21 October 2016
A supporter of Donald Trump wears an American flag-themed shirt in this file photo. The US presidential election campaign is proving to be one of the most divisive in the nation's history. Photo: Bloomberg
A supporter of Donald Trump wears an American flag-themed shirt in this file photo. The US presidential election campaign is proving to be one of the most divisive in the nation's history. Photo: Bloomberg

When manners no longer maketh man

Physical distance tends to improve one’s perceptions. Looking at the world from the vantage point of a quiet Mediterranean Spanish seaport, people and events assume a stark relativity.

The United Kingdom’s post referendum stress disorders are adapting to the therapy of necessity as people recognize that, come what may, they have to get on with their lives.

But already there are early symptoms of hypersensitivity on the part of those Europeans from whom the first stages of separation herald the ultimate divorce. For the English there may well be a glimmer of light but it is a long, dark tunnel and the engine driver is something of a novice.

Yet the various national representatives have, so far, behaved with welcome courtesy and restraint.

Now contrast this with the different populist reactions to the spate of terrorist atrocities visited upon France, Belgium and now Germany. The tabloids cannot match the visceral fulminations that pepper the internet. That this is precisely the reaction that ISIL aims to achieve will not cross their minds.

The Islamic terrorists’ objective is to create a world defined by hatred between all Muslims and non-Muslims, because ISIL’s strategy thrives on hate and xenophobia.

One can only guess the mental anguish that this causes the non-jihadist Muslim world.

But hate and xenophobia are not the sole preserve of the jihadist.

An appropriate response to the attempted coup in Turkey is essential. However, Erdogan is borrowing from the Herod rule book to crush each and every dissenting voice. Megalomania is ever sensitive to criticism, no matter how insignificant.

On the economic front, leaving aside the precise causes, the fact remains that both across Europe and in the USA significant percentages of the populations are waxing more and more angry about their economic status.

Large tracts of young Europeans are unemployed. And where the education and training system has failed them, they are unemployable. Dishonest politicians attribute their impoverished lot to the immigrants who have “stolen” their jobs.

In the USA, swathes of blue collar workers have lost their employment, victims of the manufacturing industries which, unable or unwilling to compete with Asian production costs, have closed down.

China is demonized, mindless of the fact that cheaper products have improved the quality of life for so many.

Add in the relentless replacement of manual labor by automation and the failure to adapt swiftly enough to changing conditions, a groundswell of frustration and dissatisfaction gathers momentum, ripe for exploitation.

Into this volatile environment, introduce a demagogue who plays on the fears and anger of those who feel marginalized, articulating their thoughts and concerns in strident, lowest common denominator language.

In much the same way that Adolf Hitler identified with and provided an escape mechanism to a German population suffering under the ill-conceived and punitive reparations consequent upon the First World War, the demagogue fuels Americans’ seething discontent.

Once the refuge of the world’s oppressed, the land of hope and opportunity, the descendants of those early refugees have turned in upon themselves.

The demagogue’s proffered solutions have no substance beyond empty catch phrases, “Make America Great Again”. Do I hear an echo of “Deutschland über alles”?

Where is the generosity of spirit, the tolerance, the self-restraint, the humanity?

In the relentless pursuit of power, the language of the mob is harnessed and all civilized norms are abandoned.

Has the erstwhile civilized world regressed to mediaeval levels?

Once, there was hope that the totalitarian regimes would be drawn, gradually, within the curtilage of that basic respect for human dignity that is the hallmark of a mature society.

But as the prospect grows of America electing an abusive, racist, misanthrope as its president, the hope of a catalyst for civilized progress dies.

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EJ Insight contributor

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