Trump, Political Correctness and Power

I’ve got nothing illuminating to say about Trump’s election last week. I’m probably still in the ‘shock’ stage which says far more about me and my understanding of world politics than it does about the state of the world. I still feel the need to say something. If only to put my own thoughts into some order. It's been quite a week.

We know it’s easy to read in hindsight. ‘Look at the Brexit vote’, ‘Look at the rise of populist leaders and politics through the world’ – yet even when we knew it was a possibility – because polls are untrustworthy, because people are angry with establishments – it was always that I didn’t quite want to believe.

This isn’t just about right-leaning or left-leaning. As a social worker, I fit nicely into the ‘fuzzy, Guardian-reading box’, yet I’ve worked alongside colleagues of all party allegiances (except far right – to be fair), and felt it important that social work organisations are not necessarily ideologically bound to the Labour Party or the left. There’s Politics which is about party dominance and politics, which is the day to day fight for social justice on both a macro and micro level.

Trumpism is different but no less a phenomenon. He campaigned openly on a racist, xenophobic, sexist platform. This was something different. This was disaffected people railing against ‘political correctness’. I hate the term ‘political correctness’ because – let’s think about it for a moment – what does it mean? It’s used as a pejorative term to mock those who are offended by language which is intended to cause offence. The blame is placed on those who have less ‘power’ in the relationship for forcing those with ‘power’ to change and the very expression of offence is mocked, thus silencing it.

Even the term ‘political correctness’ is used to re-adjust power in favour of the majority. Does it harm anyone at all to use the term ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairman’? Language shapes attitude, assumptions and ideas. Let’s think about the term ‘bed blocker’ which I’ve heard casually thrown around in hospitals. Does it matter? Actually, yes because it begins to dehumanise and see a person as a problem.

So back to Trump, who makes a virtue of exasperation with ‘political correctness’ or rather, actually understanding offence, attitudes and the importance of language. Those afraid of what they might lose turn to those who offer the ‘safety’ of allowing the majority groups with the perceived power – the white man – to re-assert dominance. In a multi-cultural world where power dynamics are shifting in a positive way, some want to push back. Trump appealed – just as Farage, Gove and those who wanted to ‘blame foreignness’ did here.

On one hand there’s the desperation to reassert power but on the other, the exasperation with the ‘establishment’ – this exasperation is slightly different as a motivation and comes from left and right. See Corbyn’s dominant within the Labour Party and people flocking to Labour to vote for him. He appeals on a different level because it’s about something needing to change in politics. The ‘old style’ wasn’t working. Although Corbyn has decades of parliamentary experience, he was very much an outsider. The appeal of the outsider was not limited to the right.

Trump was also perceived as an outsider although very little scratching can see the establishment running through him. It doesn’t really matter because that’s not the persona he developed around himself. Being an outsider, like Corbyn or Trump, isn’t a bad thing, in itself but the impression of being an outsider seems to be able to forgive any number of ills which are not compensated by the lack of mainstream political experience.

My hope is that this experiment to dabble in difference is one that runs out of steam but that’s probably my reliance on hope over expectation. It’s a very dangerous game to play. We have roles, sitting in the public sector, working with people who are most likely to be suffering on the back of policies developed for popular appeal, to challenge, fight, change and shout when we see rights being worn down and offence, both in language and action, being either accepted or lauded.

We need to fight for political correctness so it doesn’t become an easy target. It’s more than petty language and a joke. It’s people being hurt and perceptions of inclusivity being challenged.

If there’s something that we can gain in this, it can only be gained by uniting to condemn racism, sexism, disablism, anti-semitism, xenophobia. Although it can seem like a dark place at times – this world of increasing intolerance, regardless of politics on the left or right, we have to remember the humanity that binds us together rather than the differences that separate us because it is by exploiting difference and establishing hierarchies of perceived power that Trump was able to win.

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