By Dr. Selwyn R. Cudjoe
November 13, 2016
I was in London with some friends when the Brexit vote came down. We had gathered to celebrate the victory of “Remain” whose success, we thought, was inevitable. Around midnight, it looked as though “Remain” would be victorious. By one in the morning, things began to change. The “Leavers” had won. We were stunned. As academic and professional people from high-class institutions, we could not believe what was happening. Something must be malfunctioning in the makeup of those not-so-bright people.
In 1875, Henry Durant opened Wellesley College to educate women. In 2016, Hillary Rodham Clinton, one of its graduates, was running for the presidency of the United States. She was the first woman to do so. Imagine the joy and anticipation Wellesley’s students, staff, and faculty felt at the possibility of producing the first female president of the United States.
Over three thousand students, faculty, staff, and alumna gathered at the college, confident that we would have done what no other university in the country had done: produce the first woman president of the United States. I went to the Field House where about 1,500 students, faculty, and alumna had gathered.
Just as we did in London, we waited expectantly to hear the inevitable. At 1:30 a.m. we were hoping the battleground states would turn in our (the Democrats and Wellesley’s) favor. It didn’t happen. By the dawn of the early morning’s light, our hearts would be broken. I went home to sleep. Later that morning, the unfathomable was confirmed: Donald Trump will be the next president of the United States.
On Wednesday, my daughter wrote me from Texas. “Daddy,” she said, “I am angry.”
I responded: “My Love. I have just heard Hillary’s concession speech. It is really a sad occasion, but we must cheer up and live to fight another day. Don’t give up. You must resolve to continue your work and that will be your salvation.”
She thanked me for my support and added: “It was so hard to tell the results to your grandsons when they woke up today. America chose a racist, sexist demagogue.”
She was correct in her evaluation. She did not realize that over the past thirty years, America has been manufacturing that type because the major parties have failed to heed the cries of the poor folks who dwelt at the bottom of the social and economic ladder. The same was true of Britain and the triumph of the “Leavers.”
On Thursday, the New York Times recommended Arlie Russell Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land as a way to understand Tuesday’s results. It said: “She takes seriously the Tea Partiers’ complaints that they have become the ‘strangers’ of the title-triply marginalized by flat or falling wages, rapid demographic change, and liberal culture that mocks their faith and patriotism.”
William H. Frey of the Brookings Institution and David Cohen of Akron University captured the mood of these people well. Frey said that this was “a huge blowback among older Americans, an older demographic that is responding to change that they are not comfortable with.” Professor Cohen added: “What you saw is the revenge of the angry white, working-class voter but this will be the last gasp of the angry white male” [Financial Times, November 10).
This feeling of marginalization drives poor folks outside the large metropolises of London and New York to resent the elites of those cities. They are angry. After they elect their representatives to positions of authority they suddenly forget them and concentrate their attention on the needs of the rich and powerful in society.
Nothing personifies this behavior more than Colm Imbert’s rant about the workers (March if yo’ want), the insults of Stuart Young and Faris Al-Wari against the members of the Opposition during the FATCA debate, the monies Imbert’s wife received, and the $148m contract that was awarded to Emile Elias.
No one sees any conflict of interest in these transactions, the disdain shown to their constituents, and/or the contempt shown to the poor. They seem to say: We are in power now. We can do what we want and, as Imbert says, “There have been no riots yet!”
In three years, they will shout: “We red and we ready,” but will the people at the bottom of the economic ladder be ready to support those who have ignored them for four years?
People are not stupid. You can ignore them for a time but when they rise up their vengeance is swift.
A friend said to me: “The US election was about the uneducated doing a French revolution type turn around.”
I hope PNM leadership is listening to what’s happening around the world. Take the people for granted and you pay the ultimate price. This is one of the lessons of Brexit and Donald Trump’s election.