On the face of it the two Presidents have desperately little in common. The one put in years of steady determined work to turn the economy round from the depths of the 2008 crash whilst widening health care opportunities for the poor and doing some things about the environmental crisis. The other seems to favour a reckless rush for growth driven by tax cuts and is determined to make welfare, health care and environmental programmes as small as possible. Obama and Michele were the essence of Presidential dignity. The far right keeps desperately trying to spot signs that the Trumps are gaining some semblance of the same attributes - and then failing to explain the latest bout of bad behaviour. Donald Trump has all the deep insecurity of a man who was denied parental affection as a child - he is petulant, self obsessed, egotistical, untruthful, accusatory, and fearful that others are out to get him. Obama has been through 8 years of exceptionally hard challenges and never once shown the least sign of emotional insecurity or lack of maturity.
They do, however, have one thing in common. Or at least their campaigns did. They both offered a message of hope. Obama campaigned on high poetry telling millions that "Yes we can!". He made it sound very simple to deliver complex solutions and got the votes he needed on the back of that message of hope for a rapid transformation. Trump listened and learned. He took that idea and used it more cynically. He also offered hope of a quick and easy solution. He was going to make America great again by building a wall, making the Mexican's pay and putting America first.
Across the world far right politicians are adopting the same approach. Never mind the messy complexities of the real world. Just tell folks that you can sort everything out with one quick bound. Leave the EU and we'll magically enter a golden age. Keep out all those pesky foreigners and the good times will come back. Get rid of those welfare scroungers and all those grinding years of austerity will be over in a flash.
It matters little that these are all false and sterile solutions to some very challenging problems. What matters is that voters are able to believe that their lives will get better if they just dare to hope. It is a powerful message and one that generates some very aggressive and enthusiastic followers. How dare the rest of us get in the way of their brave dreams with our pesky nit picking realities?
Anyone wishing to fight back against this needs to think hard about the best strategy. One approach is to keep plugging away on exposing the contradictions between the rhetoric of Trump and his kind and the reality of their delivery. We live in a genuine global economy and you can't solve global problems by building walls around the US, the UK, England, one town, or one home. One nation narrow nationalism is very psychologically comfortable for some but it never works well in the long run. There is a huge gap between what we are being promised and what is being delivered. We are told we are entering a new golden era. Yet the health service is falling apart, the care service is a mess, schools are broke, and young people are facing lower living standards than their parents.
Exposing the flaws in the logic of the right is well worth doing but it only takes you so far. The emotional battle also has to be fought. Just ask Obama. He transformed the economy from losing over 400,000 jobs a month, saved the US car industry, rescued the financial system from collapse and delivered some of the best economic data Americans had seen in years. And his party got dumped out of office in both Houses at the same time as losing the Presidency. Because Clinton offered not enough hope.
Hope is what is needed. For me that means changing the nature of the message about almost all areas of our activity. I don't like constantly asking people to oppose cuts and continually sounding like we are desperately trying to fend off change.
I want to be part of a movement that embraces positive change. I want to talk about giving people the opportunity to take advantage of the wonderful new advances in health care by investing in the future of the service. I believe in investing in the future technology of low energy industry and a knowledge economy. I want to live to the full in a global society and build links not walls. I like giving people opportunities by providing high quality relevant education for all instead of separating the classes off into different educational ghettos and then blaming the underclass for failing. I prefer freedom to constraints and consider myself a libertarian. I want everyone to contribute to society's success to the best of their abilities. I want to build communities and to strengthen society so I believe in looking after those who need support.
We have the choice to talk about defending the welfare state or creating opportunity. Done well it is the same thing. We can also choose to talk about stopping climate change or moving forward out of an era of fossilised technology. I want to make the most of the environment and create opportunities for both ourselves and our children to enjoy living healthily and securely within it. I want to see and experience wildlife in all its forms and prefer talking about that to constantly asking people to stop doing things. I think that is a popular approach.
Don't get me wrong. We all know that there are many things that human beings have to stop doing if we are to preserve the planet. We all know that some of the realities are difficult and expensive. What I am trying to argue for is not naive optimism. It is for greater use of the language and beliefs of optimism.
The alt right has stolen the idea of political optimism. Distorted it, twisted it and turned it into something very unpleasant and dangerous. What we need now is an alt left with the ability to steal it back. That is not an easy thing to achieve but posing ourselves as the defenders of the old order and as people who are scared to try anything new and different is certainly not going to get us there. What we need instead is to borrow a bit of Obama's language and to couple it with some determined longstanding local, regional, national and international activism. Or in other words:
"Yes we can."