Heed the anger of the rebels among us, Hong Kong
Alice Wu says as painful as it is, the election of Donald Trump to the White House must spur all who are seeing the rise of an anti-establishment movement in their own society to start engaging
I implore all who have been seized by an attack of schadenfreude, having witnessed what transpired on November 8 in the US, to rein in the gloating. The pleasure of seeing other people’s misfortune will fade very quickly, particularly in this case. The president of the world’s sole superpower can make life hell for people living outside America, too. It’s not just ethnic minorities, Muslims, and gays and lesbians in America who need to watch their backs.
Hatred and anger make a very dangerous combination. And America is not the only place suffering from that. It would be a grave mistake, especially for other world leaders, not to take this opportunity to look inward. There, on their own soil, they will find the very same angry and hateful people – their fellow citizens. You can’t shut them up or suppress them. If there is one thing humanity can learn from this, it’s this: you can’t even ignore them.
That is essentially what happened in the land of the free. A huge portion of the people of that vast and diverse country feel neglected and ignored by the political establishment. Whether they rightfully feel so doesn’t matter. They fought back the only way they feel they can: they rejected everything – including reason, basic human decency and respect, progress and enlightenment – seen to be a part or a product of the political elite. It’s change they crave. And, more specifically, they want change in the political focal point.
Electing Donald Trump may not actually help these people find the change – or attention – they crave. But that is not the point. The lesson to take home here is that Trump became the 45th US president not because he “tells it like it is”. He did it by saying what his voters wanted to hear, and by being one of them.
Yes, Trump is guilty of exploiting racial and religious tensions, and he ascended to power by exploiting them. His win – a win endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan, a win made possible by supporters like the woman who proudly made and wore a “Trump can grab my [arrow pointing downwards]” T-shirt after the Billy Bush and Trump recording was made public – is difficult to accept for a lot of people. It is painful because it is a win for “the wall”, and the slur calling Mexicans rapists. It is a win for the plainly wrong belief – despite clear evidence to the contrary – that the current president was somehow not born in the United States. Trump’s win is, in part, a victory for what CNN commentator and attorney Van Jones called “a white-lash against a black president”. And, yes, it is a win for the misogynists.
Yet, to Trump supporters, his win is sweet revenge. They rage against a culture of political correctness that stifles them. There is nothing in this that one should feel smug about. It is ugly and also very human. Laugh not at how easily and quickly human beings can regress. Indeed, do not take human progress for granted. When people feel left out of that progress, their anguish can take the world back decades.
The American protest vote is a rude wake-up call for the world. Humility is in order now for all who feel shocked by it. Those who have been accused of elitist arrogance need to at least try to see things from their accusers’ point of view – as deplorable, painful, dumb, heart-wrenching, crazy, counter-intuitive, sacrilegious, outrageous and wrong as it feels to do so. We are seeing the fruit of years of disengagement, of basically cutting people out of the political conversation, of belittling people’s problems, grievances and struggles, and of sweeping people’s despair under the carpet.
We cannot just say “that’s unreasonable/stupid/absurd” and then hit the “block” button. When we hit that button one too many times, there’s all hell to pay. It is infinitely harder to engage, but that is exactly what needs to be done. Instead of hiding our heads in the ground, those conversations – however uncomfortable they may be – need to occur.
We must resist the urge to chalk up Trump’s election as a “failure of US democracy”. It is a failure of those in power – the establishment, the system – to adequately address the challenges of their people, and engage them. People outside the US need look no further than our own backyards to see that we, too, are faced with growing anger and frustration in society. The rest of the world, too, has written off (and some, suppressed) the “disagreeable” and the “inconvenient” sectors of their society. All “establishments” have to deal with this.
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This includes the ones in Hong Kong and in Beijing. We should not believe that the interpretation of Article 104 of the city’s Basic Law has effectively taken care of the pro-independence “problem”. There are many here who are more than ready to take advantage of the situation and exploit social conflicts. The US president-elect should serve as a sober reminder to us of the urgent need for those in power to engage those who feel disenfranchised, and to address the issues they raised.
Remember, there are people who care little for the need for decency and respect, let alone political correctness to please “authority”. The fury of people who perceive themselves to be struggling outsiders is fuelled by defeat and failure.
We would be foolish to believe that Trump’s election means that people prefer “strongman” rule. It’s the appeal of the outsider, the rocker of the boat, the outrageous, the enticing taste of sweet revenge that are more compelling.
Alice Wu is a political consultant and a former associate director of the Asia Pacific Media Network at UCLA