As it turns out, it’s not difficult to think of a subject for a blog in a week that sees a one-time WWE wrestler elected president of the United States. Donald Trump’s election has dominated the news, and while what happened at polling stations in the United States will become more clear in the coming weeks and months, what we know now is that the rhetoric of the Trump campaign mobilised a large enough proportion of the American electorate to put him in the Oval Office.
A number of parallels have been made between Trump’s election and the political events of the last 18 months in the UK, but the one that appears to be the most fitting is that of the EU Referendum – not least because Trump described his potential election as “Brexit plus plus plus”, with Nigel Farage acting as an informal adviser to the campaign. Within the Trump/Brexit comparison there are more similarities than can be fully explored in one blog – a rejection of globalisation and the political establishment, resentment of immigration and undertones of racism, to name a few – the one I’ll examine is the rhetoric used by the victorious campaigns and its reception within the electorate.
Trajectory’s Paul Flatters and Michael Willmott wrote about the ‘demand for simplicity’ in relation to the global financial crisis in 2009, stating that there was a
“growing demand for trusted brands and value, an increasing desire for advisers – ranging from social networks to product ranking websites – that can simplify choicemaking, and enthusiasm for less complicated, more user-friendly technologies”
and it appears that the election of Trump and the decision to leave the European Union have – by accident or design – identified and exploited the manifestation of this trend with regards to the political information we receive.
The issues of our time are infinitely complex, with a pain-staking level of interest and engagement required to fully grasp the voting (or purchasing) decisions that we regularly make. This does not mix well with the demand for simplicity; if things appear simpler than they are, there’s a good chance that the complex reality has been distorted into clarity.
We could all use some humour this week so, rather than quote an intellectual, I’ll let the former host of the Daily Show, Jon Stewart, explain.
Stewart states that
“On Bullshit Mountain our problems are amplified and our solutions simplified, and that’s why they won’t work. We face a debt crisis that we’ve never faced before. We are merely weeks from being a failed state…and the way to solve it is to kill Big Bird.”
While he’s saying these things in 2012, the sentiment is more fitting now than it ever was then. We can’t fund the NHS? If we leave the EU, we’ll have an extra £350 million to spend on it. A Mexican immigrant works for a wage I’m unwilling to? We’ll build a wall and Mexico will pay for it.
While these statements have been proven either untrue – it was announced this week that Brexit campaigners could face criminal charges for misleading voters – or incredibly improbable – the cost of a border wall with Mexico is estimated at between $5-25 billion, and Mexico say they won’t pay – this hasn’t seemed to matter when the votes were counted. What has mattered has been the simplicity of the message, its repetition, and its reception.
The irony is not lost on me that I’m attempting to simplify the decisions of 160 million voters on two wholly different issues into a 600-word blog on the demand for simplicity. It should be noted that while Hilary Clinton won the popular vote, and the EU referendum was chosen by less than a third of the population – though, it must be said, an electoral majority – these are enormous groups, all receptive to messaging that is clear and concise at the expense of its fidelity to reality.
This electoral majority may not be the majority of consumers, but it’s a large enough group that you probably can’t afford to ignore them; look what happens when you do.