Thoughts on the Current Political Climate
Both the US Presidential election and the recent UK Brexit referendum are subjects that can be dissected from numerous angles and perspectives. Pundits, journalists and academics alike will be debating these “shock results” for months to come. As for the proverbial man in the street, let it suffice to say that these electoral outcomes have come as far less of a surprise. The divide between electorate and political classes has been clearly highlighted in 2016. However, it should be noted that the overall sense of dissatisfaction with the status quo is a very broad church and that the public are motivated by a wide variety of ideas, concerns and motivations. Analysis of both these political outcomes is complex and should not simply be dismissed with broad brushstrokes.
Sadly, therein lies the rub. Complex problems often require complex solutions. We live in an age where the public seems to have very little tolerance for “complex”, as well as experts and facts. As Otto von Bismark said “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable — the art of the next best”. Compromise doesn’t strike me as something that will go down with a lot of the electorate. Therefore, it is not outside the realms of possibility that both the US and UK electorate will be disappointed by their respective governments within a year or so. When you consider the inherent diversity of individual expectations, it seems to be almost inevitable that Brexit and making America “great” again are projects doomed to overall failure.
Perhaps the most perplexing aspect of these emergent social, cultural and political divides is the question of how to address them. Debate, interaction and conciliation appear to be currently off the table. How can there be any meaningful engagement when the media is reviled, facts are denied and binary positions are adhered to. There is no clear majority position at present therefore neither side can credibly discount the other. There are levelled headed individuals on both sides of the divide who will still want to engage in dialogue and counter arguments but I am doubtful as to how much success they will have. I have always thought that society, irrespective of its diversity of views and opinions, was at least founded upon some commonly held ideals. Perhaps that is no longer the case and that the rise of the “consumer” and individual over traditional notions of “belonging” to a wider society, no longer prevail.
It has been argued that one of the driving forces behind the ongoing political turmoil currently being seen in Western countries, is an inherent opposition to the established order. The electorate have reached a point where they simply wish to see change, irrespective as to whether it’s driven by a clear plan or not; change for change sake as the adage says. Naturally this comes with a degree of risk both economically and socially. Furthermore, the benefits of change are dependent on which side of the divide you are and whether you stand to gain or lose. As previously mentioned at present there is no majority opinion so there is scope for a very large number of people to find themselves in the “losing” group if significant change is achieved. Thus, we arrive at another factor that has been associated with both Brexit and the Presidential election; namely “fear”.
Politics across the US and Europe is currently very ugly. It has also been in the past so it’s not necessarily a unique situation but it’s been a while since things were so acrimonious and tribal. Legitimate subjects of debate such as immigration, economics and equality have developed a peripheral taint and are not always discussed calmly and logically. Because anti-establishment feeling has gathered momentum and proven successful at the polls, it has validated some of the more controversial views held by some. It also raises the question as to whether so-called “extremist views” are the prerogative of a few. Perhaps large sections of society in the US and the UK are not advocates of equality and do hold less inclusive views. After all morality and ethics are abstract concepts and not naturally occurring. A cursory look at world history shows that established schools of thought wax and wane and that democratic principles are not inherently our default setting.
At present, we find ourselves in a situation where a lot of people are genuinely worried that they will have their rights taken away or be vilified in some way. They feel that they will be relegated to a position of second class citizen or worse. There is genuine scope for social unrest and violence in both the US and UK at present. However, exactly how you feel about this climate of fear and the prospect of civil disturbances is dependent upon your politics or possibly more importantly whether is directly impacts upon you and yours. The social economic make up of your neighbourhood is a major factor. You may live in a flashpoint or removed from it all. Furthermore, riots usually tend to be contained by the authorities and thus those protesting tend to do the most harm to themselves. May be some of those that have pushed for change have done so knowing that they won’t directly bear the immediate consequences. Yet there are some types of fallout that cannot be avoided. Inflation, unemployment and the value of the Dollar or Pound in your pocket must be endured by all. As ever it’s the poorest who will potentially be hurt the most, which is ironic as statistics show they are the greatest advocate of these emerging movements.
There’s another group of people that’s worth considering. A very curious group that seems to be growing. Those who have chosen for whatever reason to opt out of the entire political and voting process. There are 241 million people of voting age in the United States but only approximately 200 million of those registered to vote. In the latest US election, only 46.6% of the electorate turned out to cast their ballot. Comparable percentages of voter apathy are rife in the UK and Europe. Why exactly such numbers of people have chosen to do this is perplexing. Utter exasperation, indifference, mental incompetence or independent wealth may all be factors. However, if this group ever become politically engaged at some point they certainly have sufficient numbers to impact upon the system. Sooner or later the most jaded or apathetic voter will find a reason to “get involved”. Sadly, this usually only happens when something truly bad is imminent.
So, where exactly does the current political landscape leave us? Some may say up a certain creek without a suitable mean of locomotion. Other may say en route to the promised land. The most likely outcome is somewhere between the two of these two views. There is political uncertainty ahead and that will have social and economic consequences. However, history shows us that many things are cyclical and if a period of economic prosperity can be achieved then political unrest usually subsides as all parties benefit from an improved status quo. However economic stability does not just occur by itself and requires intervention by third parties. We also must countenance the fact that maybe we as a species are not destined for a future such as that envisioned by Gene Roddenberry. May be the reason that we don’t “just all get along” is because we can’t. Perhaps we are an evolutionary cul-de-sac doomed to live in “interesting times”. Let us hope that the latter of these two prospect is not a forgone conclusion.