Making sense of the similarities and differences of Anglo-American politics
By Tom Williams
I feel that as a Millennial, trying to find your own opinions in politics is less possible than ever. My Facebook feed is full of propaganda, more than you’ll find in any newspaper, usually in favour of the opposition Labour party of the UK. It’s all put there by friends, people I know and trust, people who just want to be good people and do what’s right. Yet, a crucial problem, I think, is that because of their age they are more tempted to ask, “What will the government do to provide for me and everyone I care about?” rather than “what does the government need to do for the country?” A good example of this was the Labour party’s unfeasible promise to scrap university tuition fees during the last general election.
This slightly selfish rise in idealistic left-wing politics is just one of the similarities I have noticed between the politics of the UK and the USA during my brief stay – many of the criticisms aimed at the Labour party would have been familiar to Bernie Sanders. While both UK and US are under conservative authority, during my visit to the US, I am slowly understanding that both countries have different definitions of acceptable conservatism. As a result, I am starting to question many previously-held beliefs. The problem for me as a Millennial is that my Left-leaning friends always feel that they have the moral high-ground, and so cannot help but dismiss my arguments immediately. It’s not their fault – they have been taught by socialist teachers that the Left is the side of empathy and benevolence; they only want to do the right thing. It’s not their fault, but it’s also frustrating.
A fine example of this moral bias in an argument is gun control. When I first visited this country, I could not believe that the government’s policy was not “guns are obviously dangerous, therefore you can’t have them.” After all, this is the level of control and influence I’ve come to expect back home – it’s sold to us as being the morally right thing to do. It seemed utterly absurd to me that the US did not take a similar stance, particularly given the difficulty one has merely entering the US in the first place.
Having been in this country for an extended period of time, however, I’m now not so sure if the government has the right to interfere to the extent it does back home, all in the name of safety. Millennials will immediately jump at my throat: “So you’re saying you think it’s okay for children to own guns? What about school shootings?” Of course I don’t; I’m not an idiot. Yet, perhaps the state doesn’t have the right to interfere in the private lives of its citizens as much as it wants. The United States government outlawing gun ownership for the sake of safety would only be a few short steps from a worrying promise made in the recent manifesto of the UK Conservative government during the last general election, proposing all internet accessibility and content be controlled by the government in order to combat the threat of terrorism. Sacrificing one’s personal power for the sake of safety is commonly said to be the most visible path to autocratic government.
This trend of governments demanding the surrender of privacy goes hand-in-hand with demands for nationalism and security. Both governments use militaristic rhetoric – the UK is “besieged” by terrorism; the US is being “choked” by drug crime. It’s the autocratic language of fear, and with every terror attack on London or Paris, white Europeans retaliate against the innocent – mosques are burned, hit-and-run attacks are carried out, hijabs are forcibly removed. In the US, Black and Mexican people are subjected to police brutality in a “war on drugs.”
What never made sense to me was that it’s perfectly obvious that these people suffer from the problems we believe them to cause; Hispanics and Black people suffer from gang warfare and drug cultures much more than white Americans do, and Muslim people are slaughtered in droves by ISIS in the Middle East.
While it may appear we are in the midst of active popular racism, the reality is something far more subversive: a quiet underlying willingness to accept scapegoats. In times of relative socio-economic prosperity for one demographic, there occurs a subconscious unwillingness to see people of another demographic (of a specific race or religion, for example) achieve the same success.
“XYZ are coming over here and taking our jobs.” Sound familiar? This is not born of an active hatred but a jealous resentment and fear of being overtaken. Most of the time these feelings are expressed in unacceptable racist acts, but it’s all-too convenient to simply label people as racist and not ask why.