Generally Speaking

On with the celebration

It is of course deeply worrying that so many Americans voted to give Donald Trump another four years – after everything they know he is, and everything they know he has done. We wonder what can possibly have got into them.

But I think there is a dark side of human nature that is there, to greater or lesser extent, in all of us, and right-wing political messaging plays to that side and presses that hidden button with perennial effect.

It occurred to me years ago that this explained the appeal of Margaret Thatcher in this country – she allowed people to feel good about their natural greed – she gave them permission, in that penetrating and convincing voice of hers, fixing them with that piercing eye, to be selfish. They breathed a huge sigh of relief, and they were incredibly grateful to her as she let them release the long held brakes of conscience.

President Trump, on top of this, and in an even louder and more dominating voice, has given people permission to ignore science, to dismiss informed and expert opinion, even to question truth itself. He has allowed them to feel good about waving their guns and being irresponsible. He tells them all this will Make America Great Again, and they shout the glad tidings to the rooftops together.

The support of many who voted for Trump was absolute, and they really did believe in him whatever he said and whatever he did. They had a devotion which was effectively religious in its intensity. As he famously boasted, in their eyes he could do no wrong.

But others must have voted for him reluctantly, more fearful of the alternative. Such fears were doubtless boosted by biased media coverage and by micro-targeted misinformation conveyed by the unbridled wild horses of social media.

But Trump did, for once, say something close to the truth when he said he had the good fortune to be opposed by the weakest candidate in presidential election history. Joe Biden’s age, making him potentially the oldest President ever, his low profile during the Covid-blighted campaign, his perceived lack of mask-shrugging machismo (entirely contrary to his record, of course) and his gentle, reasonable style, must have raised doubts which were easy to fan.

And, although for understandable reasons it has been little remarked, his running mate must have been a worry too. Many welcomed the choice of Kamala Harris with jubilation as a historic landmark. But others, knowing his age meant there was a more than usual chance of him not surviving for the full four years, clearly saw her as a person who might at any time become their President. And for some, even among those of relatively liberal convictions, a President who was young, who was a woman, and who was a woman of colour, all at the same time, must have been just a little bit too much revolution to contemplate all at once. And it can hardly have been as widely known in the USA as elsewhere that the world leaders who have shown the wisest, most mature, and most effective premierships during the Covid pandemic have all been women.

So, I think there are good reasons for long term optimism, on top of our short-term relief and glorious celebration for Joe Biden’s victory.

First I think Joe Biden’s success, by whatever margin the final tally reveals, is of far greater significance than that mere figure. Trump had a great deal going for him, and he still lost. Only the third serving President in recent history to fail re-election, this was a crushing defeat for everything he stood for. That is good news indeed for the world.

And second, there is the fact that, given the right kind of leadership, which Joe Biden by his record and by his dignified and statesmanlike behaviour in victory, shows every sign of giving, that better side of human nature can be brought to the fore once again. Not only in individuals, but in the psyche of the nation as a whole. And by example, perhaps the world.

It is even possible, as Americans look back on the extraordinary events of the last four years with the cool light of retrospect, and scales fall from eyes to right and left, the presidency which is now ending will be seen as a terrible warning, and people will wonder what might have been the consequence if it had gone on, and shudder at how easily that might have happened.

But now, the cloud of four years has lifted, let us enjoy our celebration.

3 thoughts on “On with the celebration”

  1. Thank you James. It’s so timely to remind us all that tenderness and empathy have a crucial place in the world. How else can we connect, work together and to face our many challenges before we leave the world a better place for the next generations?

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  2. I agree James, let us enjoy the celebration (despite the Remembrance day today, which is undoubtedly a sombre occasion) and then we can think about the huge challenges of Covid, Climate change and Brexit. Yes, a cloud lifted right now. Insightful and beautifully written.

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