Ewan Aitken: We need to understand what drove voters to extremes

Donald Trump emerged victorious in the 2016 presidential election. Picture: AFP

Donald Trump emerged victorious in the 2016 presidential election. Picture: AFP

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The election of Donald Trump as 45th President of the USA tells us some truths which are really quite difficult to hear.

Perhaps the most uncomfortable is that for a significant number of otherwise decent people, their sense of disaffection and disconnection with those in positions of power and depth of feeling they have for the need for radical change is so acute that they will put their trust in someone with the judgemental attitudes, opinions, character and values that make Donald Trump who he is.

They are not alone. We saw the same on June 23 - ordinary, decent people in huge numbers expressing anger about their circumstances and the lack of attention they perceive from those who they feel should be working to make things better.

I didn’t agree with the conclusion on either side of the Atlantic, but I want to understand what took them to that place, that choice.

The analysis that core votes had been taken for granted is accurate. It is only by listening to their anger, their deep emotional response to their situation, that we can offer an alternative.

Tuesday also reminded us that despite huge progress in the gender debate, systemic sexism, especially about leadership roles, remains deeply embedded.

I want to go further and understand how those who felt the divisive, them and us, authoritarian narrative promoted by Donald Trump and some of those who led the Brexit Campaign has given permission to be openly racist, sexist and abusive to people who are different from them, with devastating results for many who already felt excluded now feeling even more excluded.

It is only by understanding why such pejorative perspectives on the significance of diverse communities and diverse nations had such resonance that we can begin to offer alternative views that might speak to those with whom we disagree in way which might change their minds.

These salutary experiences need a robust response but one based on deeper thinking. It needs empathy, reflection, the creation of safe spaces to have difficult conversations and support to engage with deeply held views on all sides.

Despite how distressed I feel, if I am to change the minds of those I disagree with, it is not to lash out with blame and rejection, abuse and stigmatisation. It is to listen, to learn, to understand and then to talk.

Otherwise the metaphorical walls which, it would appear, are preceding a literal one, will never be broken down and the change I hope for will never come.