(Photo credit: The Times News Syndication)
The news of a so-called “Make America Great Again” bomber targeting 11 different addresses of high-profile liberal Americans should serve as a stark warning to all Western democracies about the dangers that US-style culture wars can pose.
These barbaric acts might be rare, but it would be wrong to dismiss the direct link between such extremism and the increased political polarisation taking place either side of the pond.
It is fashionable to blame Trump’s presidency and Brexit for sowing the seeds of these divisions, but in reality each has only served to expose the enormous values chasm between two emerging tribes that is threatening social stability.
In one corner are the cosmopolitans; often younger, mobile, urban and highly skilled. They are globalists, with a more rights-focused worldview where the purpose of society is to emancipate the individual as far as possible, freeing them from society’s constraints.
And in the other, the communitarians; often older, non-graduates, living outside the major cities. They usually feel a strong sense of local and national identity, value stability and security as much as individual rights and believe in strong, cohesive communities where everyone plays by the rules and gives something back.
The cosmopolitans have dominated society for decades, promoting their liberal social and economic ideals. We’ve seen the promotion of human rights, mass immigration, the expansion of higher education and an acceptance that globalisation is an unstoppable (and desirable) force of nature.
Communitarians — far larger in number than the cosmopolitans but far less influential — are, in Britain at least, not generally illiberal. For example, they’re supportive of LGBT rights. Yet they have also come to wonder why politicians talk so much about the rights of minority groups and so little about issues affecting the majority.
They have had to watch helplessly as consecutive governments fail to even attempt to stem the decline in manufacturing that has left communities and individuals bereft of meaningful work, pride and identity.
They also wonder when it was that a degree suddenly became the be-all and end-all, why they were never consulted over rapid increases in net immigration and why our society’s values seems increasingly fragmented.
The EU referendum was the communitarians’ opportunity to strike back at a cosmopolitan elite that wasn’t listening. They took it. It was then the cosmopolitans’ opportunity to start listening.
This has happened to some extent, but a tremendous amount of energy has also been channelled into the campaign for a second referendum which, if it were to take place before we leave the EU, would inevitably lead to deepening and sharpening the tribalism, fragmentation and polarisation.
In our new book, Spirit of Britain, Purpose of Labour, we outline how politicians must take responsibility for mapping out a whole nation politics that brings together the cosmopolitans and the communitarians.
The first step must be to propose a form of Brexit that bridges those divides, rather than entrenches them. A European Economic Area-based Brexit, plus a form of customs union, is the only Brexit that can help re-unite our deeply divided country, whilst protecting our economy.
It would keep close economic links to the EU while leaving the political institutions, therefore reflecting the 52:48 vote. It is the one Brexit that would command a parliamentary majority, with cross-party support from Remain MPs and Leave MPs.
The second step is the post-Brexit plan. Labour is, as always, the best-positioned party to govern for the many. Our history is rooted in communitarianism as much as cosmopolitanism; we believe in community, security and reciprocity as much as individual liberty.
But at the last election, while our party went forward in more cosmopolitan areas like Canterbury and Kensington, we went backwards in our communitarian heartland seats, including losing Middlesbrough and Mansfield. We simply must arrest this decline.
To do this we set our party some intellectual challenges. We ask if Labour is ready to recognise that we must celebrate common values rather than play identity politics; that emphasising similarities, rather than difference is a more effective way of bringing people together and fostering understanding.
We ask whether it might be more radical to support the “forgotten 50 per cent” who struggle to access quality education and training post-18, rather than spend £11 billion on a tuition fees pledge.
We also ask if we are ready to channel Bernie Sanders and make a passionate case that the socialist approach to immigration is to manage it fairly, rather than encourage open borders.
Politicians need to understand that the changes of the past 40 years have sold communitarian values down the river. It’s time for leaders to take responsibility and deliver a unifying politics that can end these dangerous culture wars.
Written with Joe Jervis