The US is building to a presidential election in November. It has been impossible to miss the inexplicable rise of Trump to the top of the Republican pile, nor to ignore the contest between the left and centre of the Democratic party personified in Clinton and Sanders. The nominations seems set, but nothing is in stone until the party conventions, and the war of words continues as the candidates seek to woo voters and discredit their opposition.
The UK is building to a referendum on its relationship with the European Union. Voters are being asked to decide if the UK should be ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the EU. Both the Leave and Remain campaigns are chiefly focused on fear and greed. Both accuse the other of misusing facts or telling outright lies. There is little or no clear information from either campaign, and the national media isn’t helping with its daily interviews of another Joe (or Jane) on the Street who clearly has a strong opinion and very little information to back it up.
Naturally, I am hearing more about the later campaign at the moment than the former, but I admit to being deeply disturbed by the rhetoric I am hearing from both sides of both campaigns. The Leave campaign is railing about taking back our nation’s sovereignty. Trump is announcing that he will “make America great again” while Clinton insists it still is and always has been great. The Remain campaign harps on incessantly about being “better in Europe” by which they mean stability and jobs, or, essentially, more money. The emphasis seems to be, almost exclusively, on nationalism, our own best interest, being ‘great’ (again?), whether a given decision will be better for my nation, my region, my pocketbook. It’s all me, me, me and mine, mine, mine and what can make my life better or my country more sovereign and protect me from the influence, influx and needs of those other people outside my nation’s borders.
It is hard to resist comparisons to the nationalistic attitudes that contributed to the two massive wars in Europe in the last century. The propaganda of almost every campaign seems to focus on objectifying (and so dehumanising) those who aren’t part of my nation. It’s the best interest of me and mine and the rest of the world can go hang if they aren’t going to contribute coins to my coffers or obey my country’s rules. Such language and ideas smack of hatred, sectarianism and bigotry.
In all the debates about the EU, I have longed to hear someone to explain how the UK’s decision could effect Europe and the rest of the world. Not just how it would effect the UK. Is it not more humane (not to mention more Christian) to consider whether the whole of Europe or the whole of the world would be better with the UK in or out of the EU? Should we not be asking what that decision would do to other countries as well as the UK itself?
And the Presidential campaign, as Trump pontificates about building walls and banning Muslims and Clinton plays on the historically novelty of a woman being so close to the White House, what about the world outside US borders? Surely it would be better, as Commander-in-Chief, to consider how best to use the considerable power and influence of the USA to make the world a better place. Surely the population of this rich and powerful nation would benefit from learning humility, practicing peace, and seeking to give out of its riches to help those less fortunate in the world.
If one thing is clear at this point in history it is that international relationships and international goodwill are more important than ever as enormous populations of refugees and migrants are on the move. Right now they flee war, bombs, poverty, but what will happen when the changing climate forces populations to flee rising seas or spreading deserts? The decisions these two powerful and influential nations make now will have a powerful impact on the rest of the world for years to come, and yet the rhetoric is all about me, and us, and my/our own nation.
The image of a miser gathering all his (or her) belongings close, brooding over them and snapping at anyone who comes near is applicable in both cases. The heartless selfishness of such rhetoric and politics bodes ill for the future of the world.
Why are we talking about building walls and not tables? Why are we seeking to close our borders not open them? How can we change this destructive rhetoric and learn to dismiss this erroneous idea of static national identity and sovereignty? We must learn to look past ourselves and past our own borders to see the naked human need in the world and practice basic respect for humanity – regardless of creed, colour or place of birth.