Reactions to yesterday’s election results covered the entire spectrum: from enthusiasm (and sometimes outright vindictiveness) to extreme disappointment (and occasionally belligerence). The same gamut of reactions could be seen in the UK when the Brexit referendum mocked the poll results.
I think this reflects how polarised society, and, as a result, the political landscape has become. While it is popular these days to coin the phrase “the Divided States of America”, this phenomenon is not unique to the USA. In many countries in Europe (also in The Netherlands), there is a growing tendency to intolerance towards points of view that do not correspond to your own, and many European countries have their own alt-right movements. UKIP in the UK, Front National in France and the Dutch PVV (which is essentially the Wilders Show) are a few examples.
This polarisation is not just a political thing – political discussions on public forums have descended to insult contests, largely mirroring the tone struck by the more extreme political figureheads. Admittedly, Donald Trump has taken insulting and threatening his political opponents to a new (and disturbing) level, but Nigel Farage and Geert Wilders are not exactly shining examples of how a debate should be conducted.
The phenomenon of a large portion of the voting population fleeing to the extreme sides of the political spectrum (mainly a flight to the right) appears to be caused by a growing level of discontent about, and distrust in, politicians that are supposed to be part of the ‘establishment’. This is rather weird if you realise that Trump himself is very much a member of the establishment (even though most of his business ventures ended disastrously).
But what worries me most is that there is a large group of people who seem to have lost all interest in politics whatsoever, and appear to be completely unfazed by the fact that the nuclear codes will soon be in the hands of a man who has, until now, demonstrated that he cannot even control his own temper, and that the energy policy of one of the largest industrial nations of the planet are now controlled by a man who thinks man-made climate change is a hoax, perpetrated by the Chinese (which essentially means that the Paris Agreement isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on).
Some are looking at the proceedings with amusement, and there is the odd sentiment of “be your own president” – if we make sure we do the Right Thing, everything will work out just fine.
I will immediately agree with anyone that sitting around and waiting for someone else to save the world is not a solution. But I think it would be downright naïve to assume that not worrying about politics (and thereby, to society at large) and cocooning in your own world where you and the people you interact with do The Right Thing is a working solution.
First, my US-based LGBT friends will likely be somewhat happy to hear of my support, but they are going to have a very hard time the next four years regardless. Having the authorities turn on you sucks eggs, and there is not much that I can do about that. So yes, that’s worrying.
Second… yes, I have managed to reduce my CO2-footprint since 2010 with waaay more than the 20% that supposedly was the target for 2020. And yes, I’m actually a bit proud of that – although I have to admit that, what with technology making strides to support me in doing so, it wasn’t particularly hard.
But I also feel somewhat frustrated that I cannot do considerably more – public transport for my daily commute is not an option, as it would lengthen my daily commute from 90 minutes to 5 hours and 40 minutes (I kid you not…), but I would seriously like to drive an EV for commuting and other daily drives. Unfortunately, the municipality I live in won’t allow me to run a charging cable across the sidewalk, and they also won’t let me install a charging post. Which would render my electric vehicle useless.
So, yes… you can decide to be your own president, but politics can actually reduce the efficiency of your presidency. Given Trump’s track record, I cannot see how Trump would act in a way that the vast majority of climate scientists would deem sensible.
But there is another effect that politics can have on everyday life: it affects our behaviour.
Having a president-hopeful (and now, a president-elect) who has a proven record of repeatedly insulting his opponents, insulting, stigmatising, and even threatening entire sections of the population, and qualifying his own positively lewd behaviour as ‘locker room talk’ (which somehow should make it perfectly acceptable), and generally having a problem controlling his own temper, will influence what society finds acceptable – especially what the next generation will learn to be the norm.
We’ve seen the same thing happening after the Brexit referendum, where open hostilities against the minorities targeted by Farage’s UKIP suddenly spiked, and the same thing is already happening in the US.
My worry is that not having an opinion about this is not going to reverse this trend. And that is why I think that pulling out of the public debate because you ‘cannot be bothered’, or because you think that, as long as you do the Right Thing yourself, that’s enough, is not going to cut it. I can see where this sentiment is coming from… but I don’t subscribe to it.