Thursday 22 February 2018

Emily Hourican: Liberal and proud - why is 'liberal' suddenly such a dirty word?

Ok, we 'called it wrong', admits Emily Hourican, but that doesn't mean the liberal left should go away

Katie Hopkins on the Late Late Show
Katie Hopkins on the Late Late Show
Emily Hourican

Where were you when you heard the news? The Trump news, that is? I ask, because it feels very much like a 'death of JFK' moment for this generation.

I know where I was. In an office - unusually for me - and therefore well-placed to watch the reactions of other people. Some of them were jubilant. "I called it right!" were the first words out of many mouths that morning. Weirdly though, even more jubilant were those who admitted to calling it wrong. "We missed it," they said, delight written across their faces. "We missed it. We didn't understand the depth of anger and alienation these people feel."

And then started a wave of what seems to me the most gleeful kind of masochism - the 'we called it wrong and now we must suffer' folk. This self-chastisement is all over the media - particularly the media I consume: unashamedly left-leaning; liberal; right-on. These formerly po-faced proponents of the so-called 'liberal agenda' (quite as if this is something dark and nebulous, rather than a rather pleasant plan to make the world a nicer place) are falling over themselves now to scourge and purge.

Cries of 'mea culpa, mea maxima culpa' echo from radio and TV. "How dared we try and force the liberal agenda down these people's throats when what we needed to do was listen to them?" goes the agonised cry. "How dared we preach tolerance and acceptance to these people, when what we should have been doing was allowing them to tell us how much they hate everyone who isn't them!"

In the middle of all this, I'm missing something. Something huge, it seems. I really, really don't understand why we need to prioritise people whose views and wants are racist, sexist, small-minded, and impossible (Trump can no more bring jobs back to the rust belt of America than I can; Brexit won't solve the ills of people living on sink estates in Bradford any more than a rousing chorus of Jerusalem will. It's a tragedy, but it's true). I don't understand why 'liberal' is suddenly such a dirty word, interchangeable with 'smug', 'blinkered', and 'patronising.'

Just because 'we' - the liberal left - got it wrong, do we now have to shut up and give all the air time to opinions that are profoundly depressing? Yes, we suffered a defeat, so should we just bow out now? This 'calling it wrong' - apparently it was patronising of us, as well as foolish. But is it really so patronising to believe that people will finally be repulsed by chest-thumping thuggery? Or to think that they might vote according to a larger principle (climate change?), rather than that of narrow, immediate self-interest?

Maybe it's naive, but as far as I remember, back to my secondary school philosophy, the point of democracy is that we believe the best of people.

As you can see, I really don't understand. I'm not just saying it. And I am clearly part of the 'problem' - I hate Katie Hopkins's views, and I dislike her for holding them. I'm sorry RTE put her on The Late Late Show, and think it was a reckless use of my licence-fee money. I have more time for less obviously rapacious people who share her views, but even so - I admit - I don't believe we need to spend very long listening to them.

Their views depress me. Even the ones who speak carefully about their "concerns around immigration", to me sound an awful lot like the more straightforward "I want those people out of here because they've got different coloured skin to me and eat weird food".

They depress me because they represent so much of what I think we've been striving hard, as a society, to move away from; all the work we have put into becoming more enlightened, more tolerant, more outward-looking and accepting. OK, maybe we haven't made a great job of it, but I still think we should try.

And trying, to me, means continuing to make the case for the 'liberal agenda' - that sinister-sounding plot to get everyone being all-inclusive and caring.

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