The ‘Overton window’ is a term from political science meaning the acceptable range of political thought in a culture at a given moment. It was the creation of Joseph Overton, a think-tank intellectual based in Michigan, who died in 2003 at 43 after a solo plane accident. His crucial insight, one which both emerged from and was central to the work of the think tank Right, was that the window of acceptability can be moved. An idea can start far outside the political mainstream – flat taxes, abolish the IRS, more guns in schools, building a beautiful wall and making Mexico pay – but once it has been stated and argued for, framed and restated, it becomes thinkable. It crosses over from the fringe of right-wing think-tankery to journalistic fellow-travellers; then it crosses over to the fringe of electoral politics; then it becomes a thing people start seriously advocating as a possible policy. The window has moved, and rough beasts come slouching through it to be born.
John Lanchester on the roots of Brexit, emphasis mine. The echoes in the rise of Trump in the U.S. are hard to miss.
Kipling asked a good question: ‘What do they know of England who only England know?’ But there’s a variation which, today, might be more relevant: ‘What do they know of the UK who only London know?’ The answer to both questions turns out to be the same: ‘Not nearly enough.’ England is so small, geographically, that it is easy to forget that it is also surprisingly big. There is no rich country of equivalent size that is more densely populated. The only country which has both more people than England and more people per square kilometre is Bangladesh. What this means, experientially, is that there is a kind of denseness to England and to Englishness; England is both very similar to itself and significantly different when you move ten miles down the road.
Related: this Clay Shirky Tweetstorm to his white liberal friends. Forget the internet filter bubble, if it even exists. Far more dangerous is the geographic filter bubble.
When geography is destiny, inequality is a given, but in certain countries the effect has amplified.
To be born in many places in Britain is to suffer an irreversible lifelong defeat – a truncation of opportunity, of education, of access to power, of life expectancy. The people who grow up in these places come from a cultural background which equipped them for reasonably well-paid manual labour, un- and semi- and skilled. Children left school as soon as they could and went to work in the same industries that had employed their parents. The academically able kids used to go to grammar school and be educated into the middle class. All that has now gone, the jobs and the grammar schools, and the vista instead is a landscape where there is often work – there are pockets of unemployment, but in general there’s no shortage of jobs and the labour force participation rate is the highest it has ever been, a full 15 points higher than in the US – but it’s unsatisfying, insecure and low-paid. This new work doesn’t do what the old work did: it doesn’t offer a sense of identity or community or self-worth. The word ‘precarious’ has as its underlying sense ‘depending on the favour of another person’. Somebody can take away the things you have whenever they feel like it. The precariat, as the new class is called, might not know the etymology, but it doesn’t need to: the reality is all too familiar.
This is amazing:
The white working class is correct to feel abandoned: it has been. No political party has anything to offer it except varying levels of benefits. The people in the rich parts of the country pay the taxes which support the poor parts. If I had to pick a single fact which has played no role in political discourse but which sums up the current position of the UK, it would be that most people in the UK receive more from the state, in direct cash transfers and in benefits such as health and education, than they contribute to it. The numbers are eerily similar to the referendum outcome: 48 per cent net contributors, 52 per cent net recipients. It’s a system bitterly resented both by the beneficiaries and by the suppliers of the largesse.
So much of communicating well is knowing your audience. Some of this is selection bias, of course, but Trump is the last man standing in the GOP because he is the voice of some large segment of America. When he preens and smirks, punctuating his misogyny and racism with finger jabs and thumbs up gestures, he wraps his hands around the id of the angry white working class and squeezes, like a cardiac surgeon pumping a human heart.