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Why Trump's Election Is A Failure Of Liberalism

11/11/2016 2:22 AM IST | Updated 14/11/2016 9:06 AM IST
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Mike Segar / Reuters

In his victory speech, Donald Trump called his election campaign a "movement"—that's if you can call racism, misogyny and xenophobia a movement.

My opening line is in a way an echo of what we have been hearing over the past year and a half, only some of us could not hear the voice of the 47.5% of the people who voted for Trump. We are only hearing voices similar to our own. Harvard Professor Cass R. Sunstein describes this phenomenon as living in echo chambers in his book Republic.com 2.0.

What we see is an attitude where the liberal choice is believed to be the natural choice and everything else is considered insane.

Living in an environment where we only hear what we would like to hear is creating a society that is divided and is unwilling to engage with people of opposing views. While the alienation of people short-changed by globalization cannot be discounted, the fact that Trump's campaign was successful, despite being riddled with remarks demeaning women and minorities, shows how liberal values find little resonance with a large number of people.

We are living in a world where we are interconnected but not cross-linked. For instance, a study by Halbertstam and Knight of 500,000 communications during the 2012 US elections in a social network of 2.2 million politically engaged Twitter users reports that 91% of retweets of tweets by Democratic candidates are produced by liberal voters and 99% of retweets of tweets by Republican candidates are produced by conservative voters. They also conclude that information reaches like-minded users much faster than those with opposing ideology.

While opposing sides in the US were acutely divided, thousands of miles away in India, the Hindu Sena and affiliated groups performed yagnas for Trump's victory in reverence of his message of love for "Hindus" and a Modi-style "Ab Ki Bar Trump Sarkar" slogan. This shows that we are willing to engage with people who have views similar to our own but we have a disregard for any opposing views.

In India we jump to name-calling anyone holding a contrary opinion; online trolls and offline goons quickly follow to abuse those holding the opposing viewpoint. This process kills the space for meaningful discourse. Any potential to understand the other side's perspective is lost in whataboutery and the high-decibel madness of social media and newsrooms.

The liberal movement, one that espouses equal respect for women, immigrants, people of different colour and religion, has failed in sharing its message with the people. This is not the case only in the United States but also in India where liberal values appear more as a form of intellectual dogma handed out to the people by liberal "thinkers" only to be followed but not questioned!

Living in an environment where we only hear what we would like to hear is creating a society that is divided and is unwilling to engage with people of opposing views.

What we need is liberals getting out of conference halls, academic conclaves and cosy media circles to engage in a discussion about gender equality and respect for religious and racial minorities with people on the ground. Every few months we witness tension around the concept of nationalism in India—have the liberals reached out to people and discussed why it is important to question the government and its actions from time to time?

Instead what we see is an attitude where the liberal choice is believed to be the natural choice and everything else is considered insane. So, Donald Trump mistreating women is insane, Donald Trump's call for banning entry of Muslims to America is insane, Donald Trump building a wall with Mexico is insane, but this insanity will never be understood in a society that may have internalized misogyny, racism and religious hatred until the liberal voice gets out of the echo-chamber and engages with the people.

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