All The Wrong Lessons
It finally happened.
After years of political agitation and harsh rhetoric towards “the elites” and “globalism”, the right got exactly what they wanted.
“No more would we surrender our country and our values to a distant other. No more would we allow feminism and liberalism undermine gender roles, enable homosexuals and compromise the social cornerstone that is our faith. No more would we allow the media to dictate our narrative and unfairly paint us as bigots. No more would we willingly impede our sovereignty with bureaucracy and red tape and empty treaties pushed on us by “experts” — what did they know anyway?”
And it went like this:
Despite the ruling party’s promise of security and stability, anxiety swept society. Counter-terrorism remained an ongoing focal point of discussion. Fringe conspiracy became the basis of policy. We found ourselves fraying our ties with our allies across the Atlantic, to our north, to our south and even our trusted friend Germany. NGOs and philanthropic causes were met with more and more scrutiny and distrust. Elements of the extreme-right were normalized and slowly crept into political relevance. The state found itself at odds with the media.
People reacted accordingly,
The left — completely shattered and almost entirely removed from the legislative branch — reorganized itself into a collection of activist groups and protest movements under the umbrella of a united opposition. Government efforts to limit abortion were met with wide resistance as women’s marches swept the country. The decision to allow the privatization of our national parks was met with outrage. Everyone asked the right questions — How could this happen? Where was the youth vote? How could we fall for this? When will it stop?
This is not the United States in 2017.
This is Poland in 2015.
We’ve always had a special relationship. Men like Tadeusz Kościuszko and Casimir Pulaski shared Washington’s vision and fought alongside him in the War of Independence, inspiring generations of freedom fighters in their motherland. Following America’s example we adopted the second constitution in the world (and the first in Europe). During our partitioning and occupation wave after wave of immigrants made the United States their home — bringing with them their traditions, language and cultural memory. Woodrow Wilson considered our existence to be key in preserving peace in Europe and included the concept of a Polish state in his Fourteen Points. The United States became a beacon of hope and democracy during our struggle against communism and grew to be one of our closest allies in the modern era.
Maybe it’s fitting that we fell for the same thing.
I can’t tell the left how to fix itself. Or the opposition how to organize. Or the electorate how to avoid a demagogue. Or how all of this will all end. But there is a lesson to be learned here — we aren’t alone in this crisis.
We share faults and weaknesses just as we share values and principles. Our institutions are only as strong as our trust in them. Government checks and balances are only as effective as the people behind them. The fight for civil liberties and freedoms is not a single historic confrontation but rather a daily struggle where we are tested in ways that we may not realize. The threats to our progress and achievements as a society aren’t just our ideological opponents — it’s political apathy and negligence. If we succumb to fatigue and lose interest in engaging in our political system then the only ones left to fill the vacuum will be the fringe and extreme. If we lose patience for analysis and thought then we will be governed by conspiracy and cynicism. If we refuse to engage the electorate in a meaningful way then we will find ourselves forever disconnected from election results. If we fail to acknowledge why exactly the far-right overperformed in our countries then we condemn ourselves to repeat this process indefinitely.
If we want to stop this then we’ll have to dig ourselves out together.