On both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, the right is leading the left into a trap. It was ever thus in the wake of economic catastrophe. Nearly ten years on from the beginning of the global financial crisis, the right continues to seize on fear, anger and resentment. Meanwhile the left wags its finger and rolls its eyes at the great mass of working people whose demands can be summed up in three short words: security and hope.
There is no logical or human defence for what happened at Charlottesville last week, where a rally organised by Nazis cost the life of a young woman whose reason for being there was to combat fear and prejudice with peace and love. Donald Trump demeans his country and the entire Western World by equivocating about the character of the far-right mob. “There was hatred, bigotry and violence on all sides”, said Trump. Perhaps he would have said the same about the D-Day landings.
But Trump is doing this as part of a strategy that has propelled him, and people and movements like him in Britain and the US, into positions of devastating power. Steve Bannon, Trump’s strategist, explained his modus operandi in an interview with The American Protest only this week. “The Democrats,” he said, “the longer they talk about identity politics, I got ’em. I want them to talk about racism every day. If the left is focused on race and identity, and we go with economic nationalism, we can crush the Democrats.”
So, you see, Trump is deliberately pushing the liberal left’s buttons on this and a thousand other issues. The plan works like this. Objective: retain power through economic nationalism. Strategy: play on fears about globalisation at home, while projecting strength abroad. Tactics: attack the press, give a nod and a wink to Nazis, demonise Muslims, demonise Mexicans, threaten nuclear war with North Korea, dismiss international climate change agreements, claim credit for improved jobs numbers. Divide and rule.
And how does the left respond? With outrage – like it always does. Condemnatory tweets pour in from the celebrities and establishment politicians whom Middle America has come to despise. The Twittersphere congratulates itself for its moral self-righteousness, while Trump smiles slyly as he limbers up for another assault on the free press, whose freedom means little when people increasingly believe the lie that their news is “fake.”
In Britain, a similar game has been played and is being played. Seventy years since Britain led the way in rebuilding a free, united and democratic Europe, the nation is hurtling towards Brexit thanks to Bannonesque tactics from demagogues like Nigel Farage, and the singular failure of the political establishment to address the acute fears of ordinary British people who fear for their jobs, their livelihoods and their identities.
The answer to all of this is to change the game. Here and in the US, the left is playing according rules set by the right. The real fight is not against Trump’s offensiveness, or UKIP’s bile – for in both cases, these are decoy tactics. Instead the real fight is for the 95% of all identities, who have been let down for decades by the economic and political settlement imposed upon them by the rampant forces of hyper-capitalism and globalisation.
Liberal outrage about how the right exploits terrorism for its political ends is justified. Yet it doesn’t help deal with the problem. If anything, it perpetuates it. The real battle is not on Twitter, where your carefully crafted #solidarity tweet or your photo of children of different races playing happily together may earn you plaudits among your fellow lefties, but it will do nothing to address the fear and loathing that is driving our increasingly divided politics across the West.
The morning after yet another apparent terror attack – this time in a part of Barcelona scarily fresh in my own mind – I see the left reacting in the usual way. And who am I to condemn the social media posts expressing horror and anger at what has happened – for I feel the same way? But the right will likely capitalise on this as it always does.
Meanwhile, the left will, to quote William Golding, weep “for the end of innocence [and] the darkness of man’s heart.” We will weep, and the right will cry havoc. And so the cycle of violence continues, without ending, reason or riposte.