Re-awakening Democracy.

It’s becoming more and more apparent that in this epoch the old adage that “evil flourishes when good men do nothing” originally coined by Edmund Burke in the 18th century is once again in sharp relief. Now, more than ever in recent history, peoples tendency for mistrust and even hatred is being fuelled.

It is peculiar, though not very surprising that the election of a President in America is a matter of such interest in the rest of the world. His election is creating shock waves of concern and angst and there can be little doubt that it is creating deep divisions in many countries. Whether by design of default, the United States of America has played a powerful and often, though not exclusively, beneficent role in the world. As one of the most militarily powerful nations, America’s trials and tribulations have a significant impact on other countries. For that reason, the election of Donald Trump as the next President of the United States is not just a topic of deep interest for Americans.

Well over twelve months ago I was telling those that would listen that Mr. Trump could well win the Presidential election. Most everyone smiled and dismissed the prediction as fanciful ravings and conspiracy mongering and they regarded me as though I was predicting the end of the world as we know it. Well, Mr. Trump has indeed won the Presidential election. Many people, even those much better informed than I are really surprised. What surprises me is that they should be so surprised. For this event was in my humble opinion, entirely predictable. The recent challenges faced by many people as a result of the financial meltdown and the widespread belief that the crisis was caused by sheer greed on the part of some have created a perfect storm that has, it must be acknowledged, been presided over by a host of well-meaning politicians struggling to find a way to manage it. It has created deep animosity in many people for what Mt Trump has opportunistically called the “establishment”

Today, if one searches the web for the term anti-establishment, one now finds numerous links that include the name of Donald Trump. It’s as though his name has become synonymous with anti-establishment rhetoric. According to the Collins English Dictionary, anti-establishment is about being opposed to established norms and values. This does not sound like Donald Trump. Definitely not anti-establishment, Mr. Trump is more about the re-establishment of the very system he has been so critical of, but in his own image . The question is, how will this turn out? This will not become clear for some time I suspect, perhaps even to Mr. Trump himself. But it has the feel of a relapse to a time when people were more cruel and harsh to each other, it sounds like the kind of nationalism that has already historically failed and it looks dangerous.

The other evening, I had a rather interesting experience. Having had a busy work day, I spent a good part of my evening watching television. On Channel 4’s news programme I watched an interview with a man, Milo Yiannopoulos. He is a senior editor at Breitbart News. Until recently I had never heard of Breitbart News, what a sheltered life I lead! And of Mr Yiannopoulos, nothing until this regrettable encounter. He was interviewed by Cathy Newman, a regular news anchor on the programme. I wasn’t so much aghast at what I heard from Mr Yiannopoulos as terribly disappointed. This kind of nasty rhetoric is becoming increasingly routine these days. I will not honour this man’s ill-considered and unwise utterings by quoting them, though in the interests of fairness, here is a link to the interview if you want to see and hear for yourself.

I’m pausing here whilst I consider my next sentence because I was going to suggest that you not bother. But, on reflection, go ahead, click the link and watch. Then, if you will and you have a moment, come back here and bear with me a little longer, please.

Some twenty minutes later I switched channels and came across a programme that I have watched many times. It was on the BBC and it is called “DIY SOS”. Tonight was a special programme for the annual Children in Need event that takes place on the BBC in Britain. The DIY SOS Team were tasked with completely refurbishing a large building for a charity based in Blackpool. The charity provides help and assistance for young people and children who must take responsibility for caring for a family member, often a parent who is ill or is living with a disability. Here is a short 2.5 minute clip . Take a peek, you won’t be disappointed.

BBC Children in Need 2016

Toward the end of the programme, the two young women above who work at the charity spoke about their gratitude to the huge team of volunteer tradespeople who gave their time and expertise completely free of charge to transform the lives of children and young people they don’t even know.

BBC Children in Need 2016

What a stark contrast to the distasteful commentary from Mr. Yiannopoulos. These are people that he simply would neither understand or appreciate I think.

Throughout the election campaign, Donald Trump challenged American democracy by suggesting that the election was rigged in favour of his opponent. He castigated the “Washington Establishment” and in so doing he caught the attention of many disenfranchised people in America and further afield. He managed to capture their sense of hardship, of uncertainty and worry and turn it to his political advantage. But, let’s not be too hard on Mr. Trump; he is not the first ambitious politician to do that. And now that he is elected, well, it seems as though there is nothing to be done but get on with it for the next four years at least. Perhaps this is so.

Mr Trump is now distancing himself from many election promises he made. Again, this is predictable. It now seems that the people who supported him and who voted for him may not get what he promised. And that’s a potential problem in the making.

According to Samuel Huntington, a political science professor at Harvard University and long-time consultant to the White House on the war in Vietnam who was writing about the American Presidency;

“The day after his election, the size of his majority is almost — if not entirely — irrelevant to his ability to govern the country. What counts then is his ability to mobilise support from the leaders of key institutions in a society and government. … This coalition must include key people in Congress, the executive branch, and the private-sector ‘Establishment” (http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinnseven20.html )

People are elected to public office in many nations around the world. But, they may not continue to serve without the support of others and this i think also includes “the people”. Donald Trump has awakened a sleeping giant of popular unrest at how democracy is being run across the western world. Peter Mair in his book “Ruling the Void: The Hollowing of Western Democracy, (2013)” has argued that democracy has been essentially disemboweled with an increasingly disinterested electorate and an ever more technocratic political system. I have argued elsewhere that democracy has been mis-served by being confused with capitalist growth. Thus, it is all to easy to create alarm and opposition especially in communities where there is already real disadvantage. And now the previously disinterested electorate, having been prodded by Mr. Trump are wide awake and they are worried, afraid and some, perhaps, are angry.

The phenomenon of Globalisation has taken an increasing hold over how things are done in Western political systems. Depending on where you look, globalisation is defined either in strictly economic terms or in economic and cultural terms. For many, globalisation is the root of what is wrong in the world. This is incorrect in my view.

Quoted earlier in the Guardian President Barack Obama said

“The current path of globalisation demands a course correction,” he said. “In the years and decades ahead, our countries have to make sure that the benefits of an integrated global economy are more broadly shared by more people, and that the negative impacts are squarely addressed.

“When we see people, global elites, wealthy corporations seemingly living by a different set of rules, avoiding taxes, manipulating loopholes … this feeds a profound sense of injustice.”

Globalisation is not the problem. The problem is greed and the need to possess more than any one human being can reasonably make use of; it is this that lies at the heart of what ails our world today.

I cannot equate the outpourings of Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson or Marine LePen and the other emerging right-wing leaning reactionists with what I understand democracy to be about.

I suppose I have to acknowledge Donald Trump however, because he has forced me to consider much more carefully what it means to be a member of the society in which I live. He has forced me to act, to write these thoughts down and to seek to engage with others that we might find a different path from his, one where people matter most. I have, like many others I guess, been guilty of a relative disinterest in politics, preferring instead to focus on work and family. Now however, it is no longer possible to do this and remain silent. If Peter Mair is correct, we have all conspired to allow our politicians take too much responsibility for how we live. This is unreasonable and critically, it is not working. Our constant striving for “things” is not what makes human beings special. It is how we care for and consider others. It is how we welcome those fleeing persecution and it is how we ensure that children and families have adequate homes and food with which to live.

The image of all those tradespeople in Blackpool giving so generously of their time and expertise to help others with not a thought of profit or gain for themselves is how I see Democracy. It is Democracy in action. Mr. Trump and friends, take a lesson!