The politics of disaffection
July 12, 2016 2 Comments
Satire is usually a form of controlled anger, and underlying my satirical post yesterday was something of that feeling. Here there seems little doubt that the vote to leave the EU was, in large part, a vote against the political establishment – even if it is going to take members of that establishment to negotiate our way out of the EU. A spasm of anger is fine, even cathartic, but it is not very constructive, and it seems clear that a large part of the Brexit vote wanted to give the politicians a good kicking. That’s a great way, not doubt, of expressing anger; but what next? When the red mist clears and the person you have hit is lying on the floor, what then? Perhaps it was their fault for provoking you? Perhaps they will be OK? Perhaps you shouldn’t have lashed out? But you did, and they are lying there – what now?
If that is the UK, then you have the same phenomenon in the USA. Mr Trump is a great lightning-rod for the disaffected. Quite how a billionaire businessman who has profited from globalisation and cheap labour gets to be the champion of the disaffected is, itself, an interesting topic for Pol Sci 101, but that is undoubtedly the case. Here, as in the US, there are many of us who, reading what Director Comey said, can’t join up the dots and understand why Mrs Clinton isn’t being indicted; we kind of think if she’s be someone else, say General Petraeus, she would have been. That’s the kind of thing which makes people disaffected – one law for them and one for us. That feeling lies behind the ‘black lives matter’ phenomenon; no point saying its is being utilised by activists, of course it is, but it is the fact they have something to agitate that should concern us all.
It occurs to me that to a large extent this is the fault of the politicians themselves. They have encouraged us to think they have the answer to all our ills, and some of us, at least, have fallen for that. Old-fashioned conservatism isn’t very popular or an easy sell. It says things we don’t want to hear such as ‘you are responsible for your own actions’, and ‘politics is simply a human activity engaged in by flawed humans, so don’t expect utopia’. Modern liberalism is so much more fun, with its uplifting talk about ‘hope’ and slogans such as ‘can we do it?’ (To which the only real answer is ‘probably not’). It gives you a great adrenaline rush, makes you feel good and even virtuous. Yes, we can do it, we can make people virtuous by legislation – we can force people to be free. What’s not to like if you are a Social Justice Warrior? What’s not to like is the coming down after the high. Reality is stubbornly resistant to liberal idealism. People are people, flawed, broken, messy, not easily managed, and prone to resentment, anger and disillusionment if they are promised lots of new toys and they don’t get them – a bit like kids really.
We want a Good Society, but as a society we can no longer agree on the morality of what ‘good’ might mean. When we are offered 70+ ‘gender identities’ on social media, and that most basic of consensuses – that we are male or female – is contested, it is little wonder that our politics lacks consensus. But who is going to be honest and say to us ‘look guys, there really isn’t too much we can do, but we’ll give it a go’, when the opposition is blathering on about ‘hope’ and a brave new world? No one, for obvious reasons. So, sadly, however disaffected we are, our own tendency to believe the rubbish the politicians are saying, contributes to the problem. Horrid thought though it is – what if we really do get the politicians we deserve?