Human beings respond very quickly and intensely to threats. Fear is known as being one of the best ways of manipulating somebody because it creates that exact threat that makes human act, either rationally or irrationally. That is one of the reasons why politicians love to seed fear in the minds of the people and they do so for quite some time now. One very good example to which you can quickly think of is Hitler. The other examples come from more modern politicians that are in office or just got elected.
Everybody knows that politicians love to make promises; they are known and usually elected for that. But unlike promises, fear does not need much taking care of, involves little or no expenses and depends on less people to be put into action. That is why recently a lot of politicians create more threats and make less (but more bold) promises. The treat can take any form, but it is usually related to life style, economy, job security or values. The perpetuators are the usual suspects that have little or no saying in the voting system and find it hard to defend themselves effectively due to lack of money or media time or other external factors. There are so many recent examples for this, from the immigrants that are allegedly coming to steal your job, to the gay marriages that will destroy the society and its values, to refugees that are actually terrorists coming to destroy you and your country.
Creating these threats the politicians bank on the existent fears and anxieties of the people. A lot of us are afraid of losing our jobs, our loved ones, our life and the sense of security that we tend to experience in a normally functional state with a stable economy. Thus, some of us choose to respond to the threats with confirmation for the politician which envisions himself or herself as a defender of the country, its people and sometimes the absolute truth in itself. This might, again, seem familiar. Just look at the way fascism worked in Europe no more than a few decades ago. Coupled with the bold promises of not only protecting the country but also improving it further in one way or another, this type of threats create a cocktail of emotions that seem to be very effective in making people stop thinking rationally.
Which brings us to the recent news from the US. Only a few months after the said cocktail was administered to the people of the UK successfully, its success was proved was again in the US elections. The similarities are multiple and obvious and they all highlight the use of hate speech as electoral discourse, one that overflows with racism, xenophobia, sexism and hypocrisy. Brexit was won not on economic or political arguments. Nor have been the US elections won on these grounds. They were both won on the ideas of fear and taking back control from an unknown which apparently is very dangerous and residing into the abstract. The ideas of common sense and human rights were on the losing side.
That Trump won and Brexit is happening represents a sign that spreading hate works and that people respond to it at the detriment of the democratic values that we love so much to pretend we believe in. The fact that it works and that people support these ideas means that they will continue to exist. The fact that they have success means that they will get even more intense. Supporting a person like Donald Trump, who promoted racism and xenophobia, infect the supporter with these ideas as well. Voting for Trump or not speaking out against his behaviour and ideas is indulging him, even though one voted for him in order to avoid voting for the other candidate, even of any other external consideration and reasons one voted for him.
The fact that after a period of time these ideas based on hatred and fear are reignited truly must make the deceased people that supported them with such fury smile. It must be pleasant for some to see how quickly others forget about the ideals of equality, freedom and respecting the dignity of all human beings, and their rights as well. Thinking that former members of the KKK voted for Trump should be a clear example on the matter.
With the KKK in mind is hard not to feel that the world is going back in time. 27 years ago a wall that cruelly divided Europe and left part of it pray to communism fell and announced the beginning of a new era. An era which was to bring a better cooperation between states, respect for diversity and other countries as well as a better understanding among people. Today, the country that prides itself with its democracy and freedom elected somebody who wants to build new walls instead of new bridges. Europe, where the memory of the fallen wall is more persistent and relevant, fights to keep its identity and remain open, united and respectful towards diversity. Brexit was a hindrance in that process; these US elections are another one. Agitated and instigated by these are other politicians ready to create threats and reteach people that it is easier to hate than to love.
The stance Trump took on women also should make us feel like went back in time. After allegations of sexual assault and rape, after the infamous video telling us what Trump likes to do to a woman, Trump appeared and said that nobody respects women more than him. After that he called Hillary Clinton a nasty woman. There were claims that many will vote for Trump just because they felt that a woman as president is unimaginable. The results seem to prove them right.
Unfortunately, gender equality seems further away now and people in the US seem even more persuaded now that feminism is a bad thing. After what was once unimaginable happened and the US had an afro American president it seemed the best moment to take even one more step further and have the first female president. Instead, a few big steps back from gender equality and true respect for women have been taken. Trump did not say that Hillary should not be elected because she is a woman, but he let his supporters say that for him. Voting for a woman in the presidential elections for the first time since women have the right to vote in the US was memorable and historic, but the outcome of the elections shades this achievement which rather completely fades away under the impact of Trump-ism.
Perhaps this is one of the most dangerous effects of this type of political speech, that it teaches people that hating is easy and it is justified. In the UK, after Brexit, there was a huge increase in hate crime because all those people that already had hate in their hearts were indirectly told that it is okay to feel that, it is okay to express it and nobody should be able to tell them to change that. Not even after months of hate crimes does it seem that somebody is going to take a really serious stance and tell them they need to stop.
The old saying that your freedom ends where the freedom of somebody else begins seems long forgotten.
Everybody will talk long and with passion about why the elections have been won or lost. Again, both Brexit and the US elections have been decided by people without higher education. In their views, they revolted against the elites. It is hard to see how a billionaire is not part of the elite. It is also hard to see why revolting at the elites seems like a good excuse to spread hatred. Perhaps those people were more concerned about their lives, their small communities and their cities, which is understandable, form any point of view, regardless of the number of diplomas. What is not understandable however is how and/why they refused to see the boomerang effect of their choices. Encouraging hatred and putting in charge a person that feeds on it is dangerous for everybody, even for the people that initially believe in him. There were many people that started doubting Hitler but it was too late then for them to do something about it.
Another paradox is that the threats created by the politicians become a reality because of them. UK plunged into uncertainty and considering the recent behaviour of the value of the pound this uncertainty and their decision to leave has immediate and obvious effects. The economy is at risk and everybody knows it. And to think they didn’t even leave yet. Not to mention the jobs which were supposed to multiply for Brits after Brexit but if major banks and corporations will move from the UK, as it is very likely, the effect will be the exact opposite.
As for Donald Trump, the future will tell.
In both this instances artists, scientists, celebrities came together to support the other possible outcome. Stephen Hawking spoke against Brexit, so did a lot of actors. It happened the same in the US with various leaders in their fields speaking against Trump. The electorate chose not to follow them this time. I want to believe that they were too scared because of the created threats and not because there is simply that much hatred in their hearts.
One should never forget that human rights are universal, indivisible and unalienable. When somebody takes away the human rights of a person or a group of people everybody is affected and it is a clear sign that the given person might not stop there. Voting for somebody that is going to disregard the rights of a minority empowers him indirectly to disregard your eventually. Hate leads to more hate. That is why Hitler smiles now from his grave, together with radical right wing politicians across Europe.
Even more than before, be kind. Spread love. It makes the world better but also makes the world better for you.