Wednesday, 9 November 2016

The US Inversion

In The Divided Self (1960), Laing contrasted the experience of the "ontologically secure" person with that of a person who "cannot take the realness, aliveness, autonomy and identity of himself and others for granted" and who consequently contrives strategies to avoid "losing his self".

This has been the victory of those, as in the Brexit vote, who felt that the professional elite have not been listening to them. They have come out in their masses to express their anger, their fears, and their insecurities. Their fear of losing their identity has led them to a strategy which they feel will help regain their selves.

They have found a voice to speak for them in Donald Trump. A surge of white working class voters has given him victory. The same happened in Brexit, where the white working class voters came out to express their anger and blame others for their economic and social pain.

What we have seen in Brexit, and now in America, is a rise of this isolationist, introverted politics, this politics which raises barriers, which demonises migrants, or indeed, as the rise of hate crime has shown, anyone who doesn’t appear to fit the template of being white.

I suspect that the elections in Europe may also show this kind of swing next year. We have already seen surges for right wing parties, strong on immigrated, strong on exploiting fears. In the past, that has been seen off. Tomorrow – who can say?

It is a sea change, and it is the reason why Theresa May will not call a snap election; she is terrified that Jeremy Corbyn might actually win. And I would not now consider that beyond the bounds of possibility. The split in the Labour party has been between a disaffected grass roots membership, and a political elite of MPs. In the past, the MPs have held the edge, but that may go.

Meanwhile, in America, we could see a return to the Monroe Doctrine. President James Monroe first stated the doctrine during his seventh annual State of the Union Address to Congress. The term "Monroe Doctrine" itself was coined in 1850.

The Monroe Doctrine was a U.S. policy of opposing European colonialism in the Americas beginning in 1823. It stated that further efforts by European nations to take control of any independent state in North or South America would be viewed as "the manifestation of an unfriendly disposition toward the United States.

Change that from European nations to include China, and you may be on the line for Trump’s policy over Africa. The Chinese have been moving in to exploit the mineral riches of central Africa, and Trump talks of them in fiercely hostile terms.

Pope Francis, speaking before the election, addressed the issue of fear and disaffection with the political process. He said:

"No tyranny, no tyranny can be sustained without exploiting our fears. This is key. Hence all tyranny is terrorism. When that terror, which was sown in the peripheries - like massacres, looting, oppression and injustice - operates in centres with different forms of violence, including hateful and cowardly attacks, citizens who still retain some rights are tempted to false security of physical or social walls."

But just as the 1930s saw the rise of a wave of fascism, so now, we seem to be on the crest of a wave of a new isolationist politics of retrenchment and fear. An iron barrier was erected in Hungary to keep out migrants fleeing from war zones. New walls, both physical and political, are being erected across the world as nations turn in on themselves.

And while the initiative falls into the gift of those moving this kind of change, there is still a large opposition to that change, other voices that will not be heard, and will be cowed. The Brexit vote was won, but it has left a divided country as its legacy. It has led to a rise in the hatred of the outsider, an insular mentality, and a determination to see the project through whatever its economic or social consequences.

The same will almost certainly happen in the United States under a Trump presidency. It will not be a time for reconciliation, for bringing peace and goodwill to all men. This Christmas, the message may well come not from the stable at Bethlehem, but at the Palace of King Herod.

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