Wake Up to the Dawning of a Dark Age
We are living through turbulent times - and with Donald Trump's victory following the Brexit vote, I fear the next few years will be darker still, writes Roy Searle
The world has woken up to the news that Donald Trump has indeed ‘trumped’ his opponent, Hillary Clinton, many within his own Republican party, political pundits and pollsters and will be the next President of the USA.
Using similar methodology to those who masterminded the Brexit campaign here in Britain, Trump has captured the minds and imagination of the masses, defied many peoples’ expectations and won the race to the White House.
As previously indicated I am not surprised by his election. I abhor many of his views and fear the consequences of his presidency. The party in Trump Tower celebrated a remarkable victory and congratulations have poured in. Far Right leaders were among the first to congratulate Donald Trump, as other world leaders and diplomats have struggled to come to terms with the US election results.
While many prominent global figures reacted with dismay, rightwing nationalist leaders in France, Hungary and the Netherlands expressed their joy and congratulations. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who branded Barak Obama a “son of whore” earlier this year, offered “warm congratulations” to Trump.
The US-based British historian Simon Schama said the result was a calamity for democracy that will hearten fascists all over the world. Vladimir Putin has sent Trump a telegram to congratulate him. In contrast, Garry Kasparov, the Russian former world chess champion turned vocal opponent of Putin, tweeted simply, "Winter is here".
There is no doubt that Donald Trump’s victory has made two men very happy today, key figures in their countries whose influence goes far beyond the territories they occupy; Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin.
'A man of very poor character'
Trump’s character, attitudes and policies call into question for me his legitimacy to hold arguably the highest and most powerful political office in the world. Ironically, the States have elected an autocrat who has bludgeoned his way through life and his business practices reveal something of a dictator who trashes his opponents, removes those who oppose him and exploit or at best, use others to achieve his ambitions. A character who is brilliant at ego and self promotion he is also adept at self-deception and plain old deception. Trump is willing to claim success even when it is not there.
He has has portrayed himself as a champion of the working class but the truth exposes how untrue that claim is. Over the past 30 years Trump and his businesses have been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits, many of them relating to the poor treatment of employees or Trump’s companies refusing to pay for goods and services they have received. His business empire has an appalling record of not paying individuals and small businesses, and when those affected take it to court, Trump’s enormous financial resources and his huge legal teams are used to overpower his accusers.
Americans struggling to make ends meet on very low incomes or worried about their jobs will quickly discover the billionaire capitalist is no saviour when he undermines the minimum wage for them and gifts big tax cuts to his country club wealthy elite. The disconnection between the public’s perception of Trump as a self-made mogul and the reality of him being a rich kid who lost other people’s money and made far less for himself than he claims, has gone undetected by the masses.
This is just one example of actions not matching words and there is a catalogue of very disturbing examples of a man of very poor character, who has expressed racist, sexist, xenophobic, abhorrent attitudes and actions throughout his life and who has managed to capture and appeal to the masses with vitriolic speeches and a campaign that featured fear, anger and hatred in large measures. Someone who needlessly offended countless groups of people, including women, Hispanics, Muslims and disabled people.
What kind of society elects such a president?
It concerns me that the majority of Americans who voted cast their preference for such a man. What kind of society elects such a president? I am disturbed by the thought that he has been able to tap into aspects of racism, sexism, sectarianism and nationalism in the American consciousness that has influenced people’s voting intentions.
That is not to say that everyone who voted for Trump is racist but it is undoubtedly true that playing the race, sexism and nationalistic cards have helped Trump to become President.
The same is true of what happened here in Britain with the Referendum. Not everyone who voted to Leave are xenophobic or racist but undoubtedly, there were many for whom such outlooks, ignorance, prejudices, fears and bigotry were factors in influencing their voting intentions. I have met many sincere folks who voted to leave the EU for reasons of regaining our sovereignty. They are not racist, sexist or bigots.
However in the States, several commentators have described the result as a whitewash, a backlash to the eight years of having a black president ~ that’s racism. Many Americans couldn’t vote for a woman president, not just because it was Hillary Clinton, but because of her gender ~ that’s sexism.
The result also causes me to question and be concerned about the nation that voted for him and if this is what democracy delivers, and it’s what America stands for, then there is something seriously wrong. How could the nation, (albeit a divided nation like Britain is becoming), elect a man accused of a series of sexual assaults who has demonised Blacks, Mexicans and Muslims, employed venomous language in his campaign be elected to the White House?
Billy Bragg, the singer songwriter has tweeted: Trump has answered the great conundrum of the 20th century. How did a rational people like the Germans come to vote for a demagogue like Hitler?
