Farewell, 2016! You Killed ‘Liberal’ for Me

As the year 2016 draws to a close, many will rush to call it an annus horribilis. From Brexit to Trump, from the migrant crisis to Aleppo, much went wrong with the world. Like the many others before it on these topics, there’s probably no point in this post. Still, I feel a need to say something out loud.

So here goes…

Any election brings with it two choices, one of which is usually superior and choosing it becomes a foregone conclusion. This was the case in 2016’s two big elections too. Brexit meant quitting the EU and the humongous trade benefits it brought. Electing Trump meant, well, a long list of un-21st century policies. And certain global mockery for electing a reality TV star to the nation’s highest office.

A satirist’s dream.

Surely people would abstain from both, you’d think. In fact, that these possibilities were being entertained felt like we’d suffered a collective abandonment of our common sense. And yet, here we are.

No matter what after-the-fact analyses reveal, people voted to get out of the European Union, fuelled by a rise of “patriotic” fervour and a general belief that the best of Britain must remain for those of Britain. That was the core appeal of the idea until it was coloured by xenophobia and racism. Or perhaps the idea itself is racist and xenophobic in a globalised, connected world. I admit I don’t quite know, but apparently neither did large swathes of British voters.

For a large number of Americans too, Trump’s blatant stand against the “other” – the Mexican, the Muslim, the almost everyone else – wasn’t apparently repulsive enough. He coated everything with the wrapper of “making America great again” and it was paint to cover up any number of his sins. From misogyny to plain idiocy, everything was okay so long as the system that “corrupt Hilary” represented could get fixed.

Humanity has a near physiological need for a common enemy to unite against. And, as like always, in 2016 they found it to be the Other. In my mind, these results weren’t shocking in themselves. For the longest time, resentment against the welfare state had been rising. Voices against immigration had been rising. Critics of Europe and the West – for taking in refugees from the Middle East – were rising. They were bound to reach crescendo some day.

Which, kind of, brings me to the core of this piece. Shit happens in life, shit happened in 2016. It is okay to rant and cry for a little while if something you want doesn’t happen for or to you, but that doesn’t mean that everything is damaged, rotten, and needs to be dismantled in its entirety. If a system is just and fair when you’re winning and rigged and outdated when you aren’t, I’d say with some certainty that it is you who is flawed, not so much the system itself.

Immediately after the results of the US elections were out, op-eds were published by the dozens attacking the flawed American election process. Certainly the process was flawed before the election itself and didn’t manage to get twisted while the American public voted. It was flawed when the DNC colluded to ensure that Senator Sanders lost out on the Democratic nomination. But calls for reform weren’t quit heard then.

Donald Trump had declared that if the results weren’t in his favour, he’d refuse to accept the mandate. He was roundly, and justly, admonished for this. But come results and angry Hillary supporters were demanding exactly this! Dr. Jill Stein and her campaign pushed for a recount. And all of this was applauded by a distinct section of the society.

The public intellectual. The published media. The liberal.

Over the years, and especially before and after the Brexit and US votes, the almost compulsive need felt by them to criticise anyone who went against their agenda alienated large chunks of the populace in countries that are fairly liberal. In fact, I’d say countries (and peoples) that are fairly spoilt, for they enjoy freedoms brought upon by economic muscle and political stability that the rest of the world doesn’t know of.

Seriously, who wouldn’t be hurt if they were labelled all sorts of things just because they had a different perspective? If you don’t believe in gay rights, you’re deluded. If you don’t believe in safe spaces, you’re a monster. If you don’t support migrants, you’re inhuman. And, by Jove, dare you be white (or worse, white and a man) you’re the devil incarnate. If you don’t think like we do, you’re not welcome at the dining table of the civilised. For we are the gatekeepers, and we decide what conversations are okay.

Before we proceed, let me clarify that I believe in gay rights, I am all for a woman’s right to decide if she wishes to give birth, and neither support nor understand the opposition to human beings who love differently or look different. But, hey, if someone doesn’t, I understand that as well. I can reason with the person, I can attempt to inform him of my POV and get him to change his. I mustn’t, and won’t, bully him! Wasn’t this the idea of freedom of speech in the first place?

The irony is that those who practice this sort of intellectual funneling are those who otherwise preach the values of diversity, the need to understand and appreciate differences. And what all-knowing, all-understanding, infallible gods are we? How is it that vast swarms of people know – *for certain* – the irreparable damage these votes are going to cause? Is there no room in our midst for doubt? Or, which is worse, for seeing out the consequence of our choices?

Cliché as saying this is, it shows just how devoted to the idea of instant gratification social media and technology have made us. Everything must happen, be understood, and given a verdict upon in real time. Let’s not, you know, actually wait and watch. Anything. And this usually ends up as dung on us – for all the talk of economic meltdown,the FTSE actually ended 2016 at its highest ever level. Surely that must mean something!

Moreover, the doom and gloom on social media makes me wonder how we got to this situation in the first place. Everyone and their first cousin knew how bad leaving the European Union or electing Donald J. Trump was going to be. So then how did this vote come to pass?

Infographics floating around tell me that the old voted to leave, for a future the young don’t want. Well, what stopped the young from voting? We’re not shown voting turnout by age – let’s look at that. Ranting online (as you can see) is easy. Thankfully, actions here don’t still mean squat in the real world. You didn’t have a couple of days to set these votes up, you had weeks and months to deliver your message. You squarely failed!

So please, tone down your arrogance a notch. Don’t decry that “those” people who voted Leave or Trump don’t know this, don’t know that. Or that (my favourite bit) the rise of fascism in the West is nigh, after we saw it rise in India in 2014. There were real people who voted, who had real concerns and fears that weren’t being addressed sufficiently by your highness’ calling them bigots and xenophobes or something or the other at the dropping of every single hat.

Speaking of India, haven’t we seen the entire thing play out since May, 2014? From the infamous church attack and intolerance narratives of yore to the current woes of demonetisation – lies and misinformation have been circulated unashamedly. All ills are linked back to the ruling Right because it dares to think differently than the supposed intelligentsia.

I sincerely want that in 2017, we move to a space where all ideas are treated with the same level of healthy disrespect. I don’t want niceties, but rampant questioning and introspection of what and how we think. Let people share their views, let other people oppose them. Let liberals and conservatives have the dais to share their thoughts. But as much as these ideas and beliefs are questioned, let neither stoop to the level of demeaning people, of spreading hate against living breathing beings. Being liberal once meant that you were open-minded. It doesn’t anymore to me (and I suspect to many thousands), but I sure hope it does again. The title represents a loftier goal for humanity – of having risen above dogma – therefore the responsibility to claim it and wear it must also be heavier. Let’s hope that people live up to it!

In ending this piece, and 2016, on a positive note, I urge you watch ‘Dangal’. The performances are stunning, but watch the film at a theatre. You will experience a people used to men being athletes and playing cricket get immersed and involved with a woman wrestling. And winning with her, jubilant with her. Proud of her.

Have a bountiful 2017, people!

 


Your thoughts, your criticism, your feedback – all are very welcome. They help me know if what I’ve written resonates with you.

Please consider leaving a comment below and telling me how this piece made you feel.

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