Trump’s victory isn’t isolated, it’s part of a disenfranchised tsunami

Peter Harrison
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Donald Trump’s victory should probably not come as much of a surprise as it has, given the tsunami of so-called shock election outcomes and revolutions around the world in recent years.

Globally we have seen uprisings – not least the Arab Spring - and apparently surprising election results, so much so that a moderate outcome should perhaps be more of a shock.


The Brexit vote was largely - I believe - a reaction by a disenfranchised section of British society who felt unrepresented, ignored and dismissed by a middle class political elite who were used to running things their way.

So arguably - whatever one thinks of the referendum result - the legal challenge to Brexit is in itself a dismissive response by the very same middle classes to disregard what these same disenfranchised people called for when they took part in the referendum and voted to leave the EU.

Meanwhile in the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte’s election as president came on the back of a string of promises from the controversial politician to turn around years of corruption and help bring power to the masses. And in 2014 India elected Narendra Modi amid very similar promises.

Started with the Tea Party

In France it’s looking increasingly likely that the far right will fare considerably better than usual in the upcoming presidential elections - with the refugee crisis fueling concerns among the population that the heart of French society is somehow under threat.

Trump’s victory today, one might argue, was also a response from a section of the American population, who also felt they were not being heard or represented, and I would suggest this feeling can be traced back to the rebirth of the Tea Party with Sarah Palin in 2008.

Palin might not have won the election when she ran as the Republican Vice President candidate – but the reaction from the middle classes to dismiss her and her fellow Tea Party supporters was probably short sighted, as it sent a message that their views were un important, ill-conceived and ignorant.

If moderate Western politics are to survive in this new world, then they’re going to have regroup, reassess and more importantly learn to listen more effectively. A failure to do so could lead to echoes of the 1920s

Peter Harrison

From the outset of Obama’s presidency there was a movement of Americans who felt that their work, their contribution to society, was less important than those they believed to be taking advantage of the system.

Ironically the eight years under President Obama have arguably seen the country improve – people are better off than they were before he came to office, unemployment has dropped by more than 5 percent since the great recession high of 2010, fuel output is at a 43-year high and the price at the petrol pumps is almost a dollar less than it was in 2007.

But – and it’s a big but – America has seen a sharp growth in inequality, with a large divide between job and earning prospects. Obama’s task was never going to be an easy one – he came into office at the height of a crippling global recession – the disenfranchised were never going to be easy to keep on side, having suffered the levels of poverty that they had.

A common theme

In my view, Hillary Clinton’s biggest mistake was to dismiss Trump and his supporters as ignorant and ill informed, while offering no clear alternatives to his promised populist policies, so soon after such a flimsy global recovery which is already showing signs of faltering.

The common theme of the candidates and campaigns (in this case Brexit) that have won of late, is that they have all promised to listen to the views of the masses. Trump – most recently has claimed to be a man of the people, while Clinton seemed to take the view that he and his supporters were somehow ignorant and ill informed.

When the Brexit campaign won in the UK, the response of some ‘remain’ supporters was to call them ‘morons’, ‘idiots’ and ‘stupid’ - with many even questioning their right to vote.

Social media will no doubt again today - as it was after the Brexit win - become filled with messages of hatred, dismissiveness and despondency. It’s hardly a winning formula to convince a group of people who feel they have been let down by years of rule by the middle classes, and have turned to the likes of Trump, Duterte and called to exit Europe.

If moderate Western politics are to survive in this new world, then they’re going to have to regroup, reassess and more importantly learn to listen more effectively. A failure to do so could lead to echoes of the 1920s and 1930s when the national socialists rose to power.
Peter Harrison is a British photojournalist whose career spans three decades, working for print, digital and broadcast media in the UK and the UAE. He's covered a broad spectrum of subjects, from health issues and farming in England, to the refugee crisis in Lebanon and the war in Afghanistan. He is a senior editor with Al Arabiya English and tweets @photopjharrison.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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