Recent political events have provided those of us of a progressive bent with a plethora of easily identifiable hate figures towards whom we can direct our anger. The Brexit vote, which is almost certain to make the futures of millions of Britons poorer in both material and experiential terms, came about largely because of the consummate self-assurance of one man, ex-Prime Minister David Cameron, who will be protected from any adverse consequences of Brexit by virtue of his immense personal wealth. President-elect Donald Trump, meanwhile, has the kind of parodically obnoxious personality that it feels cathartic to detest. Finally, lurking behind the scenes of both the British and American political cataclysms, and proprietor of both the Brexit-seeking Sun newspaper and the Trump-cheerleading Fox News network, is lizard-man hybrid Rupert Murdoch, the sinister plutocrat sure to be malevolently pulling the strings behind each ‘populist revolt’ of aggrieved millionaires.
While anger at these people such as these is certainly justified, I worry that if we direct too much of our emotion at individuals then we risk allowing the systems and power structures that put them where they are to get off scot-free. For all that Cameron, Trump and Murdoch are indeed individual agents whose influence has had malign impacts on our societies, what is more consequential is that they are also symptoms of the broken and illogical manner in which our societies are run, particularly with regards to the distribution of wealth and power.
First of all, Cameron. Yes, narrow political calculation and a “fatal insouciance” caused him to recklessly gamble with the future of millions in a referendum he didn’t really believe was either necessary or provident, but… it is important to remember that future historians will do much of the work for us in ensuring his time as Prime Minister is remembered in little other than scathing terms. Indeed, listening to his unconvincing analysis of his fate as being the victim of “movement of unhappiness”, it is possible to feel one’s anger morphing into something resembling sympathy. Really, though, the most pertinent issue here is the fact that Cameron was ever in the position to do such damage in the first place. British society is warped by vast social inequality, and by the disfiguring effect of immense unshared privilege. Cameron, in his ascent to the office of Prime Minister, embodied these ills. Though on a general level Cameron is generally regarded as warm and empathetic, these character traits were accompanied by a politics of astonishing callousness regarding the plights of society’s most vulnerable people, who have suffered greatly as a result of the policies his government implemented. It is hard not to conclude this apparent contradiction between Cameron’s personal and political impulses can only have come about as a result of an upbringing spent insulated from the kind of social and economic hardships which are glaringly visible to most of his fellow citizens. The correct target for our anger in this case, then, is not Cameron the person but rather Britain’s deeply entrenched class system and social inequalities. The end we ought to be fighting for is one which will benefit all of us: a fairer society with a political system which truly empowers and works for all people in all their diversity, and not one which arbitrarily bestows still greater authority upon those in whose favour the odds are already stacked.
Now, unlike Cameron, Donald Trump is a genuinely repugnant human being on a personal as well as a political level. This makes it even more tempting to direct our anger at the individual rather than the structure. However, it is no less important that we try not to succumb entirely to this instinct. For, as objectionable as Trump is, he is in fact the walking, talking embodiment of many of the ills blighting American society. Trump is a self-confessed perpetrator of sexual assault, a bully and a thin-skinned narcissist, as one glance at his Twitter profile testifies. The fact that throughout his life these traits have been accommodated and rewarded speaks everything to the vast privileges and allowances enjoyed in American society by the tiny minority lucky enough to be born into such an advantageous position as Trump. If he had been born non-white and poor he would probably be in jail, while societal expectations would simply not permit a woman with patterns of behaviour even slightly resembling Trump’s to thrive as he has. Even if Trump was a white man of just average wealth, it is far easier to imagine him as a derided loudmouth at the end of a bar, tolerated perhaps by a small group of mocking friends, than it is to imagine him ascending to any position of great authority. Trump’s election thus ought to fill us with anger at the system that facilitated his success as much as it makes us hateful towards him. What is necessary here is a radical redistribution of power and resources in American society, both of which are presently dominated by the farcically well-off top ‘1%’ embodied by Trump. In a more just society, with properly functioning judicial, political and economic institutions, Trump’s rise would have been inconceivable.
Finally, Rupert Murdoch. To me, Murdoch looks at first glance like something approaching a pantomime villain, with his pernicious influence extending across the Western world with the predictable effect of making populations more divided, more helpless and ultimately easier for the economic super-elite he represents to govern. Yet in reality the media mogul is not some charismatic arch-baddie holding sole responsibility for the endemic alienation and anger present in our societies. Once more, he is as much a symptom as a cause of the relevant disease, and the cure we need will be found not only by seeking to diminish his influence by, say, boycotting his newspapers or TV channels, but more importantly by working to end the present state of affairs in which a handful of corporate interests are able to have such a decisive say in the form and inclination of media institutions. Indeed, on a personal level it seems to me that Murdoch is not somebody who it is particularly worth hating. His social media presence reveals a not particularly noteworthy or inventive intellect gamely attempting to interpret current events through the lens of his deeply conservative world-view (sample tweet here), while his appearance at the Leveson Inquiry made clear how lacking in moral authority both he and his conglomerations are. If we support the creation and work of media institutions which are committed to enriching public knowledge rather than serving narrow corporate interests, we may come to live in a society in which Murdoch and his ilk are simply unable to have much influence on public opinion, no matter how much money they plough into doing so. That truly is an end worth directing our energies towards.
The game is rigged, which is why players like Cameron, Trump and Murdoch have been able to wield such influence. By working to address the systemic ills responsible for placing them in places of such authority, we can build societies in which ordinary people, empowered and hopeful, can collectively make the decisions which determine all of our lives. So many of the structures which govern our lives are dysfunctional and perpetuate arbitrary injustices. But luckily, as history has shown time and time again, collective political action possesses an unparalleled potential to change the world for the better.