It's going to be hard

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It’s going to be hard. But I have resolved not to despise people who voted differently from how I voted, or would have voted, in the great cataclysmic democratic events of 2016. I still find the outcomes hard to understand. They look so much as if people have been swayed by demagogues, manipulated into voting for the very people and policies that will cause them the greatest harm. There have been times when I have questioned the very nature or value of democracy, when I’ve wondered if the franchise should be limited to people with a certain level of intelligence, or education, or who inform themselves from certain news media rather than others…

I don’t like the man I am becoming, when I start to think like that. I don’t like the tone of political and social debate that has emerged in recent years, so adversarial, so full of hatred, name-calling, and threats - even murder. We all need to relearn habits of courtesy, respect, and a readiness to stop and listen to the people who are thinking and saying things we hate. I hope we will be able to expect the same from them. But I also think we can’t insist on it as a prerequisite for conversation. We have to set the example, and model the respect we hope for. It may feel like complete folly, like advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament among a continent of nuclear powers. But what’s the alternative? A world of inevitable mutually assured destruction?

And what’s the alternative to democracy? Can I really even begin to think that my vote is more important than another person’s, because I have a degree and they don’t, because they read the Daily Mail and I don’t?

If I resolve not to despise them, I must also resolve to make a genuine effort to understand them. The votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump are claimed to have been a huge protest against the Establishment on both sides of the Atlantic, by all the people who feel they have been left behind or ignored for too long. I, like so many others who think of themselves as ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’, have spent too long colluding with a system that didn’t do enough to create a more just and equal society. We were doing well enough, we were among those who benefited from the way things were. We must bear a good part of the responsibility, or blame, for events that sadly are more likely to perpetuate inequality and injustice, than to mend them.

I don’t know what needs to be done to get us out of this mess, or make things better. I don’t know what I can do, or might be called to do, in these troubled times - now that I am retired and perhaps more among the powerless than I used to be. So all I can do, for now, is try to change myself. So that I do not despise, or hate. But seek to respect and understand.

Written on January 21, 2017