In my mid-eighties myself I was interested to read in Alan Bennett’s diary in the London Review of Books that as an octogenarian he is always conscious of his age with its infirmities and ‘the only end of age’ as Larkin put it. In his case as well as many others the personal situation is acerbated by the visibly worsening of society in many respects nationally and internationally. We can see the pressures on young people setting out on adulthood and on the poor in our own society and the conflicts abroad leading to the miseries of loss of home and livelihood leading many to become refugees. We can see that our cherished western liberal, humane society that we believe in as the beacon for the future, is beset on all sides.
Ironically ‘the enemy within’ turns out to be what we thought of as one of its central pillars namely democracy itself. Large numbers of people have become conscious of their power to bring about change. The change voted for unfortunately is in favour not of greater equalisation of wealth and social opportunities and away from rampant capitalism but is to turn inward to become nationalistic and chauvinistic.
We have turned away from a united Europe once the great post war dream of peace and co-operation. In America they have elected to replace an intelligent, civilised and well-intentioned President with one who is the opposite and whose many shortcomings are overlooked in favour of his appeal exclusively to self-interest.
Alan Bennett finds consolation in the fact that he has no children or grandchildren to feel sorrow and guilt about the future that our generation is bequeathing. I know what he means. Those of us who have staked our hopes for the gradual improvement of mankind in the potential of people to work together cooperatively with good will and kindliness to all, can only take a deep breath and hope that the present situation is just a blip on the upward climb.
Dr Brian Nicol
Coventry and Warwickshire Humanists
Humanists come in all political shapes and sizes. From conservatives to liberals, and socialists to libertarians, we’re a diverse bunch. For this reason, most humanist organisations remain strictly non-partisan, engaging with particular political issues relevant to humanism, rather than backing specific parties or candidates. Despite this, Donald Trump’s victory poses significant challenges to humanists worldwide.
Humanism seeks to understand the world through reason and the application of the scientific method: our knowledge should be grounded in, and tested against, evidence. Trump’s impatience with such values has been laid bare in his assertion that ‘the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive.’ Statements like these, along with claims that vaccines cause autism and that using hairspray indoors rather than outdoors eliminates its harmful impact on the ozone layer, led to Trump being labelled the ‘anti-science candidate’.
The next President will enact legislation that defies the scientific consensus. He has already made clear his intention to scrap the Paris Agreement, row back on regulations such as the Clean Power Plan, and get rid of the Environmental Protection Agency. This will damage the environment and, coupled with his plans to downsize the Department of Education, it could harm scientific literacy. Trump needs scientific policy led by science, not ideology or dogma.
Trump’s social and domestic policies also clash with humanist values. Building walls and banning people on the basis of their religion runs contrary to humanist principles of tolerance, equality, and promoting human flourishing. His tough stance on terrorism and border control risks isolating America from the rest of the world. Humanism relies on building coalitions, international co-operation, and uncompromising secularism. The President-elect must commit himself to defending civil liberties and human rights both abroad and at home.
Within the United States itself, his election risks legitimising his misogynistic attitude towards women. Despite his opponents’ best efforts, even accusations of sexual assault did not derail Trump’s campaign. If Trump’s attitudes become normalised as a result of his success, gender equality in the US could be severely affected. Similarly, the LGBT community risks facing rising intolerance; Mike Pence (Trump’s Vice-President) wants the Republicans to undo protections for LGBT people put in place by Barack Obama. Equality is a traditional battleground for humanists, and senior politicians expressing prejudices of this kind sets a dangerous precedent.
While Trump’s policies will almost certainly make his presidency difficult for humanists, it may not be as bad as we fear. Trump’s ability to find the path of least resistance could come in handy if the practicalities of building a wall or keeping Muslims out of the US prove too difficult to bring about. Historically, he has been more moderate than other Republicans on issues such as LGBT rights; if his post-election message of unity is to be believed, he may shy away from divisive policies where he can.
Ultimately, humanists will have to fight hard to ensure that science is not diminished, that minorities are not discriminated against, and that reason and compassion are at the forefront of political discourse. We will not be alone; the majority of voters opted for Hillary Clinton or for third party candidates, and Trump voters were more united by Trump’s anti-globalisation and anti-politics rhetoric than they were by a desire to frustrate humanist causes or divide society.
Campaigning does not end when the president has been elected, but rather, it now begins. Humanists are used to fighting against the odds — we’ve done it before, and we can do it again!