Belfast Telegraph

You don't like Brexit or Trump? Sorry but that is what democracy is all about

Condemning millions of people for choosing Brexit or Trump is simply arrogant, says Fionola Meredith

Maybe it's the company I keep, but there seems to be an awful lot of people whining that 2016 has been the worst year ever, because of Brexit and the Donald Trump victory. To which my response is: don't you believe in democracy then?

Let me say here that I voted Remain in the referendum - I'm no fan of the European Union, which I consider dysfunctional and elitist, deeply resistant to reform from within, but I reluctantly voted to stay because I feared the destabilising effects of leaving, particularly on our own fragile set-up in Northern Ireland. As for Trump, I regard him as a loathsome, narcissistic demagogue and vulgarian, who stands for attitudes, values and policies that I despise. "The Lord of the Flies on his own 757," as PJ O'Rourke aptly put it.

So my side lost, on both counts (I would have voted for Bernie Sanders, if I'd had the chance, certainly not the crony capitalist Hillary, and never for Trump). Fair enough. That's the way it goes sometimes. It's quite simple really: insufficient numbers of people share your view of the world, with the result that your side gets out-voted.

Yet I can't join the chorus of caterwauling about the events of 2016 because too often these yowls come in the form of an appalling assault on democracy and democratic values.

The people were too stupid or racist or misogynistic to see what was good for them, so they voted the wrong way: that seems to be the essential argument from right-thinking people, on both sides of the Atlantic. As a consequence, the entire world is in jeopardy, because of the ill-informed antics of these haters, dullards and xenophobes, who clearly can't be trusted to enter a voting booth and make the correct choice. Probably they can barely hold a pen in their piggish fists, right?

"After Trump, I'm losing faith in democracy", "Can we trust the people?", "Why elections are bad for democracy": I promise you, I didn't make these headlines up.

"What if democracy doesn't work? What if it never has and never will?" fretted columnist George Monbiot. Jessica Valenti, one of Hillary Clinton's most obedient feminist fans, said that it was perfectly acceptable to shame women and men who voted for Trump: "being socially ostracised for supporting Trump is not an infringement of your rights, it's a reasonable response by those of us who are disgusted, anxious, and afraid." The shameless, shameful fools - how could they be so thick and revolting? Let's never speak to them again.

Of course, it's this very attitude of sneering contempt for ordinary people that helped to create the conditions for an almighty backlash against the political and media establishment. If you treat people outside your own bubble of entitlement as vicious, deluded idiots, no wonder they eventually turn round, raise a defiant middle finger and say enough already.

That's not to say that Brexit and Trump are seamlessly equivalent - plenty of people who voted to leave the EU would never dream of voting for a Trump presidency. But both movements represent a deep disillusionment with the status quo.

I'm sorry to say that much of the rampant prole-shaming has come from within the Left. I don't like political labels, and prefer to resist them, but I still consider the Left my natural home. Freedom, progress, equality, universal human rights: that's what it's all about, isn't it? Not any longer. Now too many so-called progressives have taken a puritanical, authoritarian, pro-censorship turn, keen to ban anything they disagree with - and they seem oblivious to the dangerous political consequences.

As Jerry Barnett, author of a new book on sex and censorship, writes: "only a true elitist could try to dictate which ideas other people have access to, rather than join the debate and win by force of reason".

Remarkably, the word 'liberal' is used as an insult these days, directed at anyone who refuses to conform to the intolerant orthodoxy. I've had it flung at me, to which my answer is: guilty as charged.

Here's a suggestion for those bewailing the horrors of 2016. Instead of complaining about the ignorance of the masses, slandering millions of people as racists and fools, try a different approach in 2017.

Step out of your nice, cosy echo chamber and listen. Hear that roar? It's called the freedom to speak, and choose, and vote, and you deny it at your peril.

Belfast Telegraph

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