I aim to stay out of politics (mostly), however it’s been very difficult not to comment on recent events in the U.S.A. As an Australian who has several friends in America, it was probably inevitable that I would form an opinion about the election and the presidential candidates because, even though it does not directly impact me since I don’t live in America, the outcomes of U.S. elections have a massive influence on the rest of the world, especially Western nations like Australia. We have a close security relationship with the U.S., which means that we have a delicate balance to maintain in terms of their demands upon us versus our own relationship with other countries, especially in the Asia Pacific region.
I digress. This morning I read a fascinating article featuring analysis of the votes in this year’s U.S. election by a professor at University of Michigan and felt compelled to share it:
This map shows votes by county, indicating that Democrats (blue) rated highly in most cities, whilst smaller towns overwhelmingly voted Republican (red).
Living in the country myself, I can see that there tends to be a greater lean towards conservativism, although I must say that I have found the country to be surprisingly more accepting than I had expected. Of course, jobs (or the lack thereof) remains a major issue and that’s something that has come through loud and clear in America, just as it has time and time again in regional areas of Australia.
However the biggest driver behind the U.S. election results is fear. We live in an age where the threat of attack has become overwhelming and people are afraid. People want swift action and they want to be able to walk the streets without fear of being attacked by a random individual hell-bent on making a religious and political statement. I get it. It’s hard to be warm and fuzzy about diversity and multiculturalism when people are killing one another for the way they look or what they believe in. When people are scared, they go into ‘fight or flight’ mode. I didn’t realise it at the time, but my own decision to move out of the city for good was partially driven by being sick and tired of reading in the (online) newspaper every day about murders, violent crimes and hostility.
Others, both here and abroad, are in fight mode. We’ve seen it in the U.K., with the rise of the UKIP party and the shocking outcome of Brexit; we’ve seen it across Europe, with rise of anti-immigrant sentiment and the increase in election results favouring far-right candidates; we’ve seen it in America with what was possibly the most unexpected election result in history.
We’ve seen the same trend happen here in Australia as well, with some quite right-wing candidates being swept to power in our own federal election several months ago. As shocking as it was for the majority who don’t believe in or accept open hate speech, we’ve had to step back as a nation and take time to process, to reflect, to understand. Just like in America, not everyone who voted conservatively did so because they believe in every word of the offensive rhetoric of the candidate – they did so because they believed that the candidate was the only one actually prepared to do something about the increasing levels of violence and hostility faced by ordinary citizens, many of whom feel genuinely scared to leave their homes.
Any serious attempts by more liberal candidates/parties (such as the Democrats in the U.S. and Labor here in Australia) to claim these votes in the future will need to seriously reconsider how to connect with the more liberal of the conservatives, at the very least – there’s always going to be a hardcore right wing (just like the hardcore left) but, just like the good old bell curve/performance distribution curve indicates (hi, management theory), the majority 70-80% of any given population usually sit somewhere in the middle. Approaching future elections (such as the U.S. midterms and the next federal elections here in Australia) in the same way as before will not work, because people are clearly disenfranchised and want non-political politics.
Ultimately, we must take a step back and see what is really going on across Western culture. An era of fear continues to grow and, as such, once-treasured ideals such as diversity are being threatened because many feel that our way of life is under attack. Whilst we do need to find solutions, we need to find smart solutions to these issues. Building walls and blowing up whole countries is not the answer – after all, many of the problems we face today are the direct result of yesterday’s foreign policy.
I, for one, hope that we get through this climate of fear and growing xenophobia with our dignity and humanity intact. As my mother always pointed out, two wrongs do not make a right. Or, in the words of the late, great Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”