Last night, Selina Stone (Director of our William Seymour Programme) was one of the speakers at an event at St Ethelburga’s Centre for Peace and Reconciliation entitled ‘Trump and Brexit: What’s your take?’ The event began with reflections by Selina and by Giles Fraser, and in this blog she shares her reflections, and the way forward…
I am going to reflect on the impact that these two political moments have had on a range of levels, from the personal to the global: the disturbance of ‘progress’, the exposure of prejudice and the revelation of a shallow democracy.
Firstly, the election of Trump has disturbed our idea of progress. (The same could be said of the tone of the Brexit campaign, and the upsurge in hate crime after the result.) Despite the many challenges faced by society and especially by those on the margins, there is a general acceptance that no matter how bad things may be today, they are better than they used to be. People who have traditionally fallen to the bottom of the pile are encouraged to have an optimistic view of a history moving in their favour. However, when faced with the return to sexist, racist and xenophobic language and the re-opening of wounds hoped healed, it would seem things have not moved on as much as previously believed.
Secondly, the campaigns have exposed underlying prejudice across the political spectrum. There have been a whole host of almost unbelievable comments, statements and threats made over the course of the American Presidential Campaign, not least from the mouth of the new President-Elect. However, the subtle prejudice of well-meaning people on the Left is also damaging although more difficult to detect. By over-obsessing about ethnic and religious minorities, politicians betray their conviction that these groups are the problems that need to be sorted out. Majority white communities are also victims of a ‘positive prejudice’ when it is assumed they are uniformly coping well and not in need of attention. The Trump victory was labelled a ‘white lash’ by one commentator. Could it also be a cry to be heard?
Thirdly, both processes have revealed a shallow democracy in the UK and USA. In both contexts, democracy is weak, as the majority only participate in politics during election season. There is a huge hole where civil society should be contributing to the governance of our countries. Where there is participation, it usually involves a disorganised array of groups fighting for sectarian interests, rather than gaining bigger victories for all by working on shared interests. In this scenario, ‘justice’ becomes a zero-sum game where the marginalised and poor fight one another for scarce resources. Governments take it in turns to appeal to particular groups and in the end only the elite wins.
If all of this is true, what can we do ?
It is common for conversations about overarching political issues to remain at the “macro” level and thus to be seen as the responsibility of governments and professional politicians. However, the shockwaves that have been felt around the world at the results of the both of these recent political developments would testify to a different truth. It seems that national and even international politics are deeply personal and have ramifications on a “micro” level; on individuals, Facebook friends, church groups and neighbours.
If politics is interlinked in this way, between the “micro” and the “macro”, then it must also be possible that the decisions we make and the behaviours we demonstrate on a micro level can have a reverse impact – one that is bottom up rather than top down. The challenge for us all is to reflect on whether our friendship circles, personal lives and local communities reflect the listening, humility and rich diversity that we expect from the best politicians at a national and global level.
How can we make sure that all groups who find themselves angry and fearful can be organised and build the power to act? Are we, both as individuals and churches helping our communities to discern the interests they have in common – to discover and promote a truly common good?