On Democracy and Populism and Our Future
“The Russians came, exposed the truth and in doing so, stole the 2016 presidential election and unless we stop them, we may be exposed to the truth again! It had to be the Russians!!! Who else would engage in such dastardly, antidemocratic, anti-American actions? Evidence, who needs evidence, motive is enough, and opportunity. The people seem to be listening. Arouse the villagers, hand them torches and burn everything!!!!”
The mainstream media is doing all it can, everywhere, not just in the United States, to turn the term “populism” into a pejorative. That “fact” became obvious to me during an interview in which I was involved discussing the relative power of the right versus the left in Latin America during 2016. But what is populism? Isn’t it democracy in action when the majority rejects the “reigning” establishment? When the majority of voters in a democracy take their political responsibilities seriously? When elitist ideology and dogmatism are rejected by those they most impact on a daily basis?
Populism is not a right versus left issue but rather a democratic phenomenon, a descriptive term perverted by those whom the People reject. Rejection of the concept of populism is a rejection of democracy in its most literal meaning, a concept based on the will of the majority, whatever that will reflects.
In today’s world, where hypocrisy is king and distortion its prime minister, language is not only sullied, it is shattered, something George Orwell predicted in his short but epic novel, 1984. The term “democracy” has been loaded with contradictory concepts so that as a tool, it has to be dysfunctional. Rather than a term describing rule by a majority, in the liberal political sphere currently dominant in the so called west, it includes the contradictory concepts of liberty and pluralism, each, on its own, desirable, but all pulling in different directions. Thus, the popular decisions of a majority are rejected as undemocratic and, horrors, “populist”, when they do not follow the dictates demanded of the majority by the losers.
I am not thrilled by president elect Donald John Trump’s victory although I found him a lesser evil than Hillary Clinton. Unlike many, however, I did not fall for the clamor to crown lesser evil and voted for an apparently decent and competent third party candidate who at least in tenor was aligned with my social, economic and international beliefs. She lost, for which I blame the mainstream media that deliberately and energetically obfuscated reality. The mainstream media that has evolved from providing us with access to the truth to hiding facts from us that might lead to popular political decisions contrary to the interests of a tiny elitist minority. Which has become a monolithic conglomerate of institutions, now operating like a well-trained team of cavalry horses whose main function is to ride us down and run us over. But in the last election, the unthinkable happened, the populace somehow dodged that runaway herd and the mainstream media and its handlers are now beside themselves with fury, frustration, anger, and perhaps, fear. Fear that the carbon rods they felt themselves to be, capable of controlling the nuclear reaction inherent in the popular will, failed, and that the popular explosion they derogatorily refer to as populism has broken free. As when the Hindenburg exploded, we can hear the hysterical media wail “the humanities, the humanities!”
I am not certain democracy functions. Majority decisions require majority participation and if the decisions, are, in the long term, to be beneficial to the public welfare, everywhere, then there must be efficient and transparent access to truth. Even that is not enough as psychological studies are showing that faced with truths counter to our opinions, we evade them, ignore them, and seek more comforting reinforcement, regardless of how inaccurate it proves to be. Thus populism may in itself be dysfunctional. But if we reject populism, then embracing democracy is worse than a farce.
We want and probably need three opposing currents: collective majority rule, the individualism inherent in liberty and the protection of minorities inherent in pluralism. We need attainable concessions from the states we’ve created, tied to the conditions necessary for them to function, and to the state obligations necessary to protect them, the concept we erroneously refer to as rights (rights, being inherent, eternal and unconditional cannot be imposed or regulated or granted). We need a workable and respected system to attain the common welfare, equality, equity and justice. But in a society so tenaciously fragmented that no group of likeminded individuals respects the honesty or integrity of groups with opposing viewpoints, and where the institutions designed to seek consensus and unity instead do everything possible to promote disunity, disharmony and mistrust, popular government seems impossible to attain.
So, … what are our options?
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2016; all rights reserved