Over the next few days, weeks, months and years there will be a conversation covering one very important question. Depending on the answer that people come to accept, the belief formed will have far reaching implications.
That question is: “is liberalism no longer a viable political ideology in a democracy?”
Many people will tell you that Brexit and Trump became a reality because liberals ignored the interests and views of the “white working class”. This explanation is attractive because it is simple. But simple explanations are dangerous, especially when we consider what some of those interests and views are.
The reality is that in some sense, the “silent majority” who voted to put Trump in the White House and the Republicans in the Congress and Senate must have, at some level, believed that you could do anything you wanted to a woman if you had power and money. They must have at some level believed that the country you were born in determined whether you were a rapist, a criminal or ‘perhaps a good person’. They must have at some level believed that your faith and the community that you grew up in is a reason to prevent you from interacting with some subset of 300 million people in the world, despite the fact that such a subset might want to include you.
We can say that Trump voters had these beliefs because it would take an astounding level of self deception to not hold those beliefs and still vote the way they did. Perhaps how they reached those beliefs involves a degree of moral blameworthiness. Perhaps it involves a degree of socialisation.
Regardless of the source, the question for liberals now is whether those beliefs, views and interests should be catered to for the sake of electability. Be very weary of this.
In a representative democracy elected representatives are not just a mouthpiece for the majority states, or the majority of electorates or the majority of people. They are also there to act on moral principle. We elect representatives because we trust them to make the hard decisions for all of us on our behalf.
One only needs to look to Australia to find out what happens when this principled outlook is lost. Our own politicians figured out that they could make themselves more electable by accommodating racist and xenophobic beliefs. But they quickly found out that racism and xenophobia begets more racism and xenophobia. Australia now runs one the most, if not the most, cruel and inhumane offshore detention schemes with a large degree of bipartisan and public support. And it was only last week that we heard it was to become more cruel. Real people are suffering and even killing themselves as a result.
If you find that liberals are unelectable because because of a racist, xenophobic and sexist silent majority, change the silent majority. We could all (myself included) do a much better job to call out intolerance when we see it.
Silently accepting it is so much worse.