Demand the world you want
Back when Gamergate was still a hot topic, I remember reading far-right writers discussing ‘the culture war.’
“Haha,” I thought. “There’s no culture war! It’s just idiot trolls being repulsive online.”
How wrong I was. Those trolls turned out to be a warning alarm for a culture war that – in the wake of Trump and Brexit – has gone mainstream. From Breitbart to the Daily Mail, Alex Jones to Katie Hopkins, we see angry, grandstanding, theatrically hateful rhetoric everywhere today. Immigration is bad, radical sovereignty is good, and if you disagree you’re an ‘enemy of the people.’
As many have pointed out, the Trump and Brexit victories were won by slim majorities but people who didn’t want either are often left feeling voiceless. “You lost,” we’re told. “Get over it.” “Brexit means Brexit.” It’s “the will of the people,” “#MAGA”.
And given that both Trump and Brexit have led to increased power for people who want to take the US and UK in a closed, backwards-looking direction masquerading as jingoistically-charged renewal, it’s fair to say that ‘getting over it’ isn’t going to help. The next generation won’t thank us if we just roll over and let it happen.
A battle for the century
This ‘culture war’ is a battle for the 21st century. Which way will humanity go? More open or more closed? It’s not even just a battle for the world our kids will grow up in – it’s a battle for our species and the planet itself. Trump’s crew includes climate change deniers who want to get rich off fossil fuels while they can (they’ll be dead by the time it’s a real problem, right?).
So if you want a different world – one that embraces the opportunities of the 21st century, one that tackles upcoming challenges like global warming and increased automation in bold and progressive ways, one that isn’t scared of other cultures… you need to fight for it. We can have that world but we need to show that we want it in ways beyond quipping and sniping on Twitter.
The problem with parties
Traditionally, you’d fight back by joining a political party, but many of today’s parties (especially in the UK) are split or frozen with fear in the wake of this open-vs-closed war. You could argue that the UK government is going through with Brexit mainly because it would split in two if it didn’t, and acting tough on a slim referendum result is enough of a mandate to keep the party together. Labour, meanwhile, can’t decide what it wants to be.
And yesterday MPs of all stripes voted against their better judgment, swept along by ‘will of the people’ bluster. To twist a turn of phrase from school teachers up and down the land, I hope no-one ever tells them to jump under a bus.
The massive protest movement building against Trump is encouraging, especially in the UK where he’s not even our leader. Many thousands turned out against him in cities across the country on cold evenings this week, and there’s more to come. It shows we can fight back in huge numbers when we want to, across traditional party lines.
And that fighting spirit needs to make a big comeback more generally. The far-right is gaining ground now because it learned that being loud, obnoxious and untruthful gets results. Progressives, meanwhile, became lazy proponents of the status quo.
We thought all the big cultural battles were won. We were wrong. Even now, by pointing out that the EU is a strength and Trump’s reforms are dangerous, we’re painted as an ‘elite’ that wants to keep things as they are. It would be funny if it wasn’t such a powerful meme.
As I wrote on Twitter yesterday, in recent decades we all became such good consumers we forgot to be good citizens.
For most of us, the world wasn’t perfect but it seemed as good as we were going to get. Why do anything more than vote every few years?
In a world where every politician was a slightly different flavour of the same lollipop, that was understandable.
Those days are over.
It’s time to reframe the debate and fight for the world we want.
Start by talking
I’m a fan of American journalist Simon Owens’ blog posts about what he’s done to fight Trumpism each week. He’s built fighting for the world he wants into the routine of his life.
There are many ways you can engage with politics. You can attend protests about issues you believe in. You can write to your elected representatives whenever an issue you really believe in arises. You can start and sign petitions. You can fund good journalism through subscriptions. Heck, you could run for office yourself if you really want to make an impact.
But the most important thing you can do? It's even simpler. Start reading and talking more about politics.
For too long, I tried to keep politics out of my conversations, online and off. In normal times, this is understandable politeness. Now, when so much is at stake, it’s time we all engaged with big ideas and the direction the world is going. Why let people you disagree with have it all their way?
This doesn’t solve the problem of political parties not being fit for purpose in the current climate, but if we fight for what we believe in then we have more chance of establishing long-term movements and parties that address issues in a way that’s fit for the future.
So, get talking and engaging. Political debate never ends. Your viewpoint shouldn’t be ignored, no matter an election or referendum result. Engage, change minds and win. Our children will thank you for it.