Them and us in world politics: bring prejudice out from the dark

By James Lindsay

The recent success of the AfD in the German election, resulting in the party’s first ever entry into the Bundestag, further intensifies the need for a dramatic change in western politics. In the same way, Trump was rewarded for voicing the concerns of millions of Americans, the AfD were the only party to properly engage with the immigration problem and the only party to dare to suggest the ‘inevitable’ progression of liberalism and globalisation may be flawed.

The tension in western politics hinges on an artificial divide between right and wrong, sexist and feminist, nationalistic and outward-looking, left-wing and right-wing. This explains the return to a two-party system in the UK at the last election, but it also exacerbates an already pervasive ‘them and us’ narrative that presupposes binary emotional responses to social and political questions. Individuals are portrayed to be either progressive and pro-immigration or isolationist and racist. This insults the complexity of human consciousness.

It is time politicians recognised and accepted prejudice. People are racist, sexist or ageist to lesser or greater extents, and this depends largely on factors which are outside our control – where we are raised and educated and the people we come into contact with on a daily basis or travel. Those so-called ‘liberal metropolitan elites’ who champion immigration and globalisation don’t actually witness where globalisation has failed because most of them live in and around London, where integration has largely worked.

The big problem in the Brexit referendum was the divide it created. Remainers’ persistent connection of the Leave vote to anti-immigration verging on racism pushed Leavers into the shadows and served to de-legitimise fear of globalism and immigration. This only strengthened the Leave campaign and alienated Remainers through the campaign built on negativity and doom.

Blindly condemning the large group of people who voted to reduce immigration is narrow-sighted. It denies point of view by suggesting that everything can be explained by objective principles, such as ‘immigration is always good’ and ‘globalisation can only succeed’. Instead, there should be recognition that no topic has binary answers – many voters in the Brexit referendum, whichever way they voted, did so dispassionately – and so politicians should move away from debate dominated by clear-cut opposition groups.

Politicians should be more forthcoming and honest in admitting their own worries and uncertainties. If everyone was more nuanced about their attitude towards political questions such as immigration or Brexit, it would not only be a far more realistic representation of beliefs and opinions. It would also help individuals find further points of agreement and move the debate away from the damaging ‘us and them’ narrative.

Image: Johnny Silvercloud via Flickr

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