“The highest result of education is tolerance” .. Helen Keller

Will the world be very different tomorrow, as we transition from the Trump to Biden Presidency?  Notwithstanding the enormity of the US’s influence on the world’s stage, I have tended to be a neutral observer of the nation’s politics and the ramifications it brings.  This time, however, I feel quite different.  As I have commented in previous blogs, the prevailing ethos of Trump – to varying degrees – has been reflected globally, although I think only partly attributable to Trump himself.  It has seemed as if we have retrenched from globalisation, there has been a rise in protectionism and with it a decline in our levels of tolerance.  Partly this has been due to national policies seeking to protect the interests of their citizens, resulting in reciprocal retaliations, such as the US-China trade wars, but perhaps more worryingly it has been due to a growing sense of division, mistrust and focus on self rather than other.  I don’t know if this is a temporary malaise or symptomatic of a growing global trend.  Hopefully not, but strong leadership will be required to counter it.

The division and intolerance have manifested itself in many examples over the course of 2020 and into the new year, most recently and vividly reflected in the storming of Congress.  But with tensions heightened through the pandemic, we have also seen more local incidents of people acting for in their own interests, at the expense of the broader community.  Even before the latest lockdown, in May 2020 UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres declared that the coronavirus crisis “continues to unleash a tsunami of hate and xenophobia, scapegoating and scare-mongering.”  He concluded his address with the words “And I ask everyone, everywhere, to stand up against hate, treat each other with dignity and take every opportunity to spread kindness.”[1]

Focusing in on one aspect of tolerance (or lack of it) it is interesting therefore to read in a recent study “How We Get Along: The Diversity Study of England and Wales 2020”[2] that there is at least a majority view (53%) in the study are supportive of ethnic diversity in our society.  Hardly a convincing number, but at least a majority.  Just under half of respondents (46%) agree that migrants are good for Britain and similarly under half (41%) agree that religious diversity is good for Britain.  So evidently there is work to be done to change the majority view.

So returning to the US as a bellwether for change, we do have some signs to be optimistic.  According to Jen Pesaki, Biden’s press secretary, what we can expect from the incoming President “is a call for unity and bringing the country together.”  In terms of tangible actions, Biden has committed to re-enter the Paris climate accord, stop the construction of the border wall between US and Mexico, and support the US’ participation in the World Health Organisation.  Hopefully his Presidency will be the catalyst globally for greater inclusion, diversity in all its forms and overall tolerance.

[1] https://www.un.org/sg/en/content/sg/speeches/2020-05-08/appeal-address-and-counter-covid-19-hate-speech

[2] https://www.woolf.cam.ac.uk/research/projects/diversity

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