Politicians ought to be better informed than the average person on the issues of the day, but that does not give them the right to despise the people they are elected to serve. Many politicians are comparatively rich, well-educated and clever – but that puts them at risk of failing to understand how a lot of people think and how they live their lives. No one can take good decisions on behalf of the population without having some degree of empathy towards it, and ordinary people understand that; they vote for politicians who seem to sympathise with them. Hillary Clinton is in deep trouble by not seeming to relate to people and their problems, particularly after her unfortunate outburst that described many Americans as ‘a basket of deplorables’.
Nigel Farage understands this. In an interview on the Fox Business Network, he drew the parallels between the American presidential election and Britain’s recent EU referendum. Farage had been successful in persuading the British people to vote to leave the EU – a ‘Brexit’ – despite an enormous amount of authoritative advice to the contrary. That advice had been given in a tone that seemed remote and unsympathetic, whereas he regularly appeared with a pint of beer in his hand and said things which resonated with many people. The criticism he received from the mainstream media, for his attitude to immigration, seemed to prove that he understood the issues and that most politicians didn’t.
The similarities between Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are obvious, and the two men support each other. Both are populists and are successful practitioners of what has been termed “post-truth politics”: reaching people’s emotions and reinforcing deep-seated prejudices. Farage claimed that Hillary is “in for a big shock in this American campaign” – and he’s very probably right. Hillary’s criticism of Donald Trump and his supporters was a big mistake; it just reinforced the impression that she was a member of the political elite who doesn’t understand how most people feel.
Hillary Clinton has a serious image problem. As Farage said, “people are tired of being sneered at by out-of-touch political elites”. Her only way of connecting with people at an emotional level is to appear statesmanlike and experienced; it is a big mistake to descend to the level of the Trump campaign and try to trade insults with him. She should draw on Bernie Sanders’s success, acknowledging his influence so that she attracts his supporters, and propose measures that clearly address the concerns of angry American voters – as previously described on this website.