We can write about the elements which have come together to get Trump elected 45th President of the US for years – and we will. I suspect a lot of them will be political, sociological and psychological. So here are a few philosophical ones I see, and which irritate me.
- It’s all subjective.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but everything has become subjective. It’s commonly trumpeted by people who don’t want to get into a debate by crumbling up the potential of an answer in your face and throwing it into the bin in the corner, turning back to you with a patronizing smile. What can you do with ‘everyone’s personal answers are the right ones’? Well, actually, we can do quite a lot. We can look at what the real-world consequences are of certain attitudes being prevalent. We can look at the sources and motivations of certain attitudes. Not all sources and motivations are made equal. Taste is highly subjective but if I am a sofa salesperson and I watch a dad want a green sofa because he heard a rumour that his favourite celebrity has a green sofa and he wants to delude himself that he is just like them, but mom wants a big dark sofa because they have a big family and they could all fit on it and the stains the children will inevitably make won’t show up and it’s better value for money and you will spend the saved money on food and school supplies, I wouldn’t think I could calm their quarrelling with a cry of “well, it’s all subjective!”.
I’ve been told my degrees in philosophy are in something that really, is all ‘subjective’. And, I’ve been told that because we all want and value different things, politics is subjective, because it’s all just (waves hands wildly) ‘opinions’. I can’t understand genuinely holding this belief. What’s the point in collecting everyone’s impotent, ornamental opinions? Who cares? Yet acknowledging some opinions are better than others and believing in actual answers, now appears brash and you risk being seen as bigoted and ignorant. Hence my next point.
2. Your political opinions don’t make you any better than anyone else. Don’t judge.
I’m going to leap to an extreme on purpose; I judge the Nazis. I think I am better than them for not ascribing to the same ideologies. I think I can get away with saying the same about Nigel Farage. Not so much the Brexiteers. That seems to warrant tutting. I think I’ve got the right opinion on the harms of porn for women and feminism and that this makes me better than some liberal feminists who don’t. Of course I do. But this latest one can be outrage-inducing and I start to look arrogant. So we have a sort of problem of vagueness. Which groups of people can I say I’m better than and which can’t I? Why Nazis but not liberal feminism? What spectrum is the dividing line on? Outrageousness? Tradition? Harm? Consensus?
I don’t think it’s subjective. But I think there’s an answer. I think political opinions can get better like instrument-playing can get better. Political views appear to be formed and informed by experience, the kinds of things we’ve had direct exposure to, moulding us into people with emotional sensitivities to certain issues and struggles. And I think this gives us one standard for political opinion – what are you affected by? How many issues naturally occur to you when you’re considering a political stance? How encompassing of space and time is your thinking? This seems to be the big difference to me between voting to leave the EU because your son lost his job to a polish man, and a remain voter churned by the plight of immigrants from Europe seeking a pay check they can live on, Syrians risking lying in the sea to flee war, our history of dehumanising these travellers as ‘dirty’ and ‘other’, a process which allowed Hitler to collect Jews into camps of torture, the aftermath horror of which led us to… unite Europe. Breaking cycles is better than perpetuating them.
3. Your enemies are extremely complicated, troubled beings and this is all just super super complex.
This is a sentiment I held close to my heart for a long time. Understanding why people feel the way they do is the way to convince or defeat them. It underlies having patience with people who are lashing out in self-defence, or people who don’t know how to have a close relationship because they haven’t been loved. But some people are just nasty and they want to keep their little section of the picture rather than the whole thing. The beliefs and motivations behind both brexit and Trump’s election are eerily similar; older white men growing uncomfortable in a world more progressive than them and their racist misogynistic views biting back. At this point, writing realms about the myriad of complex causes of Trump’s election and the mindsets and attitudes of his voters, is just giving them more microphones, more platform and faux validation. They’re not ‘alienated’, gay people who can’t get married and black people being shot by the police are ‘alienated’. They’re not ‘rebelling against establishment’ when Trump is the personification of establishment, yet another bigoted power-hungry man at the end of a long line of them. No change, and no deep underlying complexities. It’s racism and misogyny which the left have been examining plenty enough.
4. I believe in democracy. So I respect and accept the outcome even though I don’t like it.
It’s admirable that democracy has become so deeply important to us, but I think sometimes we cling to it so deeply that we don’t recognise when it’s morphed into something else. For a start, Hillary got more votes than Trump, yet here we are. Secondly, a poisoned populace does not a democracy make. I don’t automatically respect whatever comes out the end of a machine labelled ‘IT’S DEMOCRACY MATE” complete with union jack stickers. We have been pressed through hate, fear and ignorance, fanned with constant imagery pertaining to black people being bad and women being sex objects. Democracy needs education and access to truthful, unbiased, clear information. Otherwise, it’s an empty label, and sometimes it’s an excuse for disgusting behaviour from political figures.
Be well-intentioned, check regularly that you are, debate others with good faith, but tell people who clearly aren’t to fuck off. It’s a valid political position and it might not have let the likes of Trump get to where he is now.