By Guest Writer – David Coates
Donald Trump is set to be the 45th President of the United States. So much has been said about him in the last 15 months that there is little to add: the man is obviously unqualified for office; he is coarse, rude, inarticulate, ill-informed, and shamelessly mendacious. And yet he won. He won the Republican candidacy against 16 others, and then won the Presidential election, practically without the backing of his own (nominal) party. It is a unique achievement.
Much has been and will be said about this election. Like most analysis, whether of Trump, Brexit, or the 2015 general election, we always seem to draw conclusions which conveniently coincide with what we already thought. It is possible that what follows will simply be another example, but I hope not.
Western liberalism is in crisis. Most Western countries are organised so that although democratic mechanisms exist, there is a strong bias in favour of the liberal consensus. We can vote for differing parties at general elections, but the parties are themselves centralised bodies, which are quick to extrude opinions which challenge our liberal consensus. But when the institutions of Western liberalism are left sufficiently porous, such as with referenda or primaries, the liberal consensus repeatedly finds itself being rejected by the voters.
As a man born in the last decade of the 20th century (just) I find much of this regrettable. Politics in the West has operated on the basic liberal principle that the government exists to secure your rights, and beyond that you are free to live as you wish. This is a view of politics which I find instinctively congenial.
If you were on the Left you might decide it was necessary for the government to run large welfare programs in order to achieve that security; if you were on the Right you might want to limit government much more vigorously in order to achieve the same ened. But the underlying assumption has been the same.
We have been uncomfortable with the idea of a government – or even a society – imposing its own moral code on the rest, and been unwilling to define ourselves in any way that allows for the exclusion of ‘others’, whether on racial, religious, moral, or cultural grounds. Multi-culturalism is the logical conclusion of liberal universalism. We have not wanted to have an immigration system that discriminates between one type of person over another in any qualitative way. People have been left alone to lead their lives according to whatever cultural norms they adhered to; and if this meant turning a blind-eye to female genital mutilation, then that’s just good manners. In short, we have been unwilling to define ourselves as a community which can self-consciously use the first-person plural: ‘we’. “We the people” is the beginning of the United States Constitution. But which people? Who are ‘we’?
In Britain, people have watched their communities transform before their eyes. No-one ever asked their permission. No respectable political party ever attempted to stop it. For years those who voiced their concerns were dismissed as racists and bigots. When the complaints became too obvious to be so easily dismissed, politicians instead spoke of ‘listening to their concerns’. But voters didn’t want them to listen; they wanted them to change policy.
In America, free trade and technological advance has led to de-industrialisation, and the disintegration of communities. Manufacturing fled abroad. Communities in the South were challenged by large-scale Hispanic immigration. A traditionally Christian society discovered that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, dating from 1868, made it mandatory for individual States to allow same-sex marriage. Globalisation was liberalism in the economic sphere, just as multi-culturalism was liberalism in the social sphere. It always strikes me as odd that people don’t find the phrase ‘politically correct’ to be deeply sinister and Orwellian. But it as sinister a concept as it sounds. Liberalism is ‘correct’ and that which is ‘incorrect’ (or in current terminology ‘problematic’) is not to be treated with dignity.
It has been said of Communism that it collapsed under the weight of its own contradictions. It may be that liberalism is heading the same way. This is regrettable, for liberalism is an extremely attractive idea, has made it possible for people to live lives of comparative affluence, and pursue whatever sexual or cultural lifestyles they desired, free of inerference to a degree almost unique in history. But the attempt to run a society, which has as its core value the absence of collective values, is an experiment which may be coming to an end.