Economic inequality and opportunity injustice behind this political change
There are of course also some big questions to be asked of and challenges and lessons to be addressed by the ‘political’ classes both here and in the States who are so to be out of touch with the happenings and experiences of many of the citizens they serve. Both in the US Elections and the Referendum here, there was, undoubtedly, a huge element of protest that influenced how people voted. David Cameron and his cronies got a bloody nose at the Referendum.
Similarly, the political elite, the dynasties in the States have been dealt a body blow. People like Farage and Trump have captured, and to my mind, exploited, the feelings of those who feel left behind, thousands of people who see the growing prosperity and opportunities of the wealthy whilst they are deprived, neglected and abandoned.
This can see be clearly seen here in Britain where the north-south divide is wider than at any time since the beginning of the industrial revolution. It’s wider than when Dickens was writing about Victorian squalor, and deeper than in the Depression years of the 1930s.
The regional divide is so vast that, at £13,500 per person, the economic output in Gwent, Wales, is a tenth of one of the wealthiest part of London; and in the Tees and Welsh valleys it has now fallen below that of Lithuania, Slovenia and Slovakia. Average household incomes in Wales, Northern Ireland and the Northern regions of England are under 60 per cent of those in Greater London. Last year, when jobs rose by over 0.5 million in London and the South East they fell by 40,000 in the North-East. Property prices in the south have seen considerable growth in the space of ten years whereas large parts of the north have seen little growth and many are plunging into negative equity.
Economic inequality, ‘opportunity injustice’, a widespread lack of equal distribution of wealth has led to anger and become a breeding ground for politicians from the far Right and Left to gain momentum and take advantage. Pour into the mix inequalities and sense of betrayal the ingredients of racism, tribalism, nationalism, (which Einstein described as an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind), fear, prejudice, blaming the stranger, immigrant, migrant, etc and you have all that is necessary to create civil unrest and effect political change.
The Scargill Community and the tightening of visas
Staying at the delightful Scargill Community in the snow covered Yorkshire Dales I gather to share morning prayer with the community and other guests. The regular pattern of prayer is abandoned and we sit in silence, reflecting on the news of Trump’s success and quietly pray.
I had been with the Community, predominantly younger people the evening before, sharing with them on aspects of living in community as disciples of Jesus. Our time together began with the welcoming in of new members to the community, a lovely Hungarian couple, who were sat next to a delightful Italian couple who are in their first week here at Scargill. The absence of any Africans was very noticeable, as on every other occasion I was delighted to meet with brothers and sisters from that continent. But as we have taken the path of suspicion and mistrust, tightened measures on who we will allow to come into our country, it is becoming impossible for the community here to get any work visas for people from Africa. The situation will only get, in my opinion, worse, if the plans and proposals following Brexit are implemented.
As the evening concluded we prayed for the US election results that would come in through the night. Someone made a joke about Trump, one or two tried reassuringly to say he would not be elected but a general air of unease and fear pervaded those of us who were part of the conversation as we realised that in all probability we would wake up to hear news of his victory through the night. And we did.
These are very turbulent days and anybody who pretends otherwise is deceiving themselves or taking false comfort in the freedoms and relative security that most of us in Britain and North America still enjoy. Economically we are in for a rough ride, not so much in the short-term because the consequences of political decisions taken this year will not be experienced for quite some time yet.
However the damage to civil society, to global relations is beginning to be seen. The resurgence of fascism is a growing force in global politics, (watch what happens in France and Germany next year, following and with huge encouragement in the wake of what we have done with Brexit here in Britain), nationalist extremes, the renaissance of tribalism which all contribute to conflict and war, (watch this space for what will happen in the former Soviet Union in nations like Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia for whom yesterday’s election result and Brexit, signals no help or hope).
Jimmy Carter's warning
Jimmy Carter, a much underrated former president and a very godly man, warned back in the 1970s when he tried to bring in caps on the political funding for electioneering and curb the power of media advertising, warned that without such measures the States would one day end up with a media mogul as president.
They have. A media baron called Donald Trump. Having seen the ‘trailers’ in the Primaries and run up to the election, we might just be in for a Rocky Horror series, which contains more horror than comedy. As David Lammy, MP has said earlier today, 2016 has been such a dark year. I fear the next few years will be darker still.
Placards were evident at the Republican Party’s celebrations following Trumps success, “God Bless America”.
My prayer is: Lord have mercy
And the Serenity Prayer:
God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.
Donald Trump speaking to supporters at an immigration policy speech at the Phoenix Convention Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
Gage Skidmore/Wikimedia Commons/Used under a Creative Commons licence
Roy Searle is one of the leaders of the Northumbria Community and the Northern Baptist College hub tutor at Cranmer hall, where he is a Fellow of St John's College, Durham.
This reflection first appeared on Roy's blog Northumbrian Reflections, and is republished with permission.