Reflections on November 2016

jack laytonby Jack Layton

President-elect Donald J Trump. It’s been quite the month.

Looking back on history, there is a comforting gap of temporal difference where we can safely wonder ‘how could this have happened?’. That comfort has been stripped away. But the question remains, ‘how could this have happened?’.

It’s a question that’s been reverberating around my particular echo chamber all month. It’s been answered in tweets, facebook posts, infographics, medium pieces, blog posts, podcasts, and long form journalism. Each person bringing their expertise to the problem. Each person bringing their particular set of analytical tools to dissect the events and reveal the crux of the problem.

I’ve seen the election cleaved along lines of gender and race. Sliced with Marxism into class and the crises of capitalism. Cut up and rearranged as a rural urban problematic. Slashed open revealing the life blood of social media and fake news. Diced into a dilemma of deliberative democracy. And dismantled into a set of dysfunctional electoral systems.

This has been the best of this election.

My echo chamber has been alive with debate, discussion, and analysis. Theoretical tools sharpened in a myriad of disciplines have been trained on the flood of new data points this election generated. Testing old theories. Generating new ones. Altering existing understandings. This is a vital dynamic in the democratic process.

The concern is that these analyses become siloed off and are not in conversation with each other. Or that the less intuitive analyses become sidelined for those that make narrative sense. Substituted for those that can be discussed in 2 and a half minutes on the sofa with Andrew Marr.

The concern is that these analyses are actually blunter than we think; not actually up to the task of stopping this from happening. The question ‘how could this have happened?’ may be the wrong one. At this rate, we will know precisely how it happened, but will fail to answer ‘how do we stop this from happening?’.

A friend suggested that perhaps we need less sociology and more pragmatic activism. I think they’re on to something.

The flip side to the abundance of analysis the election produced, is the abundance of analysis that didn’t get produced. Here I’d like to take a moments pause to mourn the long form pieces that we didn’t get to see.

The 10,000 word New Yorker article on Hillary Clinton’s career. The 30 minute read from the Washington Post on Barack Obama’s legacy and the passing of the baton. The Buzzfeed article on the bizarre online troll community that tripped up the Republican campaign by alienating too many voters. I want to read the piece on the social history of women in politics, from the suffragettes, through prominent first ladies, to the first Madam President. The 5,000 word Huffington Post article on the successes of the late-night comedians and YouTube clips.

I am sure these articles were planned, some even half-written.

These are the stories that are now lost to an alternative history. Yet, they are still relevant. At the time of writing, Hillary Clinton’s popular vote lead is over 2 million. There is a majority of people that voted in America that wanted to see the first woman president. How different would it have felt to wake up to that America on Wednesday 9th November?

The election was close. But Donald Trump won absolutely. He won the House, and Senate, and will get to name at least one Supreme Court Justice. Meanwhile it pays for the news media to play up to the polarisation; the ascendancy of a very particular form of white nativism, and the failure of progressive politics. The election was close.

Part of the process of normalising Trump is the implicit work that suggests his ascendancy was inevitable. It wasn’t. The America that elected their first woman president is still there. So too is the America that elected Donald Trump. Holding these two ideas in close proximity is important. Telling stories that accommodate contingency is important. Encouraging the government to behave in a way that acknowledges this is crucial.

Last month I wrote here about the closure of the nightclub Fabric. In it I suggested that the venue may just be iconic enough to be saved. On 21st November 2016 Fabric and Islington Borough Council released a joint statement announcing that Fabric would re-open, as long as new, tougher, drug restrictions were in place.

This is great news and helps to preserve the diversity of people and activities that can be accommodated in the city. However, it is necessary to underscore the point I made in the previous piece, that part of the reason this story gained traction was because it was a well known venue that could capture a global audience. Not all venues and pieces of social infrastructure in the city are so fortunate.

An image that was circulating this summer, created by Barry Ashworth, listed 26 clubs (including Fabric) that had already been closed. This list, bar Fabric, remains unchanged. The opportunities for social activity in the city are being narrowed and placed under increasing pressure.

The challenge is to get better at attending to the more everyday venues for social life that are at risk. Get better at understanding the ways in which these places can be saved. Get better at celebrating the diverse opportunities to create communities of shared interest in a city like London – because communities can become publics that will defend their social infrastructure.

This month I struggled to focus on a single topic, and did not want to badly re-hash a better written piece of analysis on the election. In the vein of the pragmatic activism I mentioned above, here’s a link to a great piece in The Guardian that listed seven things that everybody can do in the new political landscape we now find ourselves.

TL;DR summary:
Donate to Planned Parenthood
Join the American Civil Liberties Union
Support campaign groups
Join a protest
Pay for news
Fight climate change
Start at home

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