It turns out the Mayans weren’t exactly wrong, just off by four years, as 2016 has seen Brexit, Trump, and with it, the end of humanity as we know it. Hyperbole aside, 2016 has undeniably offered some political surprises that few had seen coming. Brexit had never really been taken seriously as a possibility until it had been voted for, and Trump had been nothing more than a joke until the morning after his election.
It would be far too easy, and lazy, to explain these results away by attacking those who voted for these outcomes. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’m personally unhappy with both results, but that doesn’t mean I think everyone who voted to leave the EU was a racist, or everyone who voted Donald Trump was an idiot (some were). In 2016, politics has become sick, and the first step in treating any sickness is to diagnose the problem. So what exactly has happened to our political system, and why have we had two seemingly-apocalyptic results?
It seems politics now is much more based on campaigns of fear and direct, targeted attacks.
The primary reason is frustration at politics. For far too long many people, and especially younger people, have felt disconnected from their political systems and unrepresented by their representatives. This is no accident. Most modern political systems are designed in a purposefully confusing manner so as to discourage participation and keep the reins in the hands of the established elite. So what happens when you give the people a simple yes/no vote? They take the reins back, giving the elite a rather rude hand gesture, and ripping Britain out of the European Union whilst they’re at it. Despite whatever falsely-based and poorly-reasoned excuses people have for voting leave, many claim they did it to get back at the establishment. This attitude was even more clearly expressed in the recent American election/sideshow, seeing a personified tangerine triumph over a candidate who was more part of the political establishment than any candidate before her.
Just as much to blame is the culture of blame that has been built up around us, and that we have happily made our home. Every day, we are bombarded with questions of whose fault each minute issue in our lives is. We instinctively want to shift the blame onto others, so as to feel better about our own actions, so as to feel that no matter what we do, it’ll be someone else’s fault. It’s important I stress that there is absolutely nothing wrong with putting blame on others, as long as it is deserved. The problem is that, for some reason, it is always the innocent we send to the gallows to pay for the hangman’s crimes. Politicians will happily lead you to believe that a twelve-year-old from Syria is the reason the you can’t get a GP appointment, when in reality that same politician has probably been complicit with the privatisation and defunding of vital NHS services.
Another explanation for our unfortunate position can be found in the poisonous nature of modern politics. Gone are the days of moderate debate focused on policy and ideals (if they ever existed). It seems politics now is much more based on campaigns of fear and direct, targeted attacks. Instead of being told the benefits of one option, we are told the drawbacks of the other, giving the impression that there is, in reality, no good option whatsoever. It is then no surprise how apathetic many people can be towards major political decisions once they have become convinced there is essentially zero difference between either outcome.
Then is all hope lost? Have we reached a dead end in the progress of the human race? Well, perhaps. From here, it is difficult to see a route to a more engaging political atmosphere. It is possible that we are too far gone to be saved. Politicians seem to find it much easier and more effective to sink to the lowest standard, rather than rise above it. And when you look at the success of Donald Trump, can you blame them? The reason politics will remain just the same is because we, as the electorate, are stuck in our ways. We continue to reward disgusting politics and vile politicians and so they continue to disgust and vilify. The only way to change politics is to change the ways we interact with the political system.
It is absolutely vital, at a time when more and more people are becoming dissatisfied with politics, that we continue to be as involved as possible. It would be easy to give up and say “Well, it doesn’t make a difference” and sometimes, you’re right, it doesn’t, but expressing your views and representing these views with your vote is your right and your weapon in the fight for the society you want to live in. Equal as it is your right to express your view, it is your responsibility to respect the views of others. Someone from an opposing party is not your enemy. They are your co-worker in a functional society. Too often people become too occupied fighting each other to fight for their values. This intolerance of others and their views is in fact what so many of us claim to be against, and yet we allow it to fester within us.
However hopeless our situation can sometimes feel, things are getting better.
For those worried that, in 2016, we have become intolerant, I understand your concerns, but refute the idea that we have become intolerant and, instead, put forward my belief that we have never been anything but. Both campaigns for Vote Leave and Donald Trump certainly played on people’s intolerances and fears, and won, but hasn’t this always been a major factor in any campaign. Every five years, we are treated to campaigns based more on point-scoring than policy. There is an underlying problem in society that a great deal of people are intolerant of those who are different. This is an uncomfortable fact that we have to accept. Many people have grown up believing that they are better than other people simply because of who they are, and not what they have done.
Then, going into the New Year, have some hope in the fact that each generation is becoming more and more tolerant and accepting. However hopeless our situation can sometimes feel, things are getting better. Our generation is perhaps the most accepting and welcoming generation thus far, and it is key that we continue to represent these values in our political involvement.
Try not to get too upset with 2016. 2017 can’t exactly be any worse.