Clutching onto my newly bought copy of Politico, I couldn’t decide what was more intimidating: the fact that I’d be interviewing the senior EU correspondent of the paper itself, or that Donald Trump’s face was staring me right in the eye. America’s newly elected president has been on the highlights of every newspaper and social media platform out there, so this wasn’t going to be yet another interview on the rise of populism… Brexit…. Trump… or The unavoidable realisation that we live in a society that thrives under fear and uncertainty. However, in the midst of it all, we had to succumb to the political reality of what is starting to shape our future society.
Interviewing Ryan Heath at a time in history where western powers are so internally divided enabled us to explore the influence of social media. He doesn’t shy away from calling people out who bark on social media, but don’t necessarily take the initiative to engage in the very practices that they criticize: “I know from people that I‘ve been speaking to that many of them had the opportunity to vote and chose not to, despite being very vocal on their Facebook page.”
Considering that Politico reports on a constant inflow of both European and international news, whose effects have a global influence, the consequences of political apathy is far more apparent to him than the average voter. Heath expresses disappointment towards people who allowed “a minor logistical issue” such as their location or the time frame of elections to prevent them from manifesting their thoughts at the polling station- both in the case of the Brexit referendum and the American presidential election.
Furthermore, Heath points out that the youth of today is engaged in politics through different means. Despite the low turnout in both Brexit and the US election, Heath draws attention to the “youth being prevented from voting if they were under 18,” despite their arguably more educated and open minded perspectives.
Interviewing Heath in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s election feels like a privilege, as we speak about the driving factors to such a controversial election. Even though Heath avoids explicitly stating his opinion on the outcome itself, he nonetheless addresses the circumstances of politically tense repercussions. When the outcome is approached in a practical manner, one would find it hard to disagree with Heath when he claims: “Trump shows people the consequences of your vote.” Regardless of whether such consequences are positive or negative, they’re nonetheless radical and present an alternative to a status quo that many people feel disengaged from.
When addressing the issue of political apathy, he recognizes that by not voting, it essentially equates to “giving up on a major part of what constitutes society.” “We can change the world in many ways, but the core of it is who governs you and how.”
Nowadays, “media is so fragmented” as he emphasises the effects of both softer versions of media sources such as Instagram, and internationally recognized newspaper outlets. The growing absorption of media is understood as a positive aspect by Heath, arguing we should not hesitate to welcome the changing nature of our society. However, he highlights the dangers of being exposed to an “echo chamber” of opinions on the Internet. Cosnidering that we choose what we’re exposed to, this could lead to the acceleration of an already “divided society.” The content we’re exposed to on the Internet will tend to legitimize our views and “divide us from becoming a unified community.” He then continued to say how “not reporting on certain things” is not as “scary” as the realisation that “media might not reach the whole population” due to our ideological filters on social media.
“Trump shows people the consequences of your vote.”
Distrust for large institutions is not unilaterally apparent in Britain and America, but there are widespread implications towards a possible fragmentation of European politics. Similar right wing political movements, aiming to challenge the socioeconomic foundations that exist within a western European culture can be observed through the campaigns of both Marine Le Pen in France and Geert Wilders in The Netherlands. Apart from referring to the success of movements that have gained an intense amount of both approval and disapproval from the masses as a “wake up call.” Ryan described his job as one that is responsible to “help readers understand why others in society are turning to these movements.”
A sharp turn away from mainstream politics is also accompanied with anger towards institutional framework that govern society, an area that Ryan aims to explore, in order to realise “why people are so angry.” Therefore, he explains that a more plausible approach to such events would be to understand the underlying dissatisfaction that populist movement address, rather than just framing them as “racists and sexist.” Despite whether or not such claims are true: “You won’t affect the Trump presidency or convince people of a different view point.”
Therefore, in order to avoid isolating people and “pushing society apart,” views expressing disagreement should be embedded within conversations with others. At the same time, we must “acknowledge that Trump did win under the electoral system” despite his effectiveness in “unleashing hateful emotions.”
Living in Brussels, which is arguably the capital of Europe has allowed Heath’s exposure to the peak of political debate. He did not shy away from addressing the dangers of the ‘euro bubble’ in Brussels that, according to him, primarily consists of educated individuals or those who can afford unpaid internships. Drawing from this, he highlights the visible divide amongst white and non-white immigrants who are not integrated into the decision making process.
“It’s not okay to make people work for free. That’s called slavery.”
This unavoidable trend can be recognized and tolerated at the start of a multicultural melting pot, but if it occurs “generation, after generation, then we end up in difficult situations,” presumably referring to an entrenched segregated society. Heath’s willingness to address unpaid internships reflects back to the risk of accommodating for a system that fosters elitist interests.
On the topic of unpaid internships, I couldn’t help but question whether he thought they were exploitative of young, ambitious individuals. Heath didn’t hesitate to agree and even go as far as comparing them to the unfair nature of “slavery.”
“It’s not okay to make people work for free. That’s called slavery.”
The intention of internships was characterized to “start with the right idea,” but still requires the support from employers so it can “escape a negative cycle” of feeling pressured to constantly comply with certain expectations. Heath’s strong use of the word “slavery” in characterizing the graveness of the need for work experience was very fitting when reflecting on a society where many individuals are willing to accept internships, regardless of the consequences. The issue of high demand in the workforce came to an end with Heath’s proposal to “help manage peoples’ expectations” by directing them to other sectors away from large metropolitan cities, which in turn allow employers to take advantage of the excess demand for work.
As our interview comes to an end, it feels like a heavy weight has been lifted from my shoulders, due to the soothing tone of Heath’s message. His advice for most situations we’re faced with, not just political events, is, “don’t make assumptions.” Despite the cynical nature of this message, the undertone is ultimately one of reassurance.