For the second time in six months I woke up to political news which feels devastatingly catastrophic, a sensation that the world has shifted on its axis, that the dark forces in humanity are winning out. Melodramatic? I really don’t think so.
Clearly there are many people in the UK and America, and no doubt elsewhere as well, who feel that they have been failed by traditional politics, and who want radical change. Unfortunately the likes of Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson during the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump during the presidential election have utterly abdicated their moral duty to exercise responsible and moderate leadership, to promote hope not hate, and instead have chosen deliberately to appeal to the worst and darkest side of human nature.
We all have a natural instinct to look for someone to blame when things go wrong. When I stub my toe, I shout at my kids for leaving their toys lying around. We all have the potential to fear or mistrust people who seem different from ourselves. Responsible political leadership should focus on moving people away from these base instincts and reactions and bringing them together to fight for common causes of fairness, tolerance and freedom.
Unfortunately these individuals have done the opposite. They have appealed to people’s darkest side and most secret fears and have deliberately fanned the flames of hate and bigotry. Are you struggling financially, worried about your children’s education, fearful of not getting good healthcare? It can’t possibly be because there have been decades of being told we can pay less tax, abolish our traditional industries and still get richer and have better public services. It must be because the immigrants/the Muslims/the Polish/the Mexicans/the refugees are taking your jobs/living in your houses/overwhelming your public services. It’s not your fault, or our fault, it’s their fault, whoever they may be. It’s an effective tactic, as Adolf Hitler realised back in the 1930s. Germany was in a terrible state at that point, the Allies had handled the aftermath of World War One incredibly badly and the German people were suffering as a result. Hitler’s, initially democratic, route to power was to blame the Jews. And the gypsies. And the homosexuals. And the intellectuals. All those people who seemed a little bit different, a little bit other, and who made convenient scapegoats for the fact that life wasn’t working out for many Germans. Make no mistake, Messrs Farage, Trump et al are employing the same strategy today.
It is no coincidence that these electoral calamities are taking place as the generation who fought in the second world war are dying out. My grandparents’ generation knew where fascism took the world to. They knew that ridiculous aggrandisement of your own country and blaming another race for your troubles could lead to death and destruction on an unparalleled scale. In a few days time our country will engage in many acts of remembrance, but even more important than remembering those who gave their lives for their country is remembering the values they died for: freedom and tolerance as opposed to bigotry and hate.
I feel sick and angry and panic-stricken today. Heartbroken that I am raising two girls in a world in which the most powerful elected leader is someone who openly boasts of using his power to sexually violate women. Furious that we seemed to have learnt nothing from history, and that democracy has given power to those who believe that race, nationality or religion can and should be used to divide us from common humanity. Impotent and frustrated that this is not a direction I want my country or my world to move in, but I can’t think how to change it.
I believe in hope not hate. I believe we are stronger when we remember our common humanity and act together. I believe the world is a better place when we try to love our neighbours as ourselves. I am struggling today to keep that hope alive in the face of what seems like so much hatred, but of course this is when we need hope the most. I hope that love and tolerance and fairness will ultimately prevail. I hope that many individuals carrying out many small acts of kindness and love will add up to a powerful force for good in the world. I hope that I can be one of those individuals. I will teach my children to respect others and be kind, and I hope that everyone else will do the same. I hope that my struggling faith in the fundamental decency of human nature is justified.