Dear liberal Singaporeans,
I've been saying this since Brexit. Populism drives people and legislation in a way center-to-left people like us may never understand. Alike what happened after Brexit, people are suddenly feeling wise about things, blaming the Democrats for rallying around Hillary Clinton — whom the media is finally calling out as one of the worst possible candidates in this election — saying that even if Donald Trump doesn't have a track record of following through with his promises, he was always speaking the people's language. I've been saying that since the beginning. I knew, especially after Brexit, that there was a huge chance he'd win this.
While it is foreign to me and something I may not be able to empathise with, I can understand how the "forgotten people" of the industrial revolution and the true blue-collar working class feel disenfranchised and angry. Apart from throwing terms around like "rednecks" and "Republicans", "bogans" and "country people", I've never really understood how Americans live, what they feel and what their real fears are.
Since Trump's appointment yesterday, I've read a few articles conveniently putting the blame on liberals and the "self-righteous moral class" for this mess. In other words, they're shifting the weight on people like you and I. And you know what? I can't help but feel a stirring that this is partly true.
We hold ourselves up to such high moral standards (which I still believe to be the ideal standards, just to be clear) but forget that most of the world has not grown up with education that — while in Singapore lacks in other areas — still covers morality, history, social sciences, geography, culture, and literature. Literature, which, let's be honest: To study fiction and analyse how it socially, politically and emotionally reflects different times in our short human lifespan is a privilege. One that we forget a lot of people don't have. It shouldn't be a privilege to have access to concepts of morality and true justice, and yet it is.
Americans are not of the third world, I know this, but time and time again we've seen evidence that people fall through the cracks when education fails them. A lot of the states where Trump was elected had high populations of uneducated people. To me, education doesn't just mean learning math and science. It also means that you've cultivated skills to think deeply, form substantial opinions and learn to truly accept and respect that good values are the same to people of every colour and religion. Education trumps ignorance. But this sort of education is not available to everyone.
While our world systems have kept the downtrodden down, the moral and social elite have widened that divide and then turned around, calling the ones who don't get the same privileges bigots and racists. What else have they been taught? Are they intrinsically racist or is this all they've ever known because that level of education has never really reached them? My best friend reminded me to look at the statistics. 62% of people earning under $30k a year voted for Clinton. Trump's margin only got wider when the income bracket starts hitting $50k and above — mostly middle class white voters. So yes, the suburban, possibly bigoted vote is certainly strong. But $50k a year is $4k a month (before tax) and when you have a family and a home, that amounts to nothing these days. Middle class families worried about higher tax rates simply didn't trust Clinton, whereas Trump was saying he would massively reduce taxes. Same with Brexit; its leaders were promising to bring back economic and trade security — the Brits for the Brits. These are the true concerns of the people and they didn't have the time to think about how free trade actually benefits them. Who ever asked them to think about these things before? Why would they know right from left about trade and economy? They've been kept in their place with limited access to what they've always had and it's hard to evolve that way.
What I'm asking is, is it true? That we (and I mean "we" in a global sense of the word) in our bubble of smart, capable, outspoken minority groups with our lofty ideals, who think we're above it (let's be real, now), make judgements and think we know better what people need and who they should be voting for, when really, Trump, Brexit and other populist and seemingly hate-mongering movements, could be their answers to the hate and injustice much of the world actually feels from people like us?
I know my fears are valid and real: That the hate rhetoric is just going to be driven up, and that soon my niece may have to defend herself from even more discrimination because of a nation that has always set many international examples. But the fears of people living in poor industrial towns and much of the middle class in the U.K., U.S. and many other places in the world (which will no doubt be empowered to have their own uprisings following this) are just as real: That their livelihoods have been taken away, and that their children have no bright futures.
I suddenly feel like I've been knocked on the head for thinking that "the stupid electorate" is completely at fault. Can we really blame most of them? How many of them have more base needs and fears than me and those on my Facebook feed, and are voting based on that? None of us chose where and what we were born into, and I've been elitist, judgemental and nasty in my own rhetoric towards these people who have put Trump in power. Am I part of the problem, my inability to be empathetic to people different from me and my knee-jerk reaction to judge and call out the stupid? How much better am I than them?
There is no justification for Trump's deplorable doctrines, lies and behaviour. The people who voted for him are either certified bigots, racists and supremacists too, or they voted for him in spite of all of that, which is equally upsetting. But people came out in historic numbers for this election. We wrongly predicted that would mean a good thing for Clinton at the start, but truly, these people came out because they wanted and needed some form of change. Something different from the charismatic Democrat leadership with their fancy trade agreements that they felt did nothing for them. They're the majority — they are representative of the people of this world. Is it a complete breakdown of the system if the majority is making the choice against inclusiveness and free trade? How responsible are people like me for this?
I feel sad, and I feel like it's just dawning on me as to why this has happened in two superpowers of the world, and that maybe it doesn't have as much to do with bigotry and ignorance as I thought. Instead, it's more to do with necessity and survival. Two major votes have swung in ways that have shocked us to the core and we are obviously disconnected from what majorities feel. Maybe we need to think more about the workings of the whole system, before we're guilty of some form of bigotry too.