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Opinion: Donald Trump's victory is the shock therapy our broken democracies need

The mainstream today feel the way that the marginalised voter has felt about the direction of their country for some time now, writes Aaron McKenna.

Aaron McKenna

OVER THE PAST 18 months I have pulled three all-night political nerd vigils with friends to watch the results of foreign polls. In May 2015, we assembled to watch an uninspired British public deliver another hung parliament and coalition government.

In June 2016 we came together to observe the UK re-affirm their sanity by shooting down Brexit. And last night we pulled up our chairs to spectate the coronation of Hillary Clinton as President of the United States.

Political polling has lost most of its credibility this past year as the diviners continually fail to hit the target with any accuracy. More fundamentally however, the mainstream political and media establishment seems to be completely out of step with the electorate in many first world democracies.

President Elect Donald Trump was supported by two national newspapers in the US, versus 57 for Hillary Clinton. Trump never received the full throated backing of his party colleagues and mainstream consensus until about 2am last night was that he was a joke.

2016 Election Clinton Source: AP/Press Association Images

Several times now we have seen the pillars of mainstream polity laid low by the vox populi. The results have not only gone against the common wisdom of mainstream politicians and media outlets; they have deeply shocked them. The surprise and hurt of mainstream political thinkers and talkers is viscerally palpable.

They feel that the world is changing around them in ways they cannot foresee, let alone control; driven by actors within the political sphere who hold values completely inimical to their own. People in the old mainstream of western democratic society feel powerless and are deeply fearful for a future driven by the Trump, Farage and Le Pen’s who are in one form or another of ascendency.

‘There are plenty more opportunities for shocks ‘

In other words, the mainstream today feel the way that the marginalised voter has felt about the direction of their country for some time now. The table has been turned, the momentum shifted in favour of a previously fringe voter who has felt for some time now that cosy old London or Washington or Brussels politics isn’t working for them. There are plenty more opportunities for shocks as we approach elections in France and Germany and elsewhere. Each unlikely Brexit or Trump success gives momentum to the idea of another shock, spurring on activists and making voters think that something may indeed change if they go out and vote for it.

It is understatement to say that President Elect Donald Trump holds views that should offend and, indeed, did offend many people even who voted for him according to exit polls of their attitudes. To say however that half the American electorate, like half the British electorate a few months ago, are a uniform bunch of racist misogynistic proto fascists and leave the explanation at that will result in a former mainstream even more marginalised after this election.

US Presidential election Source: PA Wire/PA Images

One of the go-to statements of last night and this morning was that “hate won”. As little green men are likely to become a feature of life in Eastern Europe come January, perhaps you will indulge me in quoting an equally fictional character when I say that “fear leads to hate”.

Just as mainstream media and political opinion is fearful of what Donald Trump will do as President, and some visceral hate for his movement is emerging; so too the hatred we see in chants of “drain the swamp” and “lock her up” must be understood as the manifestation of fear among sizeable parts of the population of our democracies.

The failure to actually get to grips with this fear of older, whiter and poorer voters in many countries is what is giving space to demagoguery. The go-to position of most mainstream political thinkers is to ridicule, demonise, minimise or simply ignore the unanswered fears of many good people who are no more inherently good or bad as a group than anyone else. This used to work when it was truly a fringe element of the electorate, but what now that it commands majorities sufficient to do things like Brexit and Trump?

This brings me to the upshot of a Donald Trump presidency. He owes nothing to nobody in Washington DC, and between the shock of his election and the doubtless shock of his presidency come January we may actually see fairer minded politicians of all stripes wake up and start to try and address the electorate rather than continue to sit in their ivory towers pillorying them.

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‘Start to look at their legitimate fears’

More demagogs will follow in Donald Trump’s wake, seeking to play to the base fears and gain advantage from dog whistle racism and other reprehensible tactics. What we need however is for good hearted politicians to stop ignoring and denigrating the anger of significant portions of the electorate, and start to look at their legitimate fears.

Do you think that their fears are not legitimate? Well tough. It’s a democracy, the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried. We have been on a steamroller of liberal political opinion over the past number of years, driving forward agendas out of step with large numbers of peoples opinions and calling them bigots for refusing to get onboard; whilst simultaneously ignoring the real troubles they face in their daily lives, such as stagnating wages and a lack of economic opportunity.

Major swathes of the population of democratic countries are not comfortable with new waves of multiculturalism, or limitless immigration, or choose your gender bathrooms, constantly growing government regulation of their lives or a host of other things. Because these people have been ignored, they have grown angry and they have empowered demagogs and allowed truly fringe and dangerous elements to flourish.

But as a constituency these voters are as good or as bad in their hearts as the rest of us. What they need is for mainstream politicians and opinion setters to finally take them seriously and offer them compromises to their fears and values from a centre ground, rather than driving them to the arms of the fringe elements who really would have us building walls.

The presidency of Donald Trump is a thing now. It’s happening. We had better draw lessons from it and learn to be thankful for the opportunity this gives us to break an old and broken mould in our democracies. The mainstream can either get with the program and start addressing these voters seriously, or they can get used to being the embittered fringe elements perpetually railing against the direction their countries are being taken by others.

Aaron McKenna is a columnist for TheJournal.ie.

Read: Four reasons why Donald Trump won the election>

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