Why Populism Trumps the Status Quo

Why Populism Trumps the Status Quo


A bird’s-eye view, from over the pond by Julian Glassford

The political earthquake that the Republican Party’s president-elect has sparked is bigger than the United States of America, and bigger, even, than the ego of “braggadocios” Donald Trump. With tremors still being felt right around the globe, the shock outcome has taken virtually everyone by surprise and left not just the Democratic Party but also donkeys in the media looking rather jolted, dazed, and confused. Meanwhile, the call goes out for relevant conjecture on the part of those of us with experience of life both inside and outside the all important ‘enlightened’ metropolitan bubble at the centre of this, the mother of all plot twists.

Mr. Trump’s victory had a lot to do with the (impossible) promise of economic revitalisation, shared prosperity, and renewed national pride: The American Dream meets Back to the Future Mercantilism, on Viagra. It also amounts to a rejection of the ignominious corrupt, fraudulent, and bloody interventionist machinations of the British/American establishment and associated special interests, plus neoliberal globalism more generally. Presented with a choice between negative, state-sponsored propaganda that directly demeaned and ostensibly threatened anyone who dared think outside the box (‘Project Fear’) and faintly nostalgic utopian visions of a simpler, more united land of opportunity, hope, and glory, voters in their tens of millions chose the later, on both sides of the Atlantic. For better or worse, the UK got its #Brexit and, true to the ‘special relationship’, paved the way for our cousins over the water to get their #BrexitPlusPlusPlus.

However, what most commentators fail to appreciate, or perhaps daren’t say, is that the protest vote goes deeper than the much parroted axioms that people are uninspired by the same old insipid political ‘suits’, fed up with the malfeasance of the elite, have been economically ‘left behind’, or are simply “deplorable” ‘angry white men’. From the rednecks of the Rust Belt to the Sioux of Standing Rock, folks feel that they themselves, their kith and kin, or their kind, have lost or risk losing their place, and way, in life. They have had their sense of communitarian belonging, conviviality, and constancy – the very stock of neighbourhoods and, not to mention, natural environments – decimated by the steady march of the faceless foot soldiers of capitalistic ‘human progress’. What we are seeing, in the rise of populism, is an appeal to a population who are not simply divided along socioeconomic lines, or even in terms of the left-right political spectrum, but as a reflection of differential psycho-philosophical responses to largely unmandated societal transformation.

Households have been destabilised, yes, by structural economic issues like inequality, job insecurity, and financial volatility vs. the rising cost of living and credit constraints, but also by a host of sociological factors in this, The Age of Anxious Individualism. Numbered among these are: the post-Christian ethical, communal, and life-structuring institutional void (with little besides insidious hyperconsumerism to fill it), increasingly transient/volatile romantic and parental relationships, work/life imbalance, and #DigitalDisconnect. In other words, moral, vocational, aspirational, technological, and interpersonal abstraction, uncertainty, and insecurity weigh heavily – albeit often chiefly at the subconscious level.

In view of the above, it doesn’t take a great leap of the imagination to fathom why, then, the counter-culture anarchy of occupy ‘hacktivism’ and flip-side demagoguery of the ‘Dark Enlightenment’ are on the rise, from Main Street to Moscow. As The Spectator succinctly put it: “the success of a candidate as grotesque as Donald Trump speaks to the depth of the despair felt in the country”. Ultimately, it’s about trust, which is fast disappearing at every level of society, and with the perception that the system is rotten from the top down and those behind the wheel determined to drive us off a cliff, our bought-off bureaucracy’s vehicles of progress, and even our direction of travel, are now in question. Received wisdom and authority appear evermore dubious, progressive norms are under threat, and social contract itself is potentially at stake.

The Republicans won not because of, but in spite of, the mainstream media, who, it’s fair to say, put their money where their mouth is i.e. manifestly skewed both their political donations and election coverage in favour of Clinton. Truly, it was a triumph of grass roots politics and the Digital Age political weapons of mass destruction: social and alternative media. In this new media environment, when compared with the unfiltered authenticity of ‘The Donald’ and Grand Master: Nigel Farage, the politics of spin and ‘perception management’ are looking increasingly like a busted flush. What the established order must quickly comprehend, therefore, is that it would be wise to get to grips with the inconvenient truth outlined above – as opposed to directing surreptitious and punitive measures against critical outfits like WikiLeaks and RT, in increasingly vain and hypocritical attempts to maintain the status quo.

Focussing on promoting the hypernomalisation of suboptimal social conditions and of cultural norms and practices not conductive to the public good, along with smearing, sanctioning, and silencing eccentric critics, like Farage and Trump, demonstrably only appears to cement suspicions, fuel resentment, and make up the minds of the undecided. Instead, now is the time to pursue more pluralistic, open, and transparent modes of public discourse and politics, across all institutions. The democratic deficit must be meaningfully addressed and, more fundamentally, we need to continue the conversation – sparked by the likes of Professor Richard Wilkinson – about how best to ensure that human endeavour produces equitable outcomes that truly enhance the human condition. ‘Trickle-down’ is in dire need of a reboot.

Such an imperative necessitates structural change, including the root and branch removal of money from politics and, relatedly, space for serious electoral/media/financial sector/regulatory reform and disentanglement – as indicated by a string of recent public enquiries. What the disaffected masses of the West hunger for is the restoration of, and respect for, their heritage, values, and identity, combined with recourse to renewed social conscientiousness, moral courage, and gritty pragmatism, engendered and imbued by our leaders – the Lincolns and Churchills of tomorrow. They long for the politics not of deceit or calculating compromise, but of genuine representation, consensus building, and common consent; “of the people, by the people, for the people”. Anything short of this Cultural Revolution will likely result in Geert Wilders’ “Patriotic Spring”, and we all know what that is a euphemism for, and where it leads.

Along with a number of other European political leaders, Theresa May has rushed to reposition the Conservative Party in recent months. Such moves represent a conspicuous attempt to steal a march on the likes of the UK Independence Party and France’s Front National, sensing the nascent populist paradigm shift that Brexit indicated and the US presidential election has confirmed. Interestingly, here in the UK the Labour Party arguably has the most to lose or gain by ignoring or observing the take home message from recent developments, as it sets out its vision of ‘21st Century Socialism’. However, it remains to be seen to what extent the bubbling heat of discontent – that rallying cries like #MAGA and #TakeControl tapped into – will continue to cause political climate change, in strange and mysterious new ways, going forward. What does seem certain is that the USA needs now to come together, buckle up, knuckle down, and focus on turning adversity into opportunity, as is the American way.

Bio: Julian Glassford is a UK-based social, political, and economic commentator.

Website: www.infullsail.com/politics

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