THE election of Donald Trump as President of the United States is nothing less than a political earthquake. Many feel fear has prevailed over hope, that the outsider has triumphed over the insider.
The repercussions of this decision will be felt around the world, including here in Britain. We don’t know the extent to which Donald Trump will fulfil his campaign promises. But if he does place the United States on a more isolationist path, both in terms of trade, defence and foreign affairs, this will impact on the so-called “special relationship”.
As a country, we face greater uncertainty than at any time since the Second World War. As we leave the European Union, deal with an expansionist Russia and the threat of terrorism, we now also face an unclear relationship with our closest ally.
It is vital that Theresa May establishes the best possible working relationship with President-elect Donald Trump. No matter how uncomfortable we may feel with some of his election campaign pledges, it is now in our national interest to work constructively with him.
So why did Trump triumph? I believe he tapped into three sentiments amongst the American public: fear, disillusionment and a desire for authenticity.
The global recession of 2008 heralded an era of uncertainty. When rising costs and stagnating wages create tension and insecurity, history tells us that voters look for simple and bold solutions. They shift from what they view as a dispassionate and unresponsive centre ground and embrace more radical alternatives.
People in the old industrial heartlands of Britain used the recent EU referendum as an opportunity to demonstrate against their abandonment by a political elite. Similarly, the white working class voters in the United States – from the coalmining communities of West Virginia to the car manufacturers of Michigan and Ohio – saw this as a moment to express their dissatisfaction with a political system that had served them so poorly. Around the world, people are demanding to know: who speaks for me and my forgotten community?
After a generation of what the voting public see as ‘on-message’ politicians, who choose spin over substance and triangulate their political positions, Trump embodied authenticity. His no-nonsense style and candid use of social media gave him a direct line of communication with the public – who chose to overlook his blunders, seeing them instead as evidence that he is genuine, unpolished. Unlike his opponent
If the public do not trust politicians to deliver what they want – rather than what politicians want for them – they will look for alternatives. However, in the end, it is likely that people will come to realise that the simplistic solutions offered by those on the political extremes – right and left – are just a mirage. Real solutions are to be found in that complex, messy, pragmatic heart of the political system, with people working constructively together and negotiating compromises – something Trump will soon discover if he wants to get things done in Washington.
We should learn from what has just happened in the United States. For those of us who reject Trump’s style of politics and seek progressive solutions, we must now be realistic about the challenges we face and present credible solutions that resonate with people. And we must regain their trust.
Offering hope and a positive vision of the future is key. Trump harnessed support on the promise of ‘making America great again’, going way beyond a critique of the status quo. Here in Britain those of us on the left should champion a great pride in our country – a patriotic vision quite distinct from the politics of hate and division.
An economic vision which means proper investment in education, skills, and training, particularly in those parts of the country which have been left behind. We must modernise our infrastructure and rebalance our economy between London and the rest of the country.
We also need a vision that changes the way we share power. Instead of top-down decisions driven by a desire for quick results, we need to find a way for people’s voices to be genuinely heard – above the white noise of politics.
And we need real, long-term actions to tackle social ills like poor health, obesity, and mental illness, which can fuel so much of the anger that was felt during the referendum campaign.
At a time when our country feels so divided, we need to recapture that national sense of community spirit and public service. The election in the United States has exposed deep divisions which President-elect Trump should seek to heal. We must do the same in our country.
I know that most people in Britain are willing to help a stranger in need, and to play their part in making their community a better place. That is the spirit we need to rekindle and encourage. If we do not, we lay ourselves open to the divisiveness and demagoguery of extremists.
Many within the political establishment did not expect Donald Trump to win this week. But his victory reminds us of the challenge we face in our country to overcome divisions and halt the tide of cynicism which has engulfed our politics. The stakes are high; we cannot afford to fail.
Dan Jarvis is the MP for Barnsley Central.