This year, in an election where 46% of people chose not to vote at all, the American people decided to make Donald Trump their President and Commander and Chief.
This year, in a referendum with a first past the post threshold, the majority of the British people who voted, decided to walk away from their neighbours in the European Union.
The liberal elites in both countries were caught off-guard by these choices. The popular votes seemed irrational to them. People were voting for policies that were not in their self-interest; policies that would damage economic growth, harm world trade and make everybody, except the mega rich, much much poorer. They could not understand why the voters would do that.
Even now, I see posts and tweets where people who thought they understood how the world worked in theory, continue to try and explain to those who showed them how it actually worked practice, the flaws in their reasoning and the gaps in their knowledge that led them to vote the wrong way.
The enlightened rationalists among us are in shock. The world as they understood it has been swept away. It’s as if gravity has stopped working. They ask themselves “What’s the good of democracy if the people vote for bad things for stupid reasons?”
What we all need to understand is that people are not just rational agents trying to maximise their individual and or collective wealth, subject to the constraints imposed by market conditions.
People are driven by their emotional needs as well as their economic ones. They want to feel safe, to feel part of a group with a clear identity, to feel proud of themselves and the group they belong to. They want not to feel powerless to provide for their families or to control their own lives. They want want to be treated with dignity and respect. They want to defend what they have and protect themselves from external threats. They want to have hope for a better future for them and their children.
Being driven by these emotional needs does not make them stupid or irrational, it makes them human. The best of what we can be comes from our attempts to meet these emotional needs.
Those who are shocked by the election of Trump and the UK decision to leave the European Union have allowed themselves to fall into a liberal rationalist world view where global economic growth and entrepreneurial spirit, tempered with social responsibility, would make everyone better off each year.
There has been economic growth. In the UK GDP has grown by a compounded rate of 2.6% a year since 1948. The United States averaged a GDP grow of 3.23 p% from 1947 until 2016
In these circumstances, it was easy to start to believe that things could only get better.
By 2010, in the UK
In the US
Wealth inequality is worse than income inequality in the US
The 21st century has not been kind to average American families. The net worth — assets minus debts — of most U.S. households fell between 2000 and 2011. Only the top two quintiles of the nation’s wealth distribution saw a net increase in median net worth over those years.
In other words, in both countries, the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. In America in particular, parents were faced with the next generation being poorer than them.
The free movement of capital, which was making the top 10% richer, was exporting jobs and destroying whole communities.
People began to fear for their way of life. As Yoda predicted, fear led to anger at their own impotence and exclusion as their politicians dismissed their concerns as ignorance. Anger turned to hatred. Hatred of the patronising politicians and of the foreigners at home and abroad who were taking their jobs away.
I believe that the Trump voters in the Rust Belt wanted to punish the elite that had failed to listen to them over the past two decades.
I believe that the people in the North East of England who voted to leave the EU, were persuaded that the disempowerment and economic pressure they were angry about would be addressed once Britain was free of EU interference.
Fear sparked by growing inequality, anger fed by political exclusion has produced a politics of hatred that puts the US in danger of Nepotistic Totalitarianism and the UK of Xenophobic Isolationism.
The Dark Side is winning.
So what do we do about it?
The first thing is to resist the call of the Dark Side ourselves. Recently I’ve seen posts and tweets from people who self-identify as libertarian which are full of fear for their future, anger at the voters and hatred of the politicians. That is not a healthy path to travel. That way lies only more suffering.
The next thing is to embrace the core of Trump and Brexit voters, who acted out of hatred of politicians and separate them from the racists, homophobes, misogynists, and xenophobes who are now crawling out from under their rocks because they think the Dark Side has triumphed.
We need to set aside “It’s the economy, stupid” as a political agenda and replace it with “It’s the community, stupid”.
We need to spend government money in ways that gives dignity and hope to the communities that have been most disadvantaged by globalisation.
We need to campaign with local people on local issues that can increase empowerment and inclusivity.
We need to set aside the party labels and the intellectual analysis and put people, with all the emotional drivers that make us human, at the centre of our political and economic plans.
As Yoda might have said, “Bring the Force to them we must”.