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26 November 2016

Reasons for calm in a post-Donald Trump world

Peter Wilby on class war, the reality of Trump and the secrets of Ed Balls's Strictly success.

By Peter Wilby

Students at St Hilda’s College, Oxford, have appointed an officer to stamp out “class discrimination and micro-aggression, cultural appropriation . . . directed at students from a working-class background”. Student unions in London and Manchester have taken similar action. It is easy to mock the cumbersome language – I think it refers to calling people “chavs” and holding chav-themed social nights – and to make jokes about whippets. The Sunday Times, which broke the story, did exactly that.

But hold on a minute. The political left and centre talk of “diversity”. To male, white, able-bodied, straight building-site labourers and distribution-centre workers, this word means special help for women, ethnic minorities, the disabled, and lesbian, gay and transgender folk. In many public and some private organisations, such groups have officers to protect their interests. But who protects the “traditional” working classes? In the age of identity politics, who talks about class identity, a more inclusive identity than most of the others?

White working-class disaffection, it is widely asserted, led to the Brexit vote and the growing popularity of extreme-right-wing parties. Mock the students if you want to, but at least they are trying to do something about it.

Keep calm and carry on

As the rest of the world heralds Donald Trump as the Antichrist, I shall remain calm. Republican administrations are never good news, but I doubt that Trump’s will be significantly worse than most of the others, or, indeed, worse than a fair number of Democratic administrations. Mass deportations? Trump has scaled down the figures quoted during his campaign; he now says he will deport between two million and three million illegal immigrants. President Obama has deported 2.5 million, more than all 20th-century presidents put together.

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Scrapping attempts to reduce carbon emissions? No government has a credible programme to prevent climate change. If the planet is flooded by melting ice caps later this century, historians may judge Trump less culpable than politicians who understood the perils of a warming world but were too spineless to do anything about it.

A wall on the Mexican border? After he won the election, Trump said that it may be at least partly a fence. Nearly 600 miles of the 1,950-mile border are already fenced. A country that is less friendly to minorities? Obama’s eight years in the White House haven’t stopped US police shooting and killing black people, nor have they reduced poverty or increased home ownership among this group. A ban on civil servants taking paid lobbying roles within five years of leaving a government job? Chance would be a fine thing. Keeping Muslims out of America? I doubt this will happen if big companies want to recruit them, or make deals with Islamic countries.

Trump is plainly an unpleasant individual with megalomaniacal as well as racist and sexist tendencies. He probably thinks that, in the White House, he can intimidate everybody. But as James Carville, the adviser to Bill Clinton, once said, that is the role of the bond market.

End of an empire

Despite his “make America great again” rhetoric, Trump seems likely to put an end to what we on the left call US imperialism and Washington sympathisers call “the US world order”. No more “liberal interventionism” in the style of the Iraq War. No more attempts to curtail Russia’s sphere of influence in eastern Europe, risking a new Cold War. No more state department missions to settle the Israel-Palestine question and bring peace to the Middle East. No more projection of US military power across the world, with troops stationed in roughly 150 countries. Since 1945, the US has believed that, in Bill Clinton’s phrase, it is the “indispensable nation”, entitled to meddle in the affairs of countries across the globe.

It has done some good, but more harm. The demise of the American empire – still an empire, though it doesn’t have colonies – is another reason for calm.

In from the cold

Do I want to be frozen after death and defrosted once a cure exists for whatever killed me? The high court approved the procedure for a teenage girl despite her father’s opposition and, at £37,000, it costs only a little more than what a dentist proposed to charge me for a new mouth, based on tooth implants. Though I opted for the £233.70 NHS dentures, I suppose I should give cryonic preservation serious thought.

Perhaps because I am a journalist, I am
curious to know the outcome of various contemporary stories. Will anybody remember Trump a century from now? Will Brexit prove a disaster? Will Leicester City win football’s Premier League again? Will Nigel Farage ever step down from leading Ukip for longer than a few weeks? Will human beings walk on Mars?

But I am not confident that future generations will wish to defrost me. Given that people habitually complain about migrants from other countries and their difficulties with adapting to our “way of life”, they hardly seem likely to welcome a migrant from another century.

Expert opinion

People won’t listen to experts, and not just on political questions, such as whether we
should remain in the European Union. On ballroom dancing, too, the masses ignore the verdicts of those who supposedly know what they are talking about. Ed Balls – with an Oxford First, an economics scholarship at Harvard and periods as a Financial Times leader writer and Treasury adviser – was amply qualified to become chancellor, but that didn’t help him retain his parliamentary seat. Yet viewers vote to keep him on Strictly Come Dancing. One judge, Craig Revel Horwood, said: “I was rather hoping that I was educating the great British public.” David Cameron and George Osborne will know exactly how he feels. l

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This article appears in the 23 Nov 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Blair: out of exile