a way that the political system simply could not.
As living standards decline, people naturally look for someone to blame, that is human nature. The mainstream media, owned by no more than a few rich men who would quite like to stay rich and even get richer, make sure we look away from the likes of those that caused the financial crash of 2008, and that pushed for an austerity agenda to fund cuts to top rates of income and corporation tax allowing themselves to get richer, and towards those who are more vulnerable and don’t have the voice to defend themselves.
Let’s not dance around the point, the Brexit camp and Donald Trump both used racial tensions and even promoted casual racism to help aid their causes. They also both made promises they couldn’t keep – instead of listening to their supporters and then arguing the point, we on the other side of the argument simply decried them as “racists” or “stupid” further alienating them and pushing them into the lap of Trump and Brexit.
Brexit provided people with an opportunity to kick out at the establishment, to show their anger and pain: but a Pandora’s box was opened. The political elite certainly didn’t cover themselves in glory – people were fed fear of the unknown, “project fear” rather than a message of hope and unity from a political class. The people finally refused to succumb to scare tactics, many felt they had nothing left to lose. They couldn’t fall any further, the prospect of change was worth the risk. Reason and facts lost to sensationalism.
In America a similar wave of populism was spreading within the campaign of Presidential hopeful Donald Trump. He empathised with the traumatic losses and helplessness of the white middle and working classes, he blamed America’s woes on Mexicans, on the Chinese, on anyone other than the rich. The blame was shifted, as it always is, from those who have caused inequality to those who perhaps suffer most from it.
Donald Trump, a narcissist who feeds on people’s anger and sense of despair to become ever stronger, has just been sworn into office as the 45th president of the United States. Teresa May and Chancellor Philip Hammond, now running Britain completely un-elected, have begun making threats to the European Union about Britain becoming a tax haven (like it wasn’t already) if don’t get what they demand – access to the club without paying any of the dues or taking any of the responsibilities. These events many would have refused to believe were true if they had just awoken from a year long slumber, such has been the political turbulence in the last 12 months.
There is much to be concerned about, Trump is a man who claims that climate change is a Chinese created conspiracy, a man that cannot understand why we do not use nuclear weapons seen as we have them. Already as you read this the Affordable Care Act is being ripped up. Trump will not solve the problems of the people that voted him into office, the appointment of his cabinet of rich white males with business interests will see to that, and after promises are left unfulfilled and America is not made “great again” where will these people turn?
Likewise a similar situation is unfolding in Britain. We currently have a Prime Minister who cannot accept that there is a crisis in the NHS despite the fact people are actually dying on trolley’s. It is becoming increasingly clear that Brexit will not deliver what the people of Britain need, let alone what was promised – Britain’s imagined superiority is being exposed as nothing more than a hangover of imperialistic glory and years gone by. The report, Britain in the 2020s, by the Institute of Public Policy Research, says Brexit will “profoundly reshape the UK” and not for the better. “Growth is expected to be lower, investment rates worse, and the public finances weaker as a result of Brexit.”
2016 was the year we apparently were sick of listening to experts, to people who actually know what they are talking about, the year where facts meant nothing and lies ruled the roost, the year where racsim was given a voice and a sense of legitimacy in the public sphere, the year where fascism make a fierce comeback under the pseudonym of the “alt-right”. Change was promised to us, and change we may yet get, but we will not get what we were promised nor what we need – we have been misled.
The system has to change, but the people are misguided if they think Trump and Brexit will improve their living conditions: things will only get worse until this uncontrollable system of capitalism, or whatever it has mutated into, is toppled.
The world is bitterly divided at the moment, perhaps more so than in a long time – we must retreat from our own echo chambers and listen, challenge ideas instead of blindly dismissing them, and most importantly come together for the sake of humanity.