Brexit! In our latest sign of populist political dissatisfaction, the British chose last night to leave the European Union. Voters in declining industrial cities left behind by the global economy provided the decisive margin, which ought to give American economic and political elites a serious jolt. When people feel like they’re being screwed over by the system, they’re going to strike back…and when we’re lucky, it happens at the ballot box.
Donald Trump’s conquest of the Republican Party — and Bernie Sanders’s nearly successful attempt to do the same on the Left — show that something similar COULD happen here. Those of us safely ensconced in thriving coastal cities and professional careers ignore the rest of the country at our peril. Millions of Americans DON’T benefit from a fast-moving, borderless technological economy, and many of them also fear the cultural changes that have come along with it. From economic and cultural fear, anger and hate are a short step.
Sanders tapped into one wing of this feeling, combining a socially inclusive message with economic populism. Trump mines a darker vein in the public mind, pitting one group of the left-behind against another. It’s a potent appeal: tribal thinking runs deep in most of us, priming us to turn against the amorphous Other. From this mindset came many of the horrors of the 20th Century, and politicians stoke it at all of our peril.
In the U.S., perhaps our best hope is Trump himself: his arrogance, narcissism and lack of discipline have kept him from building a real political campaign, while Hillary Clinton’s operation seems determined to turn out every possible voter likely to cast a ballot for Democrats. But if you don’t want to see Trump’s politics of resentment, fear and division take hold of this country, do your part: volunteer for Hillary, give her money and encourage your friends and family to do the same (Repubicans of conscience, I’m looking at you, too).
Beyond that, remember the legitimate worries of the people who’ve flocked to his rallies. We cannot leave half of this country behind…if we do, we now know what we just might get. It’s ugly, it’s dangerous, and it’s not the country any of us should want to live in.