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Arguing as People

I, like most of the world, have gone to great efforts to ignore the current Republican race for President in the USA.  I’ve tried to ignore it because it hurts, and because in the UK when a government gets in which I loathe I can contemplate leaving the country (for now), whereas if a US President gets in who believes that all Muslims are potentially terrorists, climate change is a lie and every Mexican is a rapist, there’s not another planet to move to.

But now, of course, it’s all getting a bit real and so, with great reluctance, I shall say his name – Donald Trump.  Or as John Oliver of Last Week Tonight more aptly put it, Donald Drumpf, in an attempt to do away with some of the brand mystique that gets enhanced anytime anyone writes his name.

99% of my mates are as alarmed by the rise of Donald Trump as Presidential candidate as I am.  Curiously enough, the alarm isn’t so much over specific policies, because it’s hard to see if Trump has any that he consistently sticks to.  His policy is to ‘make America great again’, but getting details on what this means for taxation, education, healthcare, transportation or industry is tricky.  Easier to get a sense of what he’s thinking on foreign policy – he has already declared that the families of terrorists should be killed (women, children: yes, it’s an international war crime), that Putin’s a stand-up guy (see: the invasion of Crimea) and that China is The Problem.  (Trump’s many overseas factories and the consumerist desire of the world to have cheap goods made cheaply is a well-covered theme and need not be dissected now).  His views on the environment are also pretty clear – climate change is a lie – and while his views on abortion seem to change with the turning of the gentlest breeze, there’s enough documented evidence out there to suggest that women’s rights, along with the generic human rights of Latinos and Muslims in the USA, might not have a great few years if he makes it to the White House.  If you are African-American, then Trump’s reluctance to condemn the KKK might also be a bit of an eyebrow waggler.

So much for policy.  Now let’s talk about the real reason we’re all terrified: because fundamentally he comes across a fear-mongering blagger who doesn’t see other people as actual human beings.

I hesitate to write this.  I hesitate because even though I loathe the current UK government, I’ll stop short of calling David Cameron all the words that I’d be tempted to use because, frankly, I don’t know the man, I’ve never met the man, the only evidence I have are scripted interviews and soundbites, he might just be a bit oily while genuinely believing in everything he says.  I loathe his policies, but they are what he’s judged by, and they are not a human being.  Donald Trump doesn’t have policies, it seems, he just has the things that come out of his mouth, and yes, I’m sorry to say it, after months and months of talking, there is no evidence to dispute the claim that he runs on a platform of fear, and he speaks a politics of lies, and his very lack of being scripted may make him genuine, but it makes him genuine as he mocks women and the disabled.  These things he genuinely does, genuinely off-the-cuff, and it is appalling.  It is appalling because if he is speaking the truth that America has wanted to hear, then the truth is that America does not see all of its people as actual people, but rather as problem segments of society to be silenced, branded or expelled.

And sure, there’s a lot of other stuff he’s saying which America wants to hear.  There’s this notion of American greatness, and who doesn’t want to be great?  Who doesn’t want to have security and a steady job and be able to pay the rent and send their kids to a great school?  But those are just words until they are backed up with an explanation of howHow will America be great?  And more than that, what, what is this greatness?  Is it a greatness of compassion, of equality, where homosexuality is legal in all states and the US doesn’t have the highest per capita prison population in the world after, of all places, the Seychelles?  Is it a greatness of consumerism, of Christianity, of freedom, of hearty independence or New York chic?  What is this greatness, and how will you deliver it?  Trump, it seems, will deliver it by casting out his enemies, not by building something new.

That is worrying enough, but here’s the thing that leaves me actually terrified – that in the debate on this, not even in the enacting of policy, but in the debate, the opposing sides arguing the point also reduce each other to less than people.  Caricature, cliches, mockeries, puppet-politicians to be dismissed, demeaned and mocked; to be lied about too.  We arguably do the same in this country – the Tories are dismissed as rich bastards out to sponge the system, and the left are dismissed as dreamy loons, looking for an impossible, unrealistic Jerusalem who’ll bankrupt the world in their quest to find it.  There is a grain of truth lost somewhere in the swirl behind all of it, left and right, but only ever a grain; the rest is lazy reduction of people who believe in something different from yourself, as being less than people.  And Donald Trump takes this to the next level.

Information is Beautiful did a wonderful visualisation of how American politics has polarised over the last few decades, but more than that, people have polarised and as views grow more divided, the temptation comes to dismiss people’s views, not based on what they said or why they feel that way, but on who they are.  Once I was arguing gender politics with a woman who felt that there wasn’t any point my seeking equality of pay and respect with men because one day, I would want to have a child and when that moment came, all that would matter to me was the protection and preservation of that child, not work, not the views of other – just that.  She was a mother, and incredibly dedicated, intelligent, passionate mother at that, and I was not, and as we argued she increasingly turned to me and said, “When you have a baby you’ll understand… you haven’t had a baby yet, so you can’t understand….”  I was a little bit heartbroken to hear this, because in that moment we weren’t arguing about ideas or society, but rather I was being dismissed as lacking the essential prop – a child – to ever understand her point of view.  I was lesser, and my views mattered less, as a human being.  And if you do not see the person you’re arguing with as complete and as true as you are, then you can’t actually have a meaningful argument.

By this extension, sure, I’m an English woman commenting on someone else’s politics.  But I’m also a human being, looking at a world in which humanity is becoming an ever-more fluctuating concept, and so before I am dismissed as a stuck-up foreign hussy judging another land’s politics, let’s quickly say that these issues are bigger than states, and bigger than nations – they are issues of where we as a global society wish to go, and how we treat each other in a globalised age.

Is Donald Trump a true and complete human being?  Yes.  Absolutely.  Does he believe in himself and his actions?  Probably yes.  Are the people who vote for him voting in true conscience, believing in their actions and hoping for something good?  Of course.

Are the facts stacked against him?  Constantly.  Two minutes on google and you can dispute almost every claim he makes.  (Two minutes on PEW, in fact, and you can disprove almost everything.)  Is the likely Democratic candidate, Clinton, mired in dubious past dealings?  Yeap; and god knows if Sanders would be better, but I’d cheer for him on current form.  Is Washington steeped in the politics of cash and lobbying?  Yeap.  Is Trump the man to fix that?  Hum… based on past performance and current evidence… almost certainly not.

Debate needs to happen about the questions that are raised, conversations need to happen, dialogue needs to happen, a whole world of discussion about what greatness means, about what immigration is, about who people are and how we want to live, absolutely.  But Trump doesn’t stand for dialogue; he is shouty all the way.  And until we as people, all across the world, in every nation, learn to listen to the views of others and respect them enough to actually go and check the facts, to question themselves and others all at the same time, politics is going to get more polarised and people are going to become less and less like people with every passing day.  And that’s the real fear.