I think we’d all admit, 2016 hasn’t been the best of years. In fact it would have been endorsed on LinkedIn for ‘shit shower’. We’ve lost some incredible talent – from Bowie to Prince, Alan Rickman to Mohammad Ali and there’s still a few weeks left.
Then politics happened. The Brexit roadshow came to town, we uncoupled the caravan marked ‘UK’ and started pushing it up HS2 without a timetable, a budget or a driver. Cue the Trump bandwagon…
Although I’m based in the UK, I spend a lot of time in the US and I love it. North America features such geographical variety – from snowcapped mountains to desert salt flats, tropical beaches and bustling metropolis. It’s easy to see why less than half the population possesses a valid passport.
But the political and social opinion varies as much as the terrain and, despite the endless election coverage, those views aren’t all reflected in the mainstream media – hence Donald Trump’s shock election win last month.
He swept to victory on a wave of support from disillusioned Americans, many of whom had lost jobs they thought were secure – some direct casualties of automation and the Internet of Things, many feeling intimidated by change. These people don’t like robots, see technology as a threat and Donald Trump as their saviour.
He’s a climate change denier. Expert denier. Progress denier and now Time’s Person of The Year! The US tech industry (and those it invests in globally) are understandably concerned – especially champions of new untried and untested platforms such as VR, AR and AI. It’s going to be a tough fight against a man screaming “No fact checking!”
I have to admit, the 2016 US election wasn’t my first encounter with Donald Trump. In 2010, with my tongue placed firmly in my cheek, I applied for The Apprentice. The US show couldn’t be further from the BBC’s quality production and its endearing figurehead, Lord Sugar.
Before his departure from the show, Donald Trump presided over a tasteless dark wood, marble and gold TV empire, full of overly-sincere candidates, forelock-tugging co-workers and overbearing sponsors. I loved the show for its window into a world so different from our own. How could I not apply?
Unfortunately, meticulous planning went out the window as, in the most English way possible, we arrived at Trump Tower so hungover that we missed our NBC Apprentice audition. I was briefly connected to Donald Trump on LinkedIn as a result but It’s difficult to endorse a man for ‘hair weaved from gold’ or ‘professional orange face’. The relationship didn’t last long.
Most Americans I work with are Democrats and a few Republicans who didn’t support their appointed candidate. None of them wanted a ‘Trump era’ or seriously thought it would ever happen. However, I find it hard to believe that I’m the only one who listened to my Uber drivers – who were all pro-Trump, mostly male but also predominantly immigrants. They were all looking for a change from the establishment, even if they were relying on ‘The Donald’ for salvation. I predicted a Trump win in my FutureFest talk earlier this year, with parallels to Back to The Future’s Biff Tannen, followed by Elon Musk’s run for the Presidency in 8+ years. Sometimes it’s painful being a Futurologist.
On the eve of the US election, my eldest daughter’s teacher told the whole class that if Donald Trump won, World War III was inevitable. Whether it is or not is besides the point, I’m not comfortable with scare tactics for kids or adults and this style of shock headline also turned off many ‘stay’ voters during Brexit campaigning.
These weren’t the only US Election/Brexit parallels. Following both unexpected results, Facebook was full of parental hysteria. Previously level-headed mothers and fathers were on the point of breakdown, wondering how they were going to explain to their kids that we’d destroyed the world for future generations and we were about to enter a new dark age.
This attitude was mirrored in business conversations where the only action left was to wail in despair on every social platform or proclaim our last remaining options were a series of recounts, second-chances or full-blown revolution.
Pull yourselves together. It is what it is, now shape it. Make the future work for us, not the other way around. We have to make the most of the hand we’ve been dealt and turn the situation to our advantage.
It may not be good news for British tourists abroad but the devalued pound does make the UK an attractive investment opportunity. Brexit (hard or soft) has put in motion the red tape and queuing associated with a loss of free movement of labour around Europe but to focus simply on our neighbours has always been shortsighted. We now have an incredible opportunity to place the UK at the centre of the design, technology and creative world, rather than lurking on the periphery of an existing club.
If under Trump the US regards us as a 51st Trade State and China continues to see us as a skilled leader in so many fields, we’re going to be more than OK, we’re going to flourish. Donald Trump wants to bring manufacturing home and deliver foreign investment via threats rather than incentives but digital industries are globally transient and skills are transferable across so many platforms that the UK can and should be a leader, not a follower.
When everything around us seems to be going backwards, moving forwards is often furthest from our minds but this is the time to be positive about what we can do, not negative about what we can’t.
We need to ensure we’re doing more than sprinkling glitter on a turd – our next moves are vitally important for the future of mankind. Hysterical? Nope, essential.
This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post