This week saw the US midterm elections come to a close in a cacophony of misinformation and simplified reporting. For many Europeans the question that comes to mind is; “Who won and what does that mean for Trump?” If only it was that simple.
The long and short of the results is that the legislative situation has just got a bit more messy, with Democrats regaining control of the House of Representatives, while Republicans hold the Senate. For those of us enthused by the horse-race of US politics, many observations can be made on the fluctuations in voter turnout, the results in key states and what this means for the 2020 US Presidential Elections; but let us step back and look at the bigger picture.
It has been two years now since the shock of 2016, when the Brexit vote and Donald Trump’s promotion to the most powerful position in the world, left the political class in fits of hysterics, as people looked to the media to explain their shoddy reporting. While the polling wasn’t as far off as you might think, what led the media astray was their absolute sacrosanct belief that whatever is said within their social circles is a reflection of society, a belief so ridiculous at its face-value that those of us with some form of an outside perspective couldn’t help but watch in amazed horror. Why since none of their friends would ever vote for Brexit, then the numbers must be telling lies of course! Since Donald Trump was obviously not going to get a majority from the suburbs of Beverly Hills, then how could he ever have a shot at the Presidency? The media’s answer to their blindness was to act like populism had infected people out of nowhere and they could have never seen it coming.
The reality behind the vilified buzzword “populism”, is that it’s a dangerous cocktail made up of two parts of arrogance; misinformation and a sprinkling of identity politics. Treating Brexiteers and Trump voters as some rabid mass of racists is precisely the dynamic that lead to the proliferation of the sentiments they expressed through their votes; their disdain for the status quo and their anger at a system that has judged them to be unimportant in the grand scheme of things. This coupled with demagogues and so-called journalists feeding into the deep seated tribalist leanings of mankind, has caused a resurgence of nationalism that historians would find all too predictable. These votes were but the first stones flung at the establishment’s windows, and rather than worrying about broken glass we should be working on resolving the source of the riot.
This movement is now threatening the heart of the European project, with eurosceptics contesting for next year’s European Parliament elections, standing a good chance of gaining new seats in several countries. This might be further exacerbated by the intrusion of the American brand of nationalism, embodied uncomfortably in the grotesque figure of Steve Bannon, into European politics. His recent visit to Italy saw him expanding ties with the 5 Star Movement in Italy, and broadening his usual dog and pony show to place the EU as one of the big bad wolves coming for your sovereignty.
It is time for us to realise the urgency of the situation we find ourselves in, and to look beyond the typical partisan divide on our island. Though I do not wish to dismiss the legitimate policy discussions that may cause this divide in any way, our future should see us uniting behind the belief that the European continent is stronger when it stands together, against those who are ready to tear it all apart for political expediency. Populism is not a bad dream that will disappear in a couple of years; those waiting for the world to snap out of it are in for a rude awakening. This week’s elections have proved one thing: no amount of pontificating will cause the tide of nationalism to falter, and that holds true for Europe too. It is up to us to make the case for a European future, because at this point it’s not quite clear who else will