Last weekend I was camping with a group of friends and at one moment the conversation touched upon the French election and, in its development also the infamous faux-pas of Donald Trump’s press speaker Sean Spicer, in which he offered his opinion that Hitler, unlike Assad, never used chemical weapons against his own people1
A statement about which I, as a German, of course had quite a bit to say about. Apart from its comic and devastating dimension, I was left with the thought once again “How on earth did Trump win this election?”
It has been suggested by several people, such as Jonathan Pie2, that the fault is actually to be found within the left that have largely failed to live up to its own principles (freedom of speech, safe space for expression, empathy and tolerance) by silencing the voices of people that although on the first glance appear to be holding a substantial amount of privilege, have been betrayed by the system and are therefore largely disenfranchised.
Examples of these people can be found in the old mining towns and overall places which have not benefited from our economic system. It appears, that very often discourses which centres upon racist slurs or stereotypes and party programmes that are built around immigration seem to be a powerful political weapon in these areas. Subsequently, its inhabitants have been numerously characterised and described as racists, bigots, voting without holding the sufficient knowledge and to be low class.
The onion has published a video recently, in which a trump supporter that supposedly changed his opinion by reading feminist theory and going to a poetry slam, explains how this happened³. Quite obviously, this satiric video is supposed to critique the notion that many young left-wing activists espouse, that if these simpletons would just pick up the right book, of course they are going to agree with them, which is not only ignorant, arrogant but also plainly harmful for our society.
As Alexander Betts suggests in his TED talk about Brexit4, it is quite apparent that the arguments that appear convincing to us have very little impact on other parts of the population and our insistence and persistence on these arguments just show our inability to engage with the problems and issues that drive them both to the margins of society and into voting for far-right parties.
A very good example of this, in my opinion, is the east of Germany, where people have to deal with economic instability, lesser chances for their kids alongside uncertainty what the years to come will have in check for them. These people turned to the far-left in the past and recently to the far-right end to the spectrum, solely because these political parties appear to be offering something different to the established political landscape.
But honestly, who the hell can blame them? If you are not able to reach the basic necessities of life in a system that lives in abundance, what does that tell you about the success of our mainstream parties? And more importantly, what does it tell you about the left and the feminist movement? If we deny the validity of their attempt to assert themselves, to make themselves heard we, the oh-so-enlightened liberals and activists, commit the same kind of classism that in its beginnings thwarted the feminist movement. We cannot, simply cannot afford to do that.
So where do we go from here? In my view, the left needs to do a couple of things: While continuing to reject racist stereotypes and bigotry in current discourse, we need to go back to our basics: respect, free speech, non-discriminatory policies and human rights – regardless who this applies to, even if it is a white male. Because if a moment, which aspires to fight against injustices does not do so with regard to everyone, we are no better than the white female upper-class ‘feminists’ who denied their black sisters equal participation within their struggle for equality.
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