The Year of Living Dangerously: Brexit and Trump

Guess what – it was my birthday last week! You know what I got as a present? President Donald J. Trump! As you can imagine, this was one of those presents where you just can’t muster the Oscar-winning talent to fake a smile. In short, I was devastated. But who am I kidding? We all were.

For us Brits, this was the second big slap in the face of the year after the UK voted to leave the EU. How sad that the year my son Felix was born in the most progressive and un-conservative way, there is a lurch from the western world back into conservative rightwing darkness.

When the Brexit vote happened it was a wakeup call. I realised I’d been living in a bubble and outside the air was toxic. What happened across the Atlantic admittedly doesn’t feel as close. But it is close, because America has the power to affect the course of the world’s evolution.

Take the George W. Bush administration, for example. I remember my housemate at the time, James, calling while I was in a shopping mall to tell me that the World Trade Centre had been attacked. I ran to the nearest electronics store and watched the twin towers collapse on multiple screens in the store's window display. The world changed.

The Republicans called on world leaders to join them in a war against the Islamic world, which they labelled the “axis of evil”. This kind of rhetoric gave way to a “with us or against us” era of bullying on a global scale.

The UK joined the fight under false finger-pointing to weapons of mass destruction. France refused, so McDonald’s restaurants in the US changed "french fries" to "freedom fries." (Yes, really.)

The U.S. took down Iraq and before you could say "inconvenient truth," Saddam Hussein had been put to a quick death. Years of Islamophobia followed, with Muslims taking their place in the tabloid press as the panto villains of the 21st century, because hate sells more papers than truth.

Then Barack Obama came along and won the presidency. He had a message to those who had been told for so long by so many to be cynical and fearful and doubtful: That they should "put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day.”

What amazing words these were. I mean, really, has anyone else spoken to the world with such profoundness in our lifetime?

When he took to the stage in Chicago and gave that speech he did something we needed for so long: he put an end to our anger. We were all so tired, but he found a way to dazzle us. And for the first time in years, we could relax and feel safe knowing we were in good hands. He may not have pleased everyone during his time in office, but the world sure does feel like a nicer place with President Obama's leadership.

Photo credit: Wikipedia

When Trump announced in his campaign that he wanted to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., I thought he’d shot himself in the foot. Instead, his ratings surged. I remember saying to my mum recently that we’d had too easy a time with Obama and the world was due for another period of darkness. Well, here it is folks. Trump is next in line to the White House and the shadow is already consuming everything, with protestors currently outside Trump Tower and a rise in racial attacks. Planned Parenthood will take a beating too. I’m just so happy I already had Felix and got the hell out of there!

I've heard many people exclaim that the same underlying cause is behind both Brexit and Trump's surprise election victory: Disenfranchised people totally fed up with their political system.

But when in history have people not felt disenfranchised? This is the nature of a system that allows the few to govern the many. It's impossible to please everyone! For example, as a single father I want to be entitled to a parental order for my son, but I'm not because until there is enough need for it, it won't even be debated in Parliament. So I feel disenfranchised! Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying we should put up and shut up. But I would never challenge the system by voting in someone like Trump to take down the establishment altogether because, for all its faults, we need it.

That said, I’d rather him than, say, Ted Cruz. Nothing could be more dangerous than a man who thinks he’s in the Oval office by God’s will.

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia

Trump wouldn’t be interested in God’s opinion unless God said something nice about him, because all he wants is to be popular. His bromance with Putin only developed because Putin complimented him, but in the process Trump's cosying up to a homophobic old-style-Soviet politician whose tactical mind is far superior to his own. What if the US ends up on the same side with President Assad in Syria? It will destroy America’s relationship with the Middle East for generations. Young Syrians will once again grow up in anger, playing children's games under the shadow of drones and becoming ripe for radicalisation.

But Trump doesn’t care about any of this. He doesn’t care if my son or the kids of anyone reading this are caught in the blast of a terrorist attack in the London Underground or on the Paris Metro as revenge for America’s foreign policy. Why? Because he just wants to be adored. This is exactly what a world leader should not be. Instead, he should put his country’s best interests before his own.

I do offer one glimmer of hope: Republicans could step up after all the glitter of the election win has settled and demand Trump act in a way that turns people against him, and then Trump would realize that there’s actual work to be done, I could really imagine him telling them to go f&*k themselves.

But even if he did turn out to be an enemy of the Republicans, I’d still think he was vile. This is one reason so many Americans are devastated now. I’ve never been one for US patriotism, but I do sincerely believe it is one of the greatest nations in the world and I’m proud that my son was born there, through the support and kindness of doctors, nurses, scientists and lawyers that barely raised an eyebrow at such an alternative way to create life. And to go from the founding fathers through the abolition of slavery and the Great Depression and the subsequent growth, only to arrive at a man that boasts about grabbing women by the pu**y, is nothing short of heartbreaking.

So to my American friends, of whom there are many, I want to tell you that I know exactly how you feel. We had the same love for our membership of the EU and it was ripped from our hands by the evil on our doorstep. At first you will feel hurt. Then you'll feel anger. Then comes defiance and refusal to accept the decision, looking for something, anything, in the legal system that will provide a loophole. But slowly over time the news will lessen its coverage and go back to reporting on other stories, and the realism of President-Elect Trump will set in as life goes on. You are not alone in this journey. You are supported by friends across the Atlantic. But on your home turf just look to Hillary Clinton, who I thought conceded with such grace, and remember what she said:

Photo credit: Gage Skidmore, Wikipedia

“…the rule of law, the principle that we are equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them."

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Posted by Salim Stephenson

Salim Stephenson is a proud father, Instagrammer, lawyer, liberal and vegan :-)


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