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Scarlett Sherriff assesses how the US election result effects Bristol students.

To the vast majority of Bristol students, the US election result will be a horrific, shameful representation of the dark side of populist politics. It is deplorable that a man who used such language as “grab ‘em by the pussy” could now be one of the world’s most powerful men, (if not the most powerful man).

For us university-attending millennials his racism and xenophobia are despicable, and it’s incomprehensible that a man in such a high position should have such attitudes. Banning Muslims, describing Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers, to us is vile hate speech. It’s difficult to understand how this man has come to be so popular; defying the pollsters who were near certain that it would be a victory for Clinton.

Both Trump and Clinton were far more concerned with rhetoric, personality and appearance, than concrete ideas for governance.

The whole campaign was a shambles. It seemed more like a reality t-v show than an election of historical importance, with glossy ads and personal insults being thrown around, each candidate trying to bring the other down. The televised debates were argumentative and filled with false accusations, yet nothing constructive seemed to be proposed. Both Trump and Clinton were far more concerned with rhetoric, personality and appearance, than concrete ideas for governance.

Ultimately, it’s not surprising that, given the nature of the campaign, the winner was a former Apprentice judge.

 

Trump appealed to the forgotten middle ground. Your white, blue colour worker, from an industrial area. He appealed to the people who most despise the Ivy-League educated,  middle class and entitled establishment. People in long-forgotten areas where they live in increasing economic uncertainty, where very few, if any, have been to college.

He appealed to this large group of voters far more than Clinton, who received a Harvard-education and started as a lawyer following a well-paved route into a free-trade loving, globalising elite. We, liberal-leaning students were shocked when suddenly the cards turned and Trump was gaining a lead, but frankly it wasn’t all that surprising.

Populist nationalism appeals to those who are bored with theory and points of law

It’s clear that amongst a great proportion of society there is an anti-education sentiment. People who don’t have access to the opportunities that are readily available to the upper echelons of society, and who on top of this are stuck with the death of industry, insecure work and government-enforced changes to the world they know and understand are of course hostile to the ‘educated’ elites.

It hurts to say it, but both the US election and Brexit were symptomatic of this attitude, and highlighted an anti-intellectual feeling. Populist nationalism appeals to those who are bored with theory and points of law, who just want to see drastic change, and sneer at what they view as the useless, impractical government, media and civic institutions.

Analysts, journalists, politicians and pundits were unsuspecting and horrified. Yet, it takes only a moment of rational thought to see that at least one of the keys to avoiding a repeat of such hostile voting against historic national structures, is through education. It doesn’t surprise me that Trump’s voters aren’t likely to have been to college, just like lots of Brexiteers haven’t been to university.

In 2015 the US scored more than halfway down the list in the standardised PISA maths test, in the UK we don’t fair much better in terms of education- it’s notable that some 70% of students at Bristol were privately educated. This means that the life-long gift of critical thought and cultural capital are not available to a large chunk of society. Tuition fees don’t help. Neither does a culture in which kids are taught to idealise Kardashian-esque cheap fame over the hard work and analytic mind required for a job in say the media or law.

We should forget mark schemes, and focus more on widening the horizons of young people.

Middle class parents will make sure their kids know what ‘jurisprudence’ is and what ‘political theory’ is, but this type of education must be made more widely available so that all may have the vital knowledge to participate in democracy in a considered, informed way. So that they have the tools with which to cuttingly question the actions of their government. We should forget mark schemes, and focus more on widening the horizons of young people.

Maybe it’s not politically correct to say this, but I am sure if university was more accessible. Say we focused less on grades, and interviewed all students, giving those with the most potential and interest a shot, rather than reserving spaces for those already well-versed in their subject-maybe education and the establishment would seem less exclusive. Perhaps if politicians dropped the jargon and communicated their policies in a way that was inclusive of all, not just a set few- we wouldn’t see this flocking to a populist, nationalist leader who mocks vital institutions.

As members of the so-called ‘educated classes’, it’s high time we open our eyes to our small-mindedness, stop focusing on our own selfish goals and career paths and open up our tight-knit structured worlds to the excluded. Less nit-picking on Marxist theory, less pondering the merits of John Stuart Mill’s every word, more genuine activism for those at the food bank, in language they understand, perhaps.


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