Democracy and disillusionment
January 1, 2016 22 Comments
Well, friends, dear Neo is back, and safe and sound from his trip across these United States; whatever the disadvantages of air travel, it sure has one big plus – time (and usually money too). 2016 will be an election year in the USA, and since that’s Neo’s province, I’ll let him cover it as and when he’s ready. I’d like to thank you all for your forbearance with me, and leave you with a few political thoughts to pave the way for ‘business as usual’ (though I shall be back).
Across the Western world democracy is under threat – not from other ideologies (though there are such) but from its own imperfections.. In order to win votes, politicians have promised things, things which they have been unable to deliver, and things which they must have known at the time were undeliverable. Raised hopes get you into office, failure to meet them can get you unelected and the next guy comes along and repeats the trick. The net result is disillusionment. Aristotle warned that one of the results of a democratic constitution would be that demagogues would outbid each other to bribe the people with other people’s money; what he failed to foresee was that they would eventually bribe them with their own money.
It sometimes seems that politics is all about economics, but most economic decisions are political ones in the end – and politics is about vision – which is one reason Obama became President. His main Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, offered a kind of bureaucratic efficiency (despite having no record in that area), where Obama offered an uplifting message of ‘hope’. But what do you do when hopes are dashed? Ruling, General de Gaulle used to say, is choosing. Once in office, people generally find it harder to govern than they imagined, and the room for initiatives is far less than they imagined in the heady irresponsibility of opposition.
Here in the UK, the Conservative Party defied the pollsters and won an outright victory, but I doubt even Mr Cameron thought it was because of enthusiasm for his message. It was largely a negative result – that is too few people could see the Labour leader as Prime Minister, the Labour Party lost nearly all its seats in Scotland, and the electoral system ensured that despite getting millions of votes, the UK Independence Party failed to win more than one seat. There was no ringing endorsement of the Conservatives, more a resigned recognition that in times of austerity it was better to stick with nurse for fear of finding something worse. It is fashionable in the UK to say that the new and very left-wing Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, hasn’t a cat in hell’s chance of winning the next election, and I daresay fashion has it right. But his anti-politics as usual message is putting together a coalition of the discontented and the young, and depending on what happens on the political front in the next four years, it could be one which gathers momentum.
Mr Corbyn is a mirror image, politically, of Donald J Trump, but they are both products of a discontent with a ruling elite which seems out of touch with anything but its own interests. Both men appeal to a wider sense of what politics is about, and both seek to draw in those who feel disenchanted and disenfranchised. There the parallel ends. Donald J Trump appeals to an older vision of America and rejects political-correctness, whilst Mr Corbyn is painfully politically correct – it will be interesting to see which vision gains traction in this year.
But for millions of us, it still seems as though whatever is going on in politics is primarily about political elites positioning themselves for power. For all the insurgent rhetoric, Donald J Trump is hardly everyman, and for all his talk about ‘the people’, Mr Corbyn comes from a comfortable middle-class background and has never had a job outside politics. The more they talk of change, the more we count our tea-spoons!
Happy New Year to us all!