The Age Of Voting Recklessly: Why Populism Is On The Rise


Whether globalism is in retreat around the world is debatable but, the election results for the past two years; the Brexit vote, elections in the US, France & now the UK do confirm an observation; the voters now love to vote “recklessly”.  By “reckless” I mean, people aren’t afraid of taking risks. They’re actually voting for a change & voting against the political establishment.  While Barack Obama ran his historic 2008 presidential campaign on themes like; “Change” & “Yes We Can” it’s actually now that we’re seeing people across Europe & the US putting it into practice.  For all the rhetoric, Barack Obama was very much a representative of the mainstream political establishment but, Donald Trump, someone who was dismissed by the media as a joke at the start of the primaries & then, simply as “unelectable” went onto beat Hilary Clinton resoundingly. Trump’s win changes the dynamics of how people view elections. It was assumed that voters are risk-averse. That “they’d elect people with experience to steer the nation in an age where the future is uncertain” was an implicit wisdom among the entrenched political parties. Trump’s ascent to presidency now puts this notion to rest. People would vote for anyone even a political novice provided he strikes the right chord with the voter & is ready to raise issues like extremism & immigration that was until now conveniently buried under the carpet of political correctness.

Another important take away from the US presidential election was the rise of the political maverick Bernie Sanders; a “social democrat” or in America’s skewed political spectrum; a leftist.  His campaign revolved around proposals to make university education free, tax the rich & break the back of the nexus between politicians & the corporate elites.  As expected, during the early days of the campaign the mainstream media largely ignored him. It was only when the primaries morphed into a protracted showdown between Clinton & Sanders that the press started taking him seriously. It’s worth noting that post the fall of Keynesian economics in the 70’s pandering to ideas like universal healthcare & increased taxation could easily kill the chances of a presidential candidate.  Until this election, these ideas were “socialist fables” with no takers in a capitalist America. Sanders’s rise underlines an important shift in the American polity; the young are no more averse to ideas identified with different political ideology. They’re ready to pick & choose what’s best for them from the left, right & centre. They want a curb on immigration, free education & social-welfare but at the same time are opposed to government meddling in their private affairs. Enter the age of political agnosticism; the voter is less dogmatic & more pragmatic.

As the results of the US presidential election & the Brexit vote poured in, political commentators including this writer assumed that this was the rise of the right-wing populism. Pundits & psephologists predicted it was only time before countries like France, Netherlands & Germany would see rabble-rousers heading their governments.  Till now the results have proven otherwise. Elections in the Netherlands saw the decimation of the far-right populist Greet Wilders. Having thwarted Le Pen’s presidential bid; Emmanuel Macron & his one-year old En Marche Party is well on its way to a thumping majority in the French parliament.  All these results confirm that this isn’t some global rise of the far-right. It’s actually the rise of the anti-elitist sentiment across the world.

French President Emmanuel Macron (Source: The Atlantic)

On the surface the recent snap elections in the UK & the Brexit vote may appear as signs of an ambivalent electorate but, when seen in conjunction as a Pan-European phenomenon we arrive at a very different conclusion. Anti-elitism is the binding theme of the recently concluded snap election & the Brexit vote.

Theresa May’s plans to build up her parliamentary majority just when the Brexit talks with the EU were to begin was interpreted by many as an attempt to stifle parliamentary dissent & strengthen her own hands under the ruse of gaining leverage over Brussels.  The voters especially the youth turned out in large numbers & nearly upended the predictions of psephologists. May who had maintained a twenty point lead over her Labour rival, Jeremy Corbyn as late as May-end was disgraced as her Conservative party failed to even preserve their thin majority won in 2015 elections.  What astonished many wasn’t May’s “national humiliation” but, the rise of Corbyn; a leftist pariah for the establishment. Ridiculed by the right-wing as a cynic old socialist who’s too left-wing to be considered a serious contender for the UK’s top-post. Corbyn ran a campaign that inspired the young, the people of the colour & the white-working class which was instrumental in Trump’s ascent on the other side of the Atlantic. In the end, it wasn’t enough; Corbyn lost to May but, even in his loss the face of British politics may have changed for the foreseeable future.  He has redefined populism for good which was until now considered as a canker of the masses. That you can actually win votes across disparate social groups without sowing seeds of discord is the biggest take away from Corbyn’s campaign.

People are fed up with the pep talks of their leaders on globalism. They fulminate at the disconnected leaders of “elitist” organizations like the EU & the UN.  They balk at the idea of international organizations & their secret liaison with their governments. They suspect that these organizations are furthering the agenda of the rich in the name of globalism & an interconnected world even when jobs are drying & automation is ruthlessly mowing over what’s left. They’ve seen the profits of multinationals swell over the decades & their own job security wane in proportion.  Their leaders remained mute as the rights of the workers were slowly muzzled in the name of “free trade” & provisions of social-welfare were obliterated.  Expecting that this disgruntled lot would appreciate their rhetoric that “climate change is the biggest problem facing humanity” is nothing but, vanity & excessive self-indulgence on the part of the political establishment. This time the voters are treating them in kind; the rise of mavericks like Trump, Sanders & Macron is a lesson for the political establishment throughout the world. The subtext is; ignore the voter at your own peril.

(This post also appeared on HuffPost India & HuffPost Espana)



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