Network movie poster: "I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore." Wikicommons. Some rights reserved.It’s easy to reference Paddy Chayefsky’s classic Network, and state that people are voting against their interests because ‘they are mad as hell and they are not going to take it any more.’ But in many ways, this is true. People are demanding change and they know they weren’t going to get it from their usual establishment candidates.
Over the years they’ve seen the system benefiting the select few instead of the struggling many. They might not have understood the economic whims that got us here: they just knew that its origins laid in both the greed and failed dreams of the ruling class.
But it ran much deeper than this. It ran less on the differences concerning policy and more on the dignity of the voter. If they continued to vote for the usual suspects, it would mean that they would continue being their political pawns. Elections began to be perceived as a cynical game less about the power of the people and more about powerful forces competing for the throne. No matter who won, the establishment would always win. The people felt used and deservedly so. If the 2008 economic crisis proved anything it was that even when the establishment fails, it is those at the bottom of the food chain who will be most punished.
In such times, people are easily susceptible to loudmouth populists and conspiracy theories. A door has been pushed open for an alternative reality – or as Trump’s campaign calls it ‘alternative facts.’ And more and more examples have come forward that legitimated doubting the established reality; besides the 2008 crisis (where those responsible did not get punished), there is wiki-leaks, Snowden’s exile from free America to authoritarian Russia, to the Panama files where it became all the more clear that the rich could get away with, if not anything, so much more. In order to prove to their peers and the people upstairs that they would not be fooled, voters would side with the controversial candidate. They might not speak as eloquently as your average politician, but are at least they were not as overbearingly political correct, like the rest of them. In fact, they are a godsend for their political incorrectness. People want a truthsayer, not a diplomat. Too long they have witnessed politicians talk around the issues, so here comes someone who is willing to state plainly who is to blame for the problems of the world.
One could call this a protest vote, but it’s more than mere protestation. It’s not just vengeance for the lies and deceit of previous administrations. The edgy voters are the disenfranchised who believe that they have an intellectual edge (or at the very least) an instinctive edge on the false reality presented by the establishment.
Those opposed might say that they have been had, seduced by the false narrative of the nationalists and populists. They would reply that we are slaves to conventional liberal-think or western ideology and that maybe, those very flawed, intimately human figures can save us from making the same mistake over and over and over again. To state it very simply: they wanted to circumvent being cheated once more.
But the tragedy is all too evident: they’ve been cheated again and these very candidates they’ve sided with will inevitably make things worse for them or wreak such damage to the geo-political sphere that the world will not easily recover from it.
People make their own censorship
Many hail 2016 as the year when neo-cons began to lose their grip on the world-order. But there was no stopping this Trump phenomenon who kept surviving one scandalous incident after another. Even Fox News, the right-wing propaganda force, couldn’t dilute Trump’s influence. Eventually the GOP saw no choice but to side with the controversial candidate, proving once again that, when it comes to power, all is fair game.Yet even if Trump abolishes Obama care and its regulations, it can hardly be denied that Trump is making things very difficult for his party. Republican hardliners are having consistent trouble defending this character, with his blatant support for Putin and twitter antics.
Even were impeachment to happen, much of the damage has already been done. Just as Brexit was proof that anti-establishment/ alt-right forces could gain significant political influence, Trump’s victory has given confidence that this could be their defining era. It was the boost they sorely needed, and with this boost nothing is entirely certain. Even if many experts believe that the French majority will never side with Le Pen, how could they be so certain since they couldn’t conceive of this obvious conman running the United States?
Holland is only weeks away from election and the Party of Freedom led by Geert Wilders, another polemical candidate fuelling Islamophobia and anti-European Union rhetoric, has a definite chance of winning. After Trump’s shocking victory, Wilders ominously hailed his countrymen with a promise: “what can happen in America, can happen here too.”
Possibly the worst moral crime of Trump’s victory is the support it gave Putin. For years now, Russian forces have tried to instil doubt in the West’s moral supremacy and it has finally paid off. This, despite the fact that Putin’s regime is engulfed in corruption, as we see not only in the financial sphere, but in the numerous assassinations of political or journalistic opponents. Putin is a dedicated foe of liberal democracy, constantly policing information in both the media and the internet. The fact that Le Pen has called Putin a friend of European values, should worry all her potential voters – and all of us living in Europe, should she come to power. Russia has meanwhile supported all sorts of nationalist parties throughout Europe. The less unified the world is, the more power nationalist parties have over their respective populaces.
