Both the election of Donald Trump and Brexit are symptoms of an illusion. The illusion is utopia. Many people believe that our lives should be described by an upward curve, and that everything must always be improving. As a millennial, being born at the turn of the century, I’ve been taught to deify this idea. We’re addicted to the promise of utopia. To reach it we must progress in every way possible. Each year we must be richer, happier, and stronger as a nation. This belief, or this craving of bettering ourselves, has resulted in growing support for the radical right wing, for populists such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump. Opportunists tap into our cravings all the time. I think I might buy a new shirt and suddenly every website I go to advertises ‘fashionable shirts for men’. People’s attraction to the radical right is the same. People such as Trump and Farage are simply tapping into the desire for utopia.
The reasons behind a vote for Brexit and those behind for a vote for Donald Trump are largely similar. Both were votes against the establishment, against tradition, and against big money (apparently most are able to forget Farage’s millions and Trump’s billions.) Many voters for Brexit and for Trump share an end of the century negativity. “It was better in my day,” they claim. Suddenly life isn’t getting better and better and so there are scapegoats. There is the current administration or government. There is globalisation. There is social progression. There is the acceptance of all people being equal, and there is anyone who looks, acts, or sounds different to us. There’s nothing wrong with optimism, but as realistically life isn’t going to steadily improve, we shouldn’t be dependent on improvement.
There is a huge difference between hoping for improvement and devoting yourself to the continuation of progress. Most people hope that their lives will advance. We hope that the economy, and in turn our bank balance, will flourish each year. But we can’t kid ourselves into thinking that we will reach a point of ultimate bliss and utopia. As a millennial I was always told that in this day and age I could be anything owing to technological advances and the possibility of job fluidity. As a millennial I would not be stuck in the same job for life. No, instead I could set myself free and progress as the world improved around me.
The problem is that we’ll keep changing our allegiances in a bid to find the perfect leader who will lead us into the Promised Land. The irony is that meanwhile no one else will be able to push forward with any kind of reform. If we continue to buy into this craving for utopia, there will be no change whatsoever. Yet this idea of utopia is addictive. We’re obsessed with progress, and yet there’s no sensible reason why every year should bring new heights of prosperity and satisfaction. Still, when people feel we aren’t progressing, they turn to the populists: to Farage and Trump. Each year we will ask, “Have we progressed, are we closer to reaching utopia?” In many years we will answer, “No, we are not.” Already people are gripped with the idea that it’s the fault of politicians, of the government, and of an elite administration. We banish expertise and facts, placing our trust in opportunistic populists. These are people who fuel our addiction with bold, yet hollow phrases. “Take Back Control,” they muse, and “Make America Great Again” someone cries out amid the fog of senseless hope. We need to accept that life is not an upward trend. For most, life is just a straight line, and that is perfectly fine.
Until we control this addiction, the growing admiration for radical populists will continue. This irrational dependence is tearing apart our current society. People will continue to be enraged by administrations and governing bodies. Millenials such as myself will still believe in the possibility of the utopia we were forced to cherish as children. We should hope that everything is improving, but we cannot devote ourselves to this idea. Doing so is harmful to democratic society.