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America flips the bird

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Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

"Trump's election is going to be the biggest 'fuck you' ever recorded in human history -- and it will feel good....He is the human Molotov cocktail that they've been waiting for, the human hand grenade that they can legally throw into the system."

-- Michael Moore

Last night I learned a lesson. And I now have questions about everything I have lazily taken for granted over the decades of my life, both political and personal.

I think Moore got it right several months ago, but it runs much deeper. Not everyone who voted for Trump was financially ruined by free trade and Wall Street. Not all of them were racist and sexist hooligans.

America, I think, had reached the tipping point for the politics-as-usual that never did make any sense, that left some high and dry, certainly, but which didn't affect others either for good or ill. The latter was the main problem: it was also the reason so many people felt willing and able to kick out the jams. It seemed entirely risk-free to them. It was politics at a remote distance, politics that let people stick their heads out a window and shout "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore," and actually have an effect on a system with which they had always been so profoundly unengaged.

Had Bernie Sanders run against Trump, the polls showed a healthy lead for the former -- for the exact same reason. Yes, I know, polls, but it was a hypothetical question, and hence low-risk for those surveyed: no Bradley effect here. Sanders, too, was an outsider, who took on the entire machine and attracted huge crowds at his rallies. He rattled the cage of the system, and the system kicked him to the curb. There was only one choice left for a radically disaffected electorate, and they took it.

I listened to a number of interviews with Trump supporters. They weren't all misogynist neo-Nazis. In fact a lot of them, with some embarrassment, it seemed to me, tried to explain away Trump's grossly evident sexism and racism, rather than defiantly glory in it. Remember hope and change? They were clearly motivated by both. It wasn't ideology at work here: it was alienation.

The media-political complex lulled us all, as it has always done. Even those of us radically sceptical of the corporate media allowed ourselves to be reassured. The pollsters must be scratching their heads till their scalps bleed.

Republicans joined Democrats in defending the system and denouncing the interloper: Trump didn't get a single major newspaper endorsement. Major Republican figures spoke out in concern. But the more the establishment sounded the alarm, the more entrenched the Trump phenomenon became. It is tempting, in fact, to infer some cause and effect here.

The people have spoken, but they've been speaking for some time. It is only the thinnest of silver linings in a vast dark cloud that Clinton narrowly won the popular vote. Trump won the presidency, fair and square, against enormous obstacles. And so many of us were taken by surprise.

It's not that we weren't listening. It's that we didn't have the means to listen. And that is the most sobering and challenging truth that has just emerged from America.

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Image: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

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