From this vantage point, it looks like electors in the United States have delivered a result that satisfies nobody in its entirety. Trump is defeated but Biden will probably not be given a free run because he will not control The Senate. Instead, he will be called upon to exercise his famed deal-making skills. The pollsters, Twitter and much of the media got this wrong, but I am not surprised. After 2016 and its Trump and Brexit shocks, I added some right-of-centre sources to my media consumption so that I would not get fooled again.
American electors are perhaps wise. Democracy is a glittering prize but sheer familiarity and a lack of cultural self-confidence among western liberals has tarnished it. But this is what democracy is for – to curb power.
What’s the verdict mean? Americans are telling us some simple messages that I think we all probably know if we can climb down out of out mottes long enough to contemplate them.
The left must build broad coalitions if it wants to win power. Chopping the electorate up into identity groups, exalting and patronising some while disdaining others is not an election winning strategy nor will it ever be.
On the other hand, Trumpism with Trump extracted is essentially a complaint against unrestricted global capitalism. Shoed and saddled, we can ride capitalism to better living standards, more leisure, better health and a more sustainable future. But let it run wild and all we get is the formation of multinational monopolies and a system rigged so that its gains accrue to an ever smaller elite, while the average wage stagnates against a backdrop of rising healthcare, energy, transport and housing costs.
What we have seen is the great disconfirmation – ideology, be it neoliberal or social justice, tested against reality. In our own circles of confirmation bias on social media or with friends of our own class and level of education, fantasies and conspiracies fly and half-baked philosophies are competitively accelerated to their (il)logical conclusions. But in a democracy, we have a check against that. And that is good.
More prosaically, it is this check that I want to see replicated in the school curriculum. At present, fearful politicians largely avoid the stinging nettles of exactly what history or science we should teach, which works of literature children should read, or exactly how we should educate children about sex and relationships. It’s far more pleasant to stroll the board meadows of abstract concepts like ‘literacy’ or ‘numeracy’ or ‘critical thinking’. Nobody is going to complain if you say, ‘literacy is important’ because you are saying nothing.
If we don’t harness public sentiment through elected representatives to decide the content of the curriculum, these decisions are still made: by unaccountable bodies that set exams, by faceless state bureaucracies and even by individual schools and individual teachers. Many of these decisions will be wise, but not all. We risk the circle of confirmation bias. We risk selecting sources that provide a skewed view of reality. Occasionally, we risk flare-ups as members of the community react to something we have taught.
If we are to provide students with a balanced education and the potential to make up their own minds then we need some disharmony and contrast. Like I did after 2016, we deliberately need to seek perspectives that we disagree with and we need to ensure they are present in our schools. We must fight against the gravitational pull of teaching ideologies as truth and instead we must teach about these ideologies and then navigate the tensions with humility and compromise.
We need a curriculum that satisfies nobody in its entirety.