The fear that propelled Donald Trump requires no logic

Donald Trump and Family. (Eric Cortellessa/Times of Israel)
Donald Trump and Family. (Eric Cortellessa/Times of Israel)

I always feared Trump would win. I had placed a wager on that fact with my friend Cameron Munter, the former American ambassador to Pakistan.

Cameron had absolutely assured me of a Democrat victory. So sure was he that he bet $100 on it. This morning I sent him a simple email: ‘My friend, I feel like crying. I do not wish to collect. Please donate the $100 to a charity of your choosing.’ I wanted no part in profiting in any way from the fear that millions of Muslim Americans, Mexican Americans and migrants to America must be feeling right now.

But then it struck me.

In our sanctimony, our outrage, our righteousness, we overlook the way in which we appear to the other. The fact is that populism is not only rising on the right.

The hard left, too, is angry, scared and increasingly vitriolic. Many on the left are displaying the very traits they disparage the right for exhibiting. Fear is well and truly on the march.

Yes, we are scared. But they – Trump voters – are scared, too. Blaming and shaming them will only scare them more. And people do not go on to do good things when they are scared. The 1930s stand as a vivid testament to this truth.

We liberals must grieve this election loss, yes. We must mourn, then accept, and reflect on the outcome. But, most of all, we must then act to dissipate this fear among Trump supporters themselves. And that cannot happen, will not happen, if we are scared ourselves. Shouting, insulting and finger-pointing at a moment like this rarely changes opinions, but neither does pretending there is no problem.

Donald Trump addressing the crowd at a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 6, 2016. (John Sommers II/Getty Images)
Donald Trump addressing the crowd at a campaign rally in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 6, 2016. (John Sommers II/Getty Images)

Great change is afoot, and a consequence of this change is great trepidation and uncertainty. We often hear that globalisation has disenfranchised people, but its most obvious effect is that it has empowered parochialism.

Owing to historically unparalleled connectivity and mobilisation, globalisation has stratified entire populations.

Extremist Muslims are hating on ‘kuffar infidels’. Neo-Nazis and their populist right bedfellows are hating on the multicultural left. The hard left are hating on ‘neo-liberal globalists’. And they all seem to be hating on ‘the Jews’.

Many Muslims now feel more connected to their religious counterparts across the world than they do to their fellow citizens. For all their talk of anti-globalisation, the populist right, too, have forged transnational global alliances with like-minded nativists the world over, while hating on their “liberal elite” neighbours for doing the same.

Meanwhile, the globalist left protests ‘neoliberal capitalism’, while relying on the technology and social media platforms created by these ‘neoliberal capitalists’.

Globalised localism is what I call this. And as these political strands draw in on themselves owing to connectivity, they grow further apart from each other. That echo chamber is more akin to a deep mining cave – leading nowhere.

Fear requires no logic. This is why it is contradictory. Depending on who you talk to, we are simultaneously witnessing “the end of progressivism” and “the return of state socialism.” “The end of borders” and “resurgent nationalism.” “The sidelining of religion” and a “revival of theocracy.” Immigrants are “stealing our jobs” while “unjustly claiming welfare.”

hillary clinton and donald trump pinFree speech has suffered terribly. Populists will abuse it to incite hatred of Muslims. Islamists will simultaneously argue for it, and against it, depending on whether the topic is the right to advocate theocratic extremism or ban cartoons.

The hard left’s answer is typically authoritarian, preferring to silence debate rather than think uncomfortable thoughts. I am at once listed – by two respectable outlets – as a Muslim terrorist and an anti-Muslim extremist. Reasonable conversation around Islam, race, and immigration has become near impossible.

Indeed, the only thing this fear has in common is the overwhelming narcissism of its most devout adherents. Everything must revolve around us. Only we are the victims. Nobody else’s pain matters. Unless, of course, it can be used to teach them how much we have been suffering, too.

Of course African-Americans, Latinos and other minority communities have suffered, and will suffer still. Yes, many Muslims, too, are suffering. But my fellow liberals must accept that the white working classes – especially the underemployed men among them – are also in dire straits.

These young men are underrepresented at universities today, underemployed, and many are incarcerated. Depending on the perspective, everyone is at once a minority and a majority. The truth is, we are all suffering.

Yes, it is racist to suspect that all brown men who look like me are rapists. It is bigoted to presume that all Muslim men who share my faith advocate religiously justified rape. It is xenophobic to assume that all immigrants – like my family – are sexual predators awaiting their chance to rape.

But let me be absolutely clear: what will feed this racism, bigotry, and xenophobia even more is refusing to talk about the very real challenges to culture and liberalism that globalisation and intercultural exchange bring. Silencing this conversation only encourages the populist right’s rallying cry against “the establishment”.

In part, Trump won because the hard left has abandoned the facts almost as quickly as the hard right. This will not be comfortable to read for many, but that’s precisely why it needs to be said.

We have become quick to demand our rights while slow to afford those same rights to others. If all blacks are not thugs, if all Muslims are not terrorists, likewise all police cannot be racist killers and all straight white men cannot be the devil incarnate with absolutely nothing to contribute.

In between these tabloid simplifications, intelligent debate has been lost. Liberalism provides freedom of religion and from religion. Free speech allows for the advocacy of ideas such as Islamist theocracy, but it also means that others have the inalienable right to blaspheme.

Bigotry can exist against minorities but also by minorities. Human rights are a double-edged sword of justice. They work both for and against people, including for and against minorities. We should be able to hold two thoughts at the same time.

If Brexit and Trump’s win has failed to stop us in our tracks and reflect, then I humbly suggest we are part of the problem.

Only a new commitment to the universality of human rights and human dignity can lift us out of this current quagmire. But that will require foot soldiers of peace who preach what we have in common rather than how we are different; what we have gained, rather than what we have lost; and what we seek to achieve rather than what we have failed to accomplish.

These foot soldiers of peace must be able to transcend their own victimhood while pulling people together. Love and empathy must win over hate and vengeance.

Everyone is a victim, and everyone is an aggressor.

Jewish News columnist Maajid Nawaz is founding chairman of Quilliam, a London think tank on Islamic extremism.

About the Author
Jewish News columnist Maajid Nawaz is founding chairman of Quilliam, a London think tank on Islamic extremism.
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