Much of Putin’s effectiveness can be attributed to his propaganda wizard and advisor, Vladislav Surkov. He rightly saw that what works in Russia, could also work in parts of Europe and America. People make their own censorship, hiding neatly in a bubble to enable their cognitive dissonance, blocking any counter- argument. Surkov saw that the only thing he had to do was encourage this cognitive dissonance. The goal was not to convince people that western society was evil but to confuse people, making it seem that lies were all over the place and that reality was too difficult to grasp fully. In short: all he had to do was to make people distrust the establishment even more.
This proved easy. There was a definite market for subversive news feeds especially with the popularity of movements like Anonymous. People’s faith in traditional journalism is long gone and most of them receive their information from Facebook rather than newspapers or TV channels. Russia Today has for example been a popular newsfeed even for people outside Russia. They don’t seem to know that the channel is backed up by Putin’s regime or simply don’t care, stating that western media is as propagandistic. While many anti-establishment feeds have some merit, sadly Putin has also become for many an anti-establishment hero.
Many more have been victims to Right-wing propaganda sources from both Fox-News and the Koch brothers’ funded Tea-party. In fake news/alt-right feeds and on Facebook comments, trolls are hired to enable this false vision of moral equivalence and the demonization of the European Union – as well as continuing fierce xenophobia against the Muslim citizens of European countries. The alt-right movement have supporters all over the world.
The edgy choice is the only possibility for change in this world?
Trump meanwhile, has captured the confidence of many blue-collar voters, even despite his sordid financial history and a greed that should indicate to all that he could not care at all about the regular working class. Somehow the people watched him and considered him to be a friend of the people. This falsehood is much underpinned by the myth of America: the upwards mobility, the secret to prosperity. The seething desperation among the blue collar voters has been capitalized on by the very forces that feed on this broken system. In another shocking example of cognitive dissonance, look at Poland’s nationalist forces or Hungary’s nationalist forces, and their glee at Trump’s victory. Geert Wilders, the potential leader of the Holland's PVV nationalist party, has said that he backed Trump not just for the sake of Holland but because he stands for ''nationalist interests.'' Nationalist parties are more than willing to go against the country's interest in their quest for power: it doesn’t matter to them that the world is burning, so long as they can rule its smouldering landscape.
In many ways, the edgy vote represents the underdog. People always loved the underdog. Nobody wants to back the winner. People love the little guy against the big guy – David vs. Goliath. Trump is seen as the outsider of Washington, representing all the glory of the American dream. Le Pen and Wilders are seen as figures who are perceiving the Islamic threat which is swallowing their nations while the politcially correct ae in denial. Putin is seen in some circles as the only one who dares to defy American power. In this way, extreme-left parties such as the Denk party in Holland (''Denk'' standing for ''Think'') receive their portion of popularity too, with its pro-Turkish stance being perceived as the underdog fighting against an increasingly intolerant Holland. Some must perceive Jihadists as the underdog against oppressive western values. But they are in fact in hapless cahoots with the Alt-right forces that hate them so much, given the terror they create. The Alt-right is ready to capitalize on this: it strengthens their binary worldview of West vs. Islam.
In retrospect, one anti-establishment candidate could have become victorious in 2016; Bernie Sanders. Had he been chosen, he could have been a powerfully ally in the fight for economic equality. The fact that the DNC conspired against him – bitterly exposed by the Russian hacking – made democratic voters furious and turned them either to Trump, made them vote for a useless third party or worse yet, made them unwilling to vote at all. If Sanders had been successful – and he had the support of surprising numbers of blue-collar non right-wing voters – maybe America could have turned to a brighter page of their history.
Bernie was the ultimate underdog and would have surely won against Trump, as Bernie managed to do the impossible nowadays; a campaign not based on fear-mongering, but a call to arms for egalitarianism. It was a rare moment in American and world politics, and his victory would have surpassed the warmth felt after Obama's first win. The US political system cheated their populace out of a beautiful victory and regaining this trust will take a long time.
And as nationalist forces watch this, they redouble their efforts to represent themselves as the underdogs who will fix the problem. This is their biggest lie: Trump's cabinet is filled with the architects of the problems in the first place; none will lift a finger to address the economic problems that lie at the basis of America’s massive inequality.
As Americans feel cheated, so do Europeans. Brexit supporters will likely feel cheated too in the near future as Theresa May’s hard Brexit stance is not going to empower her citizens. And so it will go on: the problem won't be fixed, the division will grow larger, bigotry is likely to grow as extreme-conservative forces seize their moment for power. The only certainty in this brave new world is this: you better brace yourself.