What’s happening in the West?

Published: November 16, 2016
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The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets 
@ayeshaijazkhan

The writer is a London-based lawyer who tweets @ayeshaijazkhan

Living in London, I must confess, I never thought Britain would opt to leave the European Union, not until a couple of days prior to the 23 June referendum, when all the polls switched and the betting markets suddenly increased the odds of a ‘Leave’ vote, making Brexit a reality. Reading the Guardian, relying on my liberal-minded twitter feed, and interacting with our cosmopolitan friends, we didn’t realise that there was a whole other world out there. That London, with its myriad of nationalities, a Muslim mayor of Pakistani origin, public services offering linguistic assistance to persons of every racial background, wasn’t necessarily representative of the rest of the country.

In fact, a large chunk of the rest of England, was perhaps quite resentful of this diversity, disturbed by how their pristine white neighbourhoods had become unrecognisable with the influx of migrants, angered by the willingness of those migrants to work harder for less money. And so, “I want my country back” became a rallying cry for the likes of Nigel Farage, whose UK Independence Party (UKIP), a fringe on the far-right of the political spectrum that was never before taken too seriously, managed to influence a boisterous coterie of mainstream Conservative politicians, populist demagogues riding on the wave of fear that Farage had introduced to their base. Something similar, and scarier, happened in the US. Donald Trump, an outsider to politics, known previously as a real estate developer and reality TV star, defeated sixteen other candidates in the Republican primaries to become the nominee for President and essentially took over the party despite the opposition of key members of the Republican establishment.

Just as Republican stalwarts, like the Bush dynasty, had denounced Donald Trump, so in Britain too, key politicians across the right-left divide, including then Prime Minister David Cameron, had campaigned for Britain to remain in the European Union. But the voters manifested a resentment towards the established political class. And hence, Britain opted to leave the EU and “Donald Trump surfed public anger to the Presidency”, as Newsweek described it. Hillary Clinton had several disadvantages in this race, despite endorsements from nearly all major news publications (including Foreign Policy, The New York Times, USA Today, etc, the “biased media”, as Donald Trump referred to it), Hillary was viewed as the quintessential “corrupt establishment candidate”. In reality, she is probably a lot less corrupt than Donald Trump, but she had been in public office for three decades, had a husband who was a two term President, and was trying to retain the presidency for the Democrats after two terms of the incumbent, Barack Obama. She could scarcely present herself as the candidate who would “change” Washington.

‘But I am a better candidate than my opponent’ is never a winning strategy in politics, where elections are won on passion, not rationality. Throughout this election cycle, those reporting from the campaigns regularly talked about how fired up the Trump supporters were. Meanwhile, many voting for Hillary seemed to choose her only because “she was better than Trump”. Add to that the handicap of being a woman in politics. In a presidential system of government, like that in the US, the handicap is particularly acute. In the parliamentary system, as in the UK, the executive and the legislature are not elected independent of each other and thus Theresa May could replace David Cameron. The reduced focus, and scrutiny, on the executive thus makes it more conducive for women to end up in leadership roles.

But now that women and minorities of every shade and creed in America have been insulted with Donald Trump’s victory, what next? Will Trump, the President, really re-negotiate NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) or slap a 35 per cent tariff on businesses that produce goods outside of the US? Unlikely. Trump, the businessman, knows that’s a non-starter. Our world today is too global for such protectionism to work. Businesses just can’t afford to pay $15 an hour wage and remain competitive in today’s world. If those Apple iPhones aren’t made in China, but in countries like the US and UK, then they would cost many multiples of what they do today. The increased cost of production would either have to be passed on to the consumer or businesses would shutter.

It’s far easier to scapegoat immigrants and use the anxiety of the white working class and its downward economic trajectory for one’s political advantage, but not so easy to bring those jobs back from Mexico or China. Legal workers in the West are too expensive for any meaningful manufacturing jobs to be created there. For many, this grim reality means their lives will be harder than those of their parents and grandparents, who lived in a less competitive time. What happens then if Donald Trump cannot “make America great again”? Will the emboldened white nationalists, with their history of segregation and disenfranchising black voters, take their anger out on the minorities? Will nationalism and yearning for a bygone era of white entitlement play out as bigotry against blacks, Mexicans and Muslims?

Increasingly, elections in western democracies are being decided on demographics. So far, whites are in the majority, but that will not be the case for long. When Barack Obama was elected President in 2008, get used to “America, the Remix” read one oped in The New York Times, but eight years on, it looks like a cross-section of white voters never could get used to it. The electorate is extremely polarised, as reflected by the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote but lost the electoral college vote. In Britain, where the Brexit vote was also narrowly decided, the Court has ruled Brexit requires parliamentary approval. Nigel Farage vows a protest march in response.

In the long run, the demographics are on the side of the minorities, but in the short run, white supremacists are emboldened by friends in powerful positions. In such charged times, there is bound to be resistance and a fight-back. Hopefully, it will not result in violence.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2016.

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Reader Comments (11)

  • terence patrick hewett
    Nov 17, 2016 - 6:14AM

    This smug, narrow minded, parochial article full of self-entitlement goes a long way to explaining why the UK voted for Brexit. Ms Khan has not even bothered to understand the country in which she lives and quite plainly holds in such contempt. If Ms Khan went to Cardiff, Belfast, Dublin or Glasgow and spouted such pretentious rubbish her shelf life would be an extremely short one.Recommend

  • Froeign Leg
    Nov 17, 2016 - 11:08AM

    If Jinnah speaks about 2-nation theory, he becomes Quaid and when Trump speaks about it, he becomes bigot, racist, etc…It is funny to see when Pakistanis speak about multiculturalism, tolerance, inclusiveness, etc…Recommend

  • Feroz
    Nov 17, 2016 - 12:33PM

    @terence patrick hewett:
    Destroying heterogeneous diversity in Muslim countries has never been an issue, but lo and behold if any diverse secular country wants to try that experiment. Intellectuals for whom the world looks more comfortable, with one eye always closed.Recommend

  • Parvez
    Nov 17, 2016 - 1:24PM

    You have nicely explained your view point and I agree with the reasoning for the Brexit and the Trump vote. Your ending is a bit disturbing because you allude to violence being a possibility.
    If I were living in a house which belonged to my family for centuries and allowed a person who worked for me to occupy the guest room….should I not be rightfully angry if he decided to tell me how I must live my life……instead of assimilating with the rules of my house and being thankful ? Recommend

  • GKA
    Nov 17, 2016 - 1:59PM

    So the majority have decided to vote …and how dare they !Recommend

  • Rajesh
    Nov 17, 2016 - 4:06PM

    What a dirty mind behind a beautiful face?Recommend

  • vinsin
    Nov 17, 2016 - 9:17PM

    In the long run UK would be an Islamic State. Non-Muslims will show resistance and a fight-back. Hopefully, it will not result in violence. WOW! Recommend

  • hzr
    Nov 17, 2016 - 9:49PM

    The fear is demographics as you say in the article.They do not want their nations to be overrun by the power of testosterone and so are closing ranks making immigration a main point of their forthcoming elections across EuropeRecommend

  • Frank
    Nov 18, 2016 - 4:17PM

    The era of globalisation, liberalism and mass immigration is over. Get used to it. Recommend

  • mind control
    Nov 18, 2016 - 5:44PM

    Read the History of Pakistan someday.

    Or,

    Just read the Constitution of Pakistan.Recommend

  • Athiest
    Nov 18, 2016 - 8:43PM

    I laugh every time Muslims talk about secularism and multiculturalism. Last time I checked your country was formed and exists on bigotry. Recommend

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