I urge you to feel empathy for the Brexiters and the Trump voters. Not because you should, but because you must.
Like me, you probably sat, mouth agape, as the Brexit results came in. I later watched interviews with Brexiters and thought, “How can people be so unapologetically isolationist and anti-immigrant?” Some called the Brexit vote the end of democracy, or the heralding of a new age called “Post-Factual Democracy” — one where feelings take precedence over facts.
I’ve felt the same as I’ve watched the Trump train gain momentum. A mainly white, working class populace is getting swept up in anti-immigrant demagoguery by a toupéd real estate mogul who has never walked among them.
It’s so easy, and so tempting, to ridicule these people and blame them for causing their own misfortune; they are angry and misinformed and their rhetoric is bigoted. I’ve even fantasised about what it would be like to find another planet and just leave them to their own devices. I’ve wondered how many generations it would take before they became extinct.
“It is racial resentment, and little else, that motivates the Trump supporter.”
“To excuse ignorance is the equivalent of writing a book on why it is fine to be illiterate.”
He certainly has a point, but he misses the larger one: This is all just in-fighting. While the likes of Trump, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and yes, Hillary Clinton, watch us squabble amongst ourselves (the poor whites directing their ire at racial and religious minorities, the hand-wringing liberals circle-jerking around them while the skeptical liberals mock them in disdain and dissociate), they and their ilk continue to gain from others’ misfortune. It shouldn’t come as a surprise: it’s the very essence of capitalist globalisation.
Trump voters and Brexiters are not wrong to be angry.
They belong to one of the only two groups in the world that liberals still feel entitled to mock and belittle — one of two groups we feel no need to be politically correct about. (The other group is overweight people. Don’t believe me? Check this, and this. Or just listen to Bill Maher or any other left-leaning comedian take stabs at Chris Christie.)
We are all told we live in a meritocracy: work hard and you’ll go far. Be good and you’ll be rewarded. Well, many of these poor white voters work hard and are good in their own eyes, but are still downwardly mobile and still ridiculed. They are fed a healthy diet of propaganda and lies, and thus turn against others in need. Poignantly stated by Matt Ellis,
“it is a very old human observation that economic hardship and falling living standards are a most crucial fuel for the racist fire.”
The political elite stoke the flames of racism and bigotry for one simple reason: to keep the oppressed at odds, so they can continue to oppress and make gains off their backs.
Those of us who can see the situation from many angles cannot let it continue.
The first step towards a united force for change is to open the lines of communication. Stop the ridicule. Place blame for Brexit and for Trump where it should really be placed — not on the shoulders of working class people who have been fed propaganda (and inappropriately misplace their ire), but rather the ruling class of tax evading and patriarchy-supporting financial capitalists and neoliberals who openly profit from the oppression of the many.
Originally published on Medium.com.