With the election results in Austria, where a huge surge in support for an extreme right-winger was matched only by a huge surge in support for an ex-green party, independent candidate, a similar polarization in both the UK and US can no longer be put down to coincidence. There is something afoot in world politics, a movement from the large centre ground to the periphery - some heading off to the right, some to the left. It is as though there are two countries in the UK these days, with Nigel Farage at the helm of UKIP, and Jeremy Corbyn at the helm of the Labour party. And two countries in the US, with Donald Trump at the far right, and Bernie Sanders at the far left. Something similar is happening in France too, and Spain, and Greece. There is a lot of popular support for Putin in Russia. What is going on?
It is easy to denigrate the likes of Trump and Farage and Le Penn, dismiss their views as racist and intolerant, but the truth is that they appeal to large numbers of people. Farage may have failed to make much impression on the UK parliament in the last election, but his party took more votes than the Liberal Democrats and would have won a significant number of seats had we had a proportional representation electoral system. Many members of his own party denigrate Trump, and yet the most recent polls put him 0.2 ahead of Hilary Clinton.
These people, whatever you think of them, have captured the hearts and minds of a great number of people. To dismiss them is to dismiss large swathes of the population. To do that, as a politician, would be both arrogant and foolish. Far better to investigate them, and to ask, why do so many people love them?
What people say, again and again, is that these politicians say what they mean. They are authentic. What they don't say, in words, is something that is very evident when you watch supporters at their rallies. Watch a Trump rally, for example, and the people there have one thing in common, something that pulses in their bodies and their facial expressions. It is hatred.
There are shades of the Nuremberg rally here. You can see it, too, in the followers of Isis. The circumstances may be different, there may be huge differences in scale and harm, but the root is the same.
Nice people are uncomfortable around hatred. We teach our children that it is bad to hate, disapproving if they ever use the words 'I hate you', which they inevitably do - sometimes to their parents! As a result many of us as children learn to suppress our hatred. Suppression doesn't get rid of the feelings however, which just fester and grow.
In Britain we have found special ways of enacting our hatred in socially acceptable ways. The expression 'I see', in response to something we disapprove of, for example. Or a raised eyebrow. We may not tell someone we don't like them, but a weak smile is enough to convey it. Maybe we just ignore someone we don't care for, exclude them, don't reply to their emails or texts. Indifference is a subtle form of hatred too - 'I really don't care what you do.' As is faint praise. We may not even be aware that we feel hatred towards someone, but if you feel into these subtle forms of expression you will find it.
Hatred thrives where there is oppression and inequality. We hate people who have more than us, people who have power over us, people who hurt us. We try anger first, but when that doesn't work, or when we are in a situation where we can't express our anger, the anger turns cold. If you're being mistreated on a regular basis and can do nothing about it, at least you can hate. It is like a consolation prize, a shred of comfort that you do have some power after all. The ten year old who is constantly in trouble in Adrian Mitchell's poem Dumb Insolence has learnt this:
I stick my hands in my pockets
And stare at them
And while I stare at them
I think about sick...
Hatred comes out of the eyes. If you have ever been at the receiving end of a hateful look you will know that it is not good. Because behind hatred is power, and that power is bent on destruction. That is the function of hatred, to give you a sense of power in a situation where you have none.
That is the huge draw of Donald Trump. He is telling the poor and the oppressed that they are right to hate immigrants, that they are the cause of their impoverishment. He has given them the green light to feel the years of hatred that have built up as a result of being exploited and disregarded by, ironically, people exactly like him! And when you've been sitting on a lot of resentment and hatred there is nothing more joyful than to be able to unleash it.
A little while back I had a client, a good and decent woman, who was struggling with her mother in law. She wanted to be a good daughter in law, but I could see she was acting against herself in order to be 'good'.
'How do you feel towards her?' I asked. She looked at me in blank surprise at first, as if this was an irrelevant matter that was not worth discussing. What did her feelings have to do with it?
After a few moments thought, she said, 'Well, I must admit... I don't really like her all that much.' Something was beginning to dawn.
'Have you ever liked her?' I asked. She looked at me again, horrified. It was as if I was lifting a stone and looking at the creepy crawlies underneath.
'In truth, I don't think I have,' she said, her eyes opening wide in realization. 'I've never liked her!' She held her face between her hands in horror. 'That's awful!' she said.
But it was true. She didn't like her mother in law, and she never had - she'd just never admitted it to herself.
It is hard to describe the joy and relief on her face in that moment when she finally admitted her hatred for this woman. It had been there all the time, she just needed permission to feel it.
That same joy and relief can be seen on the faces of Donald Trump's supporters. Here is a man who understands! He is speaking our language! He knows, as we do, that the cause of our misery is other people. Immigrants. He has given them permission to hate.
The wonderful thing about hatred is that it transforms your inner experience, in an instant, from powerless to power. It is a huge feeling, one that can cut dead, murder, declare war, without a shred of conscience. Because it feels so right. And when you've felt wrong for so long, it is really joyful.
We worry that if we have our hatred will we turn into horrible people, but the truth is that we are already feeling it and we are already acting it out. My client may have been doing her duty towards her mother in law, but if I could see her dislike of the woman in my consulting room, you can be sure that her mother in law, her husband and everyone else in the family could see it too.
When we do admit these feelings to ourselves we start to see that they resolve nothing - at best they just keep us stuck in a relationship in which we are powerless. At worst they lead us to harm others. And they make us feel lousy about ourselves too.
So what can we do with this powerful and yet destructive emotion?
Like all human emotions hatred has good intentions. As sadness lets us release our grief, depression keeps us quiet and out of trouble, fear protects us from danger, hatred is there to help us find peace. It is peace we want. If we can just get rid of this person, we will have peace. If I could only cut my mother in law out of my life, life would be so much simpler. If we can just build a wall on the border with Mexico, we will have our lives back. If my horrible neighbor moved house, ah, then I could breathe again. Failing all that, if I can just cut this person out of my heart, delete them from my psyche, I will find at least a modicum of peace.
The people shouting their support at Trump rallies look hateful and frightening, but underneath they are suffering. My client was suffering. All of us who dislike someone are suffering in some way, and we all want that suffering to stop. The trouble with hatred is that it is always focused outside of ourselves, away from our suffering. Where we need to focus is inside, with our suffering. And when we have tended our own wounds, we need to focus on the suffering of the people we hate. That is the road to peace. It is also the road to power, the real power that arises from engagement, as opposed to the false power that arises from distance.
That is not to say that walking away from a situation is not sometimes the best solution. Or having someone removed. But these are actions that come about from understanding what is going on and a realistic assessment of what is and is not possible. They are acts of self-preservation, not destruction.
Think of someone you don't much like at the moment. Take your time, noticing what thoughts, images, and memories about this person feed the dislike.
Allow yourself to fully have your dislike for this person. You have permission! Letting those feelings have full rein, what would they have you do? Cut this person out of your life? Ignore them? Trample them into the dust? Put dog poo through their letter box? Have them removed? Hire a contract killer? Allow yourself the joy of imagining any of these things actually happening. (remember, you're not actually doing it). What does it feel like when you're getting revenge, or wiping the person out in this way?
Focussing on yourself now, imagine what it's like now you've sorted them out. Allow yourself to feel the feeling fully. This is the feeling you were wanting. The power to take care of your needs, and the peace of having done so.
Still focusing on yourself, turn your attention to your suffering. How has this person hurt you? How is that affecting you? What is it that you want to stop? Have some tenderness towards yourself.
Now focusing on the other person, how might they be suffering? What is driving their behavior towards you? In what ways are they hurting?
What has changed? What is in your power to do now?