Wednesday, 9 November 2016

What Can the Rest of the “Free World” Learn from Trump and Brexit?

by George Hope (OP) 

"A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist - that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating - but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the up-grade and some hated rival on the down-grade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also - since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself - unshakeably certain of being in the right."

One of the reasons I and so many others love the writing of George Orwell is his unshakeable instinct for what was coming next, how people think and why they think that way. As a big fan of Orwell’s novels, I recently took out The Penguin Essays of George Orwell from Sussex’s library, just to dip into. What’s most striking about Orwell’s writing is its ability to transcend generations, in the sense that what he wrote in the 1930s and 40s are as relevant today as they were when he wrote them. After a fairly restless night waiting for the results of the US election, I thought I’d take a look at Orwell’s essay on nationalism. His descriptions of ‘the endless rise and decline of great power units’ strongly echo Trump’s campaign slogan of ‘Make America great again’. It almost seems as though Orwell is describing the incoming president when he says a nationalist is ‘able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him’, despite the fact that the essay was published the year before Trump was even born. Without wishing to state the obvious, Orwell couldn’t see into the future. Rather, he had a distinctive ability to make judgements about human nature, some of which have manifested themselves in many world events, not least in this election. What part of human nature has been seized by Trump and can account for his success? A success which, one has to admit, has been absolutely huge and unprecedented. 

The most sobering part of Trump’s election was not the fact that he was able to win. Although he is rightly the focus of virtually every news outlet in the world right now, it would be naïve to assume that this begins and ends with Trump. The whole campaign is part of something much bigger than Trump or America. It has spread throughout the West; Brexit and Trump’s presidency, I fear, are just the beginning. It’s clear that the amount of disenchantment with the way the West is moving is incredibly significant. People feel left behind by globalisation, aggravated by a multiculturalist agenda they had no say in. It’s far too easy to call these people racist, close-minded or backward. In fact, not only is it too easy, it’s politically suicidal. If one thing is clearly demonstrated by both Brexit and Trump’s election, it’s that when you accuse people of having racist or xenophobic motivations, they are more likely to reaffirm their own views in a kind of defiance against the establishment. So it is the responsibility of all of us to assure that we stand up for what’s positive about our own beliefs, not negative about someone else’s. By this I mean we focus on why we are pro-choice, in favour of gun control and gay marriage, concerned by climate change, believe that refugees need to be treated like human beings and not numbers. 

Other European nations have big choices to make in upcoming elections. France can choose to dissolve the European Union by the choices they make at the ballot box. In order to avoid this, the pro-European French media and political left need to champion what’s positive about immigration, the EU and increased integration. If it chooses the path of negativity, another backlash of the Brexit/Trump kind could happen, the domino effect will continue with significant consequences for the future of Europe and the West.  

This was originally published on George's blog

1 comment:

  1. Liberal Humanist beliefs have a human cost. You can't be pro choice without condoning the murder of an unborn child, you can't promote gay marriage without offending most of Africa, you can't be in favour of gun control without offending many Americans. You can't champion the exiled without disturbing the lives of natives. The vision of illiberal liberals foaming at the mouth and baying like hounds is horribly balanced by the glittering smiles of Trump and Farage. Don't be fooled by most of the feedback you receive online. The internet consists of little islands of people seeking reassurance for their ideas, giving and receiving it. Orwell is good. In Homage to Catalonia he saw for himself the human side of idealism. For a better critique of Humanism than I could give try John Gray, Straw Dogs. I wish PGS would invite him to talk.


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