Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Trump, demagogues and a political precipice

Given the number of potential disasters that can befall the world, the introverted nature of English politics is always intriguing.  Having relocated to a country where there is febrile muttering around the prospects for a second referendum on independence, and where electoral systems have been designed to provide at least the basis for pluralism in its own affairs, watching the numerous pseudo-democratic unravellings south of the border is on occasion a spur for schadenfreude, or at least a sneaky Laphroaig.

Today's news that, at least within the mainstream Republican party, there is unlikely to be any resistance to the domination of Donald Trump should act as a reminder to the dangers of the paradigm shift that is going on in the globalised, post-capitalist world.  It should also make people more motivated to cleave to empowered supra-national bodies, but that is another argument that will need to be fleshed out over the next weeks.

Trump, who appears to be more appealing to a spectrum of opinion that ranges from the Klan to Vladimir Putin than to most of his own party, is a prime example of the way in which rich, self-entitled demagogues can seize the initiative.  They do not even need to be rich, if they can provoke the kind of media adulation that enables them to be taken seriously without scrutiny or challenge, or if they can play some form of victim card that apparently provides the magical shield of protection from logic and the unfortunate actions of oxygen and gravity that so constrain the rest of us with morality and the sense of self-importance so important to contemporary success.

Given the nature of politics, it is unlikely that Trump's triumphant progress will go unchallenged, and it would be foolish to even speculate what his own party will do to him in order to secure its own future.  However, the spectrum of amoral egotists, whose paradigms run from Blair, through Johnson and Goldsmith, to Putin and even to some of the less effective self-appointed messiahs (think Galloway), is an alarming one for people who believe that politics should be about the exchange of ideas, of mutual respect and at least a potential consideration of mind-changing.

I have always contended that one of the key problems is alienation and impotence.  Much of the British political system is dominated by safe seats, low turnouts and centralisation of power - not being significantly diluted in England at least despite the protestations of the government around City Deals and the shape-shifting Northern Powerhouse rodomontade.  Apathy feeds the kind of resentment that self-styled outsiders, pace the hypocritical canting of Trump and Farage, can channel into what passes for a political movement.

As with other developments over the last weeks, this suits the electoral manipulators fine.  Eventually the perception of amorality and disenfranchisement provides them with the cover that is needed to further erode both the point of political discourse and the possibility of developing engagement with people that is based around the concept of an empowered citizenry.  Voters are fodder, only requiring to be attended to as bit-part actors in the death-dance of the super-wealthy, who are able to buy their way to power, distorting the techniques of influence and persuasion, and deploying resource to damage and smear their opponents rather than having the confidence or the brainpower to engage with different viewpoints.

In Scotland, the race to come second has become the story of the election.  Very little scrutiny of the policy platforms, or indeed the track record of the incumbent government, has gone on - although I suspect that it will be the last time that the SNP can expect such an easy ride.  Partly it is down to an enfeebled media, and one which, at a UK level, finds it hard to comprehend the idea that there is something more than Westminster and the Tory-Labour duopoly, even after nearly twenty years of settled devolution.

The Trumpery is a threat to world peace and prosperity, but the emergence of such politics much closer to home is an equal challenge to legitimate government, and the consensus that is required for popular consent.  Waking up to the potential revolutionary impact of the western oligarchs is now the top priority for wider politics, and those engaged in it from a spectrum that includes my grouchy libertarian leftism to the mainstream of the national parties, the Labour Party and the Tories.  It may well be that the only defence against the menace posed is for a much more mature and tolerant dialogue from the bottom-up.  Rest assured that this is not part of the narrative, and therefore space must be carved out before the social and ethical constructs of the enlightenment and consensual government are blown up and replaced with a totalitarian model that would meld both the Communist and Fascist regimes with modern social and economic controls - and which could be unstoppable if legitimised.

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