The wake of the US presidential election felt much more like the aftermath of the Scottish independence referendum to me than the days following the Brexit result. I remembered Robin McAlpine’s article in Bella Caledonia: “Wipe your eyes. On your feet.” It has a lot in common with Jon Schwarz’s piece in The Intercept: “Donald Trump Will Be President. This Is What We Do Next.”
These recent battles between progressive and extremist values are an example of asymmetric warfare. When one side considers science nothing more than ideology, there is no common ground on which to stand. Trump (and the Brexiteers) took a machine gun to a cavalry battle. Fake news is more powerful than real news, because there can be so much more of it, and when it lines up with convictions it can’t be refuted with facts. Search and social media filter bubbles encourage this cozy slide into unchallengeable beliefs, and contribute to a rising mistrust of experts and the reality-based community at a time when we need them more than ever.
The new media ecosystem “means everything is true and nothing is true,” Obama told me later. “An explanation of climate change from a Nobel Prize-winning physicist looks exactly the same on your Facebook page as the denial of climate change by somebody on the Koch brothers’ payroll. And the capacity to disseminate misinformation, wild conspiracy theories, to paint the opposition in wildly negative light without any rebuttal—that has accelerated in ways that much more sharply polarize the electorate and make it very difficult to have a common conversation.” –David Remnick in the New Yorker
In our parliaments, the opposition parties have to decide where they stand on the spectrum of “let’s see how we can work together” to “I will oppose you and everything you stand for.” The former normalizes extremist behaviour. The latter tactic is of limited use in winner-take-all two-party states, and is tainted by the fact that it is a poisonous tactic that drives even more tribalism and extremism. It compromises what we stand for.
We can laugh at the inconsistency, but the contrast is striking. Democrats grumble but abide by the rules; Republicans immediately dial up the rhetoric and denounce their opponents as illegitimate, eventually paralysing their ability to act. That was the admitted strategy of congressional Republicans in the first Obama term: a determined effort to prevent him governing at all. –Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian
In our homes and daily lives, we progressive non-politicians are left despairing over the inaction and in-fighting of representatives we elected to work for us. If they are powerless, what can we do as individuals? A single person can only reduce their carbon footprint by so much. A lone household can’t take in a whole village of refugees.
This is where asymmetric warfare comes into play again. A parliament can only house so many representatives. But we can fill the streets with a million protesters. We can join, fund, and strengthen the organizations that strive for social justice and a livable planet. We can boycott, advocate, and drive commercial decisions. (You don’t see car manufacturers scrapping their electric car projects, do you?) It’s going to take a movement. It’s going to take time. It’s going to take perseverance.