The Tempest: Division, Diversity & Trump

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“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.” The Tempest, Act I, Scene II

The rain water-cannoned across the roof and hurled itself against the walls of the glass box I live in, as it had, indeed, that night in June. A suitably apocalyptic backdrop for staying up watching the outcome of Brexit, this time (waiting, waiting, eyes fixed on those red and blue oblongs at the bottom of the TV screen) the ice storm raged.

All day I’d had a headache, quite rare for me, and an all-too-familiar sense of foreboding.

Though momentarily comforted by the sights in the news footage of epic queues (dominated by the women and hispanics that we’d been told would overwhelmingly vote for Hillary), though quite convinced the American people wouldn’t be quite so cavalier, take quite such a risk (which, if we go on the popular vote, they didn’t quite do), I just couldn’t shake off this sense I had that this wasn’t going to be the end of Trump, whatever happened.

Whatever I was hoping for.

I had a Trumption headache – accompanied by a feeling this ailment could last rather a long time.

After Ohio, I was certain, if not a little before. Even taking into account genome-coded partisanship, where was the democratic protest vote against Trump to counter the anti-establishment protest vote for him?

The protests were to come later. I suspect these could last rather a long time too.

If anyone at all could vote for a man who had said so many heinous things during his campaign – because, beyond the hardcore “basket of deplorables”, I can’t imagine there are actually that many people who agreed wholeheartedly with everything he’d said – then a lot of people could clearly put enough aside to carry him to power.

Their reasons for doing so are, of course, numerous; incalculable, in fact, without the testimony of 61.2 million American citizens. But Trump was right to make a direct comparison to Brexit, and clearly his campaign team lifted a lot of the Brexit blueprint of divide and conquer to inform their Brexit+++ strategy.

How much Trump and his team will now want to carry forward is the 17 trillion-dollar question – and the reason so many Americans now find themselves in tears, in tatters; experiencing a kind of pre-traumatic stress disorder, the promise of the Trump Era.

And, in the sleep-deprived and soul-searching days that have followed that stormy night, the hated media, and the hated politicians, have scrambled around to find ways to tell us it’ll all be alright, when none of us knows.

I’m all for change, but I think good change happens when you spend a little time, before acting, reflecting on what you want to do and why you want to do it. And have a plan. Plans can change, too, of course – expand or retract, reshape, refocus – but if there’s no clear plan at all to begin with, if it’s all going to be just making it up as you go along, you had better be pretty damn elastic about what you want to achieve.

This was my biggest problem before Brexit: I couldn’t see the plan; there didn’t seem to be a clear plan. Which, nearly six months on, clearly there wasn’t.

This wasn’t my biggest problem with Trump, but, nevertheless, I couldn’t decipher his real plan either, but the sketches of walls, mass deportations and the repealing of Roe vs. Wade (among others) were terrifying.

But, just like our Midsummer Night’s scream, November’s disunited States produced a result that has created more uncertainty in an ever-uncertain world (and opportunities, I’m not denying that – I’m not even denying that some positives could come from these outcomes, but I’m also not certain they won’t be the cause of our long-term – or imminent – destruction. Are you? Certain?).

What we’ve all learned now, and I do think this is, ultimately, a positive thing, is that a lot of people feel (horrible, ‘speak’ word here, but the right one) disenfranchised. Not disengaged it’s important to note (they wouldn’t be voting at all were that the case), but voiceless, over-looked, desperate, fearful.

This wasn’t Yes We Can. This was What Can We Do?

So now what do we do? In particular, what do we liberally-inclined, well-educated, metropolitan, ‘virtue-signalling’ inclusive types do now? How do we stop ourselves writing off nearly 50% of our fellow citizens with our bias? How do we stop ourselves going to war with our families, friends and co-workers?

And what of the content creators, the story tellers, residing in London (that little yellow heart in a sea of blue on the Brexit graphics), New York and Los Angeles (the blue edges of a scarlet America)? What new responsibilities do they need to craft? What new ways of seeing do they need to develop to hold a mirror up to this new world order?

Well, the first lesson should be that, clearly, ignoring people or shutting them down doesn’t make them go away.

The first lesson, as always, is to listen.

The second is to strengthen, to resuscitate, in fact, our notion of democracy as one rooted in representing all points of view.

This has always been a real challenge I’ve had around the diversity agenda (and I run a diversity workshop). Mistakenly, in many peoples minds, diversity equals minorities; diversity is about ‘the others’. If I’m in the majority, it’s not about me, only about them.

Mistakenly, many organisations make their diversity initiatives solely centred around ‘the others’, so that, for the pale, male and stale majority (in corporate workplace culture, almost always a given) diversity is something that happens to them: they turn up to a workshop expecting diversity training to be ‘done’ to them in someway, not to be about them too.

But to get anywhere with the conversation – to get anywhere in helping anybody gain a better understanding and respect for otherness – you’ve got to include everybody.

Yes, it’s vital we amplify the voices of those where there are less people able to shout out, but we can’t let that drown out the majority until they fall silent (or, as a consequence, gather in small groups to whisper venomously in darks corners).

So many people have worked so hard and for so long to raise the voices of the oppressed, the marginalised, to bring stories of ‘otherness’ into the mainstream. In some ways, the story tellers in London, New York and LA have been so successful at this – and told such compelling stories – we’ve forgotten to see that in celebrating our otherness, others have felt left out in the cold (particularly, it seems, white working class people).

And they have a point. Think about it. Just think about what we see on TV. Leaving aside the news media (happily leaving that aside for now), how often do you see a positive representation of a white working class man? They’re the rapists, drug dealers and serial killers in cop dramas. The bigots and bullies in any other dramatic genre. The deluded in talent contests. The deviants of reality TV.

And what of working class families? The caring Nineties (remember them?) were ushered in in the US with the #1 TV show Roseanne, where warm mid-Westerners, funny, decent folk, dealt with the pressures of low-income living and family life with spirit, community and grace (while always standing up for themselves).    

(In the UK, nearly a decade later, we got our own equivalent with The Royle Family).

Where have they gone, these people, these stories? Look at the top-rated shows in the US today: Empire, Modern Family, The Big Bang Theory, Game of Thrones; all great shows; all, in one way or another, other.

Millions of people watch these shows; millions don’t; and millions watch them with an increasing sense of unease that the others are taking over, that they’re not the cool kids any more. That no one cares about them.

And we don’t. We haven’t. I’ve racked my brains but I can’t think of a contemporary equivalent to either Roseanne or The Royle Family, of any white, working class, non-criminal narrative that pulls in an audience that truly crosses class divides.

(Interestingly, in my US ratings research, the two shows developed that you could argue have been aimed at a white, working class male population – American Grit and Strong – where both deemed turkeys).

As I’ve echoed before, we are the stories we tell. And we all need to be able to tell our stories. Sometimes we all need to pull focus, to remind ourselves, as well as everyone else, that we’re still here.

In the aftermath of Brexit and the Trump Tempest, we can now have no doubt that there are new stories we need to uncover and understand. To bridge our divides, to rewrite our scripts, to stop our fellow citizens being strangers in our midsts, we’ve got to start talking to people, with people, rather than at them; it doesn’t mean we others have to shut up (we mustn’t shut up, now more so than ever), but we must resist the temptation to shut down as well.

Many feel the duct tape enforced upon them by the liberal elite has been ripped off for them now; they’re able to scream out whatever they want. We might not want to hear it, but we’ve got to try to understand it. If we don’t, they’ll only scream louder and louder.

If we don’t, eventually, they might decide it’s time to shut us up once and for all, and that really would lead to the destruction of all of us, in all our glorious diversity.

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