A few weeks ago I attended a seminar on US Politics at SOAS – with the recent results of “Brexit” the session quickly turned into a panel on Western Politics. In explaining the state of today’s political climate, both speakers spoke to growing feelings of cultural anxiety and threats to personal security among the public as causes of this resurgence in nationalism. Ultimately, there has been a stark increase in issues of foreign policy amongst voting demographics.
Throughout the lecture, I felt both speakers failed to address the root causes of what was described as a “profound period for Western politics”. Mainly, they missed the point on what feelings of “nationalism”, “cultural anxiety” and “fear to personal security” (or bluntly put terrorism) are really manifestations of. If you ask me, the Trump supporters and EU leave voters of this world are not inherently xenophobic. Rather, they are experiencing social and economic insecurity, and need something or someone to explain their plight. Instead of turning their attention to the political system and leaders that have failed them, unfortunately the answer resonates, as always, with “others”. And politicians – wanting to divert attention away from themselves -happily support negative perceptions of the scapegoat.
Our Western political system and leaders should be the ones being held account for today’s disenfranchised and powerless majority. However, looking at the current state of US and UK politics, I’m pessimistic of an authentic mechanism of accountability or democracy coming to light anytime soon. Here in the UK, I have felt like I am living in an episode of House of Cards. David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage were all Frank Underwood making political plays purely motivated by self-interest. These political leaders literally gambled with national interest and are now hanging their heads in shame having lost their life savings.
The political system is evidently in need of reform. Within all UK and US political parties, ideologies have never been so polarizing. How does UK Labour party leader go from Tony Blair to Jeremy Corbyn? The Conservatives internal politics instigated Brexit, and Labour is attempting a Corbyn coup. In the US, party politics may have well been mute this federal election campaign – citizens clearly only have individuals to vote for. If this is the mess of the parties that are the foundations of our political systems, how are voters expected to vote, and feel, even superficially, that they are being adequately represented?
Democracy is a fallacy – there is no such thing today (or questionable ever has been). In order to make our politics work for the people it proclaims to serve, something massive and revolutionary needs to happen. If anything good can come from the chaos of today, it is mass public enlightenment and mobilization. Perhaps this is all indicative of an ideological shift. I for one really hope so, otherwise, the likes of Donald Trump – the ever impressive mass manipulator – will sit perched and pretty laughing while feeding off the fear and uncertainty which seeps from our broken political system.
Robyn Waite (July 13, 2016)