Trump and Brexit’s success should be no surprise as supporters are demonized for their frustration
It’s not hard to find Canadians with a strong opinion on Trump or Brexit. These campaigns have highlighted an increasing divide in our political landscape and Canadians aren’t immune. This divide shouldn’t be surprising: the current political and economic landscape is failing a growing portion of the population.
Trump famously quipped “I love the poorly educated” in a Nevada primary victory speech. Many of my friends and colleagues loved it. They gleefully mocked Trump for the statement. But why shouldn’t one “love the poorly educated”? Underlying the jokes is a deeply problematic disdain for the less-educated that is not much different than mocking the disabled or the poor—which I’m certain the same people who disparage the uneducated would condemn.
The dominant political discourse does not include a growing group that is left out of both social progress in terms of greater rights through feminist successes and greater minority rights, as well as the benefits of globalisation that largely benefit a highly educated global elite—such as those commonly found on university campuses.
While social justice movements and the political left make needed progress, uneducated whites continue to be ruthlessly mocked without raising the ire of advocates. There are few social consequences, even in highly educated circles, for referring to people as “white trash.” Privilege hardly extends to you if you grew up in a low-income family with alcohol abuse problems, yet these people’s struggles aren’t taken seriously.
The people who voted to leave the EU and the people who support Trump aren’t necessarily racist or xenophobic. Certainly, many of the views expressed in recent months are, but they are by and large the by-product of looking for an alternative to the status quo. Trump supporters are largely trapped in an economic system that excludes them and a political system that belittles and demonizes their concerns.
What’s worse, the way the educated discuss Brexit or Trump supporters only further alienates them as they’re mocked through what is little more than bullying and name calling. This only solidifies the less-educated’s rejection of mainstream politics.
It’s no secret that income inequality has been growing. While trade deals are believed to benefit the global economy as whole, the benefits to uneducated workers largely materialize in developing nations at the expense of workers in developed nations.
An increasingly robust body of psychological research shows that we perceive our life circumstances in terms of the self-narratives we construct for ourselves. Even if circumstances aren’t getting worse, a growing disparity between the rich and the poor isn’t an empowering narrative. It shouldn’t be surprising that these people are unhappy with the status quo.
If the xenophobia and the alarming policies being espoused by the current political alt-right are to be diffused, it’s going to require a different kind of civic discourse. There’s a big difference between calling a person a racist and discrediting a racist idea. We need to address the harmful ideas rather than bully the people behind them.