Donald Trump is to be the next President. The spirit of Brexit has crossed the Atlantic and taken on an even more calamitous manifestation. Liberals are reeling. Problems seem to be everywhere: rising inequality, isolation and disillusionment, a class of voters left behind by progress becoming distrustful of the notion of progress itself.
For a century and more, liberalism and democracy have been uncomfortable bedfellows; minority rights and constitutionalism pushing against the dangers and benefits of majoritarian rule. Yet together they have achieved remarkable change: the welfare state, women’s suffrage, civil rights, a semblance of multiculturalism. This worked because, somehow, enough people wanted these things for democratic pressure to force the state down a liberal path. Now the alliance has come apart at the seams, ripping apart the lazy assumption that progressive policies were inevitable if we just convinced enough people and waited it out.
We’re not getting through; rather we are re-convincing those who already agree with us. Belatedly we are coming to understand the problem – liberals are friends with liberals, and we end up living in a well-off, educated bubble in which we cannot fathom that anyone could think differently. We see now that there are many left to convince. But this realisation is prompting some to jump to a dangerous argument, that we should abandon some of our ideals – open borders is often the first offered up for sacrifice – in order to appeal to the supposed values of the working class.
We cannot fight reactionary politics by the over-reacting ourselves. As Hillary reminded her in her emotional concession speech (which I still can’t bear to watch in full in case it completely breaks my heart), now more than ever we need to be shining our ideals into the darkness; to be saying that there is such thing as right and wrong; that whatever happens, we should never stop fighting the good fight. There is work to be done to protect and advance the progress we have achieved so far, there is no time for hand-wringing and doubt.
Cities across America are witnessing the first major protests against the outcome of an election in modern times. There are enough people unwilling to accept bigotry to ensure that, if we don’t give up, we can begin to rid the current political climate of its poisonous discourse. We may be down, and I am the first to embrace despair for humanity, but we are not out. Raise your voices now, and things might just be ok.