What was your favourite response from the liberals to Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential election? Actress Emma Watson handing out copies of a Maya Angelou book to bewildered commuters in New York? Cher announcing that she wasn’t simply leaving the USA, ‘but Planet Earth too’ — a move some of us assumed she had made at least 40 years ago? The hysterical protestors who set fire to their own shoes because they thought the said shoes were pro-Trump? The hyperbolic hatred spewed out towards those who voted for the Donald, or Matthew Parris suggesting that maybe this democracy caper has gone too far, or the teachers telling tearful children that we’re all going to die?
There’s just too many to choose from, a cornucopia of riches, of wailing and fury and outrage. And yet they still don’t quite get it, the liberals — don’t get the full import of what Trump’s victory, and this tumultuous year 2016 in general, means for us all. It presages an enormous paradigm shift to a post-liberal future. They are weighty, cumber-some things, paradigms, and take a lot of shifting. This one has been at least 20 years in the making. But once they turn, the course is set, and you can set fire to as many shoes as you like — it will do no good. In a sense, 2016 is 1968 in reverse.
Theresa May clearly gets this. Gets the change, the momentum behind the change. Even before Trump’s astonishing and deserved victory she had grasped, post–Brexit, that patriotism, long considered a bit long in the tooth, had made a rather remarkable comeback: ‘If you are a citizen of the world, then you are a citizen of nowhere,’ she said, to derision from the Guardian. Patriotism, a sense of historic pride in one’s nation state, persuaded a good few Americans to vote for Trump; it persuaded most of Scotland to vote SNP last year. It is, you have to say, very much alive and well in Russia, and growing in continental Europe.
It is a corrective to globalisation, though, not a denial of it. Much of what we are seeing now and will come to see even more in the future is not a denial of reality, but an adjustment to it. Our Prime Minister gets this too, I think. The post-liberal economic world will have some time for protectionism once again — the very left-wing US film-maker and writer Michael Moore spoke approvingly of Trump telling Ford executives in Detroit that he would slap a 35 per cent tariff on their cars if they moved production to Mexico. So the intelligent parts of the left get it, too.
Listen to Rod Liddle and Nick Cohen clashing on the ‘new normal’ in world politics
The economic paradigm shift, away from the inviolable sanctity of the free market, long predates Trump’s victory, mind. It started after the financial crisis of 2007. For three decades, state ownership was considered de trop — not any more. The opinion polls suggest that there is a huge appetite for nationalising the railways and the utilities, while even that old liberal David Cameron (remember him?) offered to take parts of our steel industry into public ownership. There is no great wish for a return to 1973, when even some travel agents were owned by the state — it is, instead, an adjustment, a tilting of the tiller.
The interesting thing, for me, is the degree to which social policy will change — because change it certainly will. Those who voted for Brexit and those who voted for Trump are often derisively accused of wishing to turn the clock back to the mid-1950s. But that is not the case at all. The 1950s was the thesis — overly authoritarian and conservative about how people lived their lives, how children were taught in schools, how people could express their sexuality. The antithesis came in the 1960s and early 1970s, with legislation which made divorce easier, increased welfare, legalised homosexuality, changed for two generations the way in which teachers went about their work — all or most of this stuff long overdue.
But as is ever the case with these lumbering paradigms, we went too far. The liberalism of the 1960s has resulted in this decade with too many broken families and failed, inarticulate, unhappy children. With people who proudly will say they will not work for a living because they don’t like working and prefer to be on the dole. With the manifest insanity of safe spaces in universities where absurd liberal shibboleths about race and a ludicrous multiplicity of gender options must not, under any condition, be gainsaid. In scores of tenth-rate universities turning out unemployable young people with useless degrees in fatuous subjects. Oh, and so much more. And yet the imperative now is not to roll back that earlier legislation. It is to achieve instead a synthesis, an accommodation, if you like.
Take the issue of homosexual rights and equality. There is not the remotest desire to return to a time when gay people were considered criminal and, further, were the subject of contempt from the man in the street. The opinion polls show an enormous majority favouring equality for homosexuals (a rather larger majority here than in the States, mind). But ask people if homosexuality should be considered the norm, or whether it is perfectly OK for gay people to adopt children then tell them that, further, people who think it is preferable for children to be raised by a mummy and a daddy are irredeemable bigots who shouldn’t be allowed to adopt children themselves, and I suspect you will get a very different response. Even now, despite the enormous opprobrium which attends if you express this view, and the almost impossible task of expressing this view if you hold public office, the electorate is split pretty much 50-50 on gay adoptions. My guess — and it’s only a guess — is that if you put before the electorate the statement: ‘Children are best raised in a traditional family, by a mum and a dad’, three quarters would agree. There is also an aversion to gender and LGBT propaganda being doled out to young children in school, especially transgender propaganda. My guess — only a guess again — is that people would in general prefer a greater proportion of NHS funds be spent on cancer care than gender re-alignment procedures.
And what of heterosexuals? The last opinion poll I saw (Ipsos-MORI) suggested that more than 70 per cent of people thought that marriage should be for life. We marry, or don’t marry, and have children too readily, too easily — and there is plenty of evidence suggesting that children from single-parent families are prone to greater mental strife, poorer educational ability and more future joblessness than those from a traditional nuclear family. Should people have kids if they can’t afford to bring them up without substantial help from the taxpayer? Much like the issue of single parents, this was an almost impossible issue for a politician to raise without being labelled a bigot. The opinion polls suggest a majority of voters think people should have children only when they can afford to provide for them. All of this stuff is likely to be back on the agenda now.
Should people who do no work as a consequence of idleness be allowed to live their entire lives on taxpayer’s money? An enormous issue — and one which arouses fury particularly among the hardest-working, poorest–paid of us, for obvious reasons. The public think they should not be able to get away with this. If you don’t give, you don’t get.
And there are more obvious issues, such as immigration. There is no animus against the immigrants themselves, except among a handful of untermensch knuckle-draggers. Nor a wish to return to the almost pristinely white 1950s. But more than 70 per cent of the public think there is too much immigration, and almost 50 per cent think it should be cut substantially. And that people who come here should learn the language pronto and ‘fit in’. Both Donald Trump’s victory and the Brexit result demonstrated the potency of this issue — as does the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe. I would suggest that it is an unstoppable force. It is time that the left got to grips with it. The liberals, of course, cannot get to grips with it.
Neither Brexit nor Donald Trump brought about this paradigm shift. They are simply manifestations of it. The liberal elite (it was a conservative elite which ran us back in the 1960s, remember; elites rise and fall) may flail against Trump and Brexit for as long as they like. But to use a phrase which the liberals rather like, and use a lot — they are beginning to look as if they are on the wrong side of history.
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