There’s an ill wind blowing through the world.
First Brexit, and now Trump. What’s next? And what makes people vote for a policy or a person that seems on the face of it to embody all that is worst in human nature and societal relations?
In the referendum in the UK, as far as I could tell from thousands of miles away in Israel, the focus was on the negative. Feelings of resentment were directed against foreigners and experts who predicted dire economic consequences; in addition, misleading – even mendacious – statements were made about the redirection of funds. Foremost among those stirring up all these antagonistic emotions was the tabloid press, but that comes as no surprise, as it has always appealed to the lowest common denominator in the British public. But yet it worked, and the (small) majority voted to leave the EU.
The bottom line there, as far as I can see from far away, was that the British education system has failed miserably to provide a decent level of schooling for the majority of Britons. Way back then, when I benefited from a reasonably decent grammar school and then went on to university, with tuition paid by the government, I took all that for granted. I didn’t realise it at the time, but I was part of the system that created a meritocracy, leaving a large proportion of young people out in the cold. It was that generation, now grown up, that voted to leave.
Today, the situation is very different, and while a far greater percentage of British school-leavers attend further or higher education than was the case in my day, an even greater proportion of youngsters seems to be left high and dry, without the means of supporting themselves to a decent level, full of resentment towards those who do work hard in order to better themselves, and particularly if those people happen to have been born outside Britain.
And now the same current of emotion appears to have inspired millions of Americans to vote for a man who, without an iota of shame, uses demagoguery and prejudice to rally support. The USA was founded in order to provide freedom from oppression and constitute a haven for immigrants, but those values seem to have been thrown aside in the stampede towards power and exclusion.
That current of ignorance and prejudice tends to be fanned up to astonishing heights at election time, as happened here in Israel not so long ago with Netanyahu’s falsehood about busloads of Arabs were being taken to the polling stations. And it seems that it was that statement that swung the election for him, so that Netanyahu and his party gained power on the basis of scaremongering and prejudice. The rise in poverty rates and income inequality in Israel in recent years seems not to concern that segment of the population which continues to vote for the government that keeps them in poverty and does little or nothing to improve their economic situation, despite promises to the contrary.
Shades of Weimar Germany? I hope not. But the lessons of history seem not to have been learnt yet by a sufficient number of people. Or could this just be part of the Marxist formula of thesis-antithesis-synthesis regarding the course of history? That being the case, there is hope for us, because eventually the pendulum will swing back.