No time for whinging liberals

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.

Want a Democrat? Back Hilary

If you thought that the UK general election was a drawn out affair, steel yourself now. The next US presidential election won’t be held until November 2016, but the parties are already in election mode. Why? Because before the campaign-proper starts next year, candidates have to compete in primaries to win the nomination to be their party’s presidential nominee. Effectively, a successful candidate has to win not one but two elections.

Primaries are complicated affairs contested on a state-by-state basis, where candidates compete for the state’s delegates at the nominating convention. Some states have closed primaries, in which only registered partisans can vote; others have open primaries, which give everyone a say – even members of the opposing party. And then there are the caucuses, which are basically more deliberated primaries. The caucuses and primaries of each state happen at various times, so the game becomes about momentum. Doing well early on in Iowa and New Hampshire is a good sign, but is no guarantee of success if the candidate’s support burns out or the campaign is mismanaged. Once the parties in each state have voted, they go to their respective conventions, where the candidates with the most delegates wins. Well, normally. Occasionally a new entry or a drop out will shake up the convention and massive horse-trading for votes will ensue. If this all sounds complicated, it is (I can only recommend watching season 6 of the West Wing).

So for the next few months, expect to hear an awful lot about the primaries. The parties couldn’t be in more different situations if they tried. The Democrats so far have four candidates (it is unlikely that any more will enter the race) and, barring major upset, will nominate Hilary Clinton. The Republican field, by contrast, just keeps expanding. So far, 11 people have declared their entrance, with a further 4 possibly preparing to do so. And there is no telling who will eventually win. Obviously, some of them are complete no-hopers (who on earth is George Pataki?) but there are several who could plausibly be nominated, ranging from Jeb Bush to Marco Rubio to Rand Paul.

Of course, the identities of the two nominees will shape the race in profound ways. But the fact is that any Democrat – from the moderate Clinton to the eccentric and self-declared socialist Bernie Sanders to the anyone-but-Hilary Martin O’Malley – is better than the most moderate Republican. Jeb Bush may wish you to believe that he occupies the centre ground, but he is in fact more socially conservative than his brother and father, the George Bushes. Marco Rubio is a darling of the Tea Party and Rand Paul intends to decimate the federal government he wishes to head. Give me Sanders any day.

Yet Sanders is unelectable in a country without a socialist tradition, and the Democrats are not crazy enough to nominate him. The best he can hope to do is pull the other candidates to the left on some key issues. O’Malley, too, can’t be president, if only because he’s too dull. The other Democratic candidate, Lincoln Chafee is unheard of and, well, used to be a Republican. And so we are left with Hilary.

We could do a lot worse. Admittedly, she presents some issues, from her hawkish views on foreign policy to the air of scandal which follows her around, whether on Benghazi or the Whitewater fiasco. Her claims to represent the middle-class are more than a little awkward when she is so wealthy. She is too close to Wall St, but what American politician doesn’t have undesirable ties to big business? The crucial fact is that she is the only Democrat with a solid chance of winning the White House. A CNN poll puts her 10 solid points above any potential Republican challenger, the kind of lead usually unheard of (Obama won by 4% of the popular vote in 2012).

So we have to forgive her faults and get behind her now, which it seems most people on the left are doing. Sanders, O’Malley and Chafee’s task now is to help keep her honest and engaged, not to pull her to a left-wing position from which she cannot win. With the Republican Party holding the positions it holds, in 2016, any Democrat will do. And that Democrat has to be Hilary.