When Barack Obama ascended to the US Presidency in 2008, his victory was secured on a wave of hope.
Eight years later, Obama’s politics of optimism are being carried by one-time foe, Hillary Clinton, against a vituperative and (allegedly) misogynistic racist, the bewigged human-wotsit hybrid, Donald Trump.
A widening Clinton poll lead and a series of high-profile denunciations from leading Republicans seem to demonstrate not only the moral virtue but also the electoral wisdom of political optimism.
Trump’s presidential bid is based upon the notion of making America “great again”.
Fine. But the central message here isn’t one of national renewal but of national decline.
For decades, the slow Americanisation of British politics has seen the theft of political techniques and technologies from across the Atlantic.
Post-Brexit, the politics of hope and optimism have few proponents in Parliament today.
Why? To date, Brexit has been what it was always going to be: messy, painful and frightening.
With the pound at its lowest for decades, international relationships straining as an emboldened Russia commits war crimes with impunity, and a potential second Scottish Independence referendum; its hard to resist the charge that Brexiteers voted not only to make Britain poorer and weaker, but to break up the country they thought they were “saving”.
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) October 18, 2016
In British politics today, optimism is a hard sell and confidence is for the foolish. The American comedian Louis C.K. describes it best:
That’s what optimistic means, you know. It means stupid. An optimist is someone who goes: “Hey maybe something nice will happen!” Why the fuck would anything nice ever happen? What are you? Stupid?
Even if optimism is for the stupid right now, for political parties hoping to govern a measure of stupidity is the only game in town.
Few, if any, other people loathe smart-arses as much as the British.
For the 48% of the UK that voted to stay in the EU, “we told you so” is not a slogan with which to help heal a divided nation.
Nor is the shame faced self-loathing and embarrassment of the Brexiteer politicians with their targeting of “Remoaners” likely to lead to anything but decades of acrimony.
Somehow, in some way, a politics of hope and optimism, not based upon lies and wishful thinking, but honest about the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into with a commitment to national healing and renewal at its heart, must now emerge.
The truth is that the people of Britain made a blind choice when they chose Brexit. The realities of Brexit will not be “soft”, but they may yet be “softened”.
It is not for Theresa May to determine Britain’s new future outside of the EU, but all of us. That’s why Labour’s victory in the Commons last week regarding the terms of Brexit was so vital.
Govt concedes that it's Brexit plans must be subject to parliamentary scrutiny: important victory for democracy. https://t.co/FYJ9z4JaUz
— Keir Starmer (@Keir_Starmer) October 12, 2016
From this, a politics of realistic hope can emerge and it falls to Labour to meet this national need.
Yet the strength of this optimism will always be tempered by the realities of the New Britain in which we find ourselves.
As the gleefully insular Scottish Nationalists fire the torpedo of separation into the United Kingdom at precisely its weakest point since the Second World War, quite what the nation will now be which benefits from the politics of healing and renewal that Brexit now requires, is an open question.
— 5News (@5_News) October 13, 2016
In any event, any political party approaching the electorate without optimism in 2020 or sooner will assure its own defeat.
The pain is excruciating, but the purpose of progressive politics is to craft hope even when there may be little to be had. It’s time to embrace the stupidity.