How To Succeed In Politics Without Really Trying
The twin axioms of representative democracy are (i) that no matter how incompetent, mendacious, unstable, and venal you may be, you can stand for election; and (ii) no matter how ignorant, simple-minded, bigoted, and unstable you may be, you can vote.
Not surprisingly, the results achieved from representative democracy have always been poor, and over the last few years have veered from low-quality to absolutely catastrophic. Brexit, Trump, Babis, Modi, Bolsonaro, Duterte, PiS and scores of other bad ideas have all benefited from the fact the average person knows little and understands almost nothing. People simply cleave to whatever simple-minded memes they’re fed because this is the easiest option. Politics is a sub-sub branch of the entertainment industry and we vote for the most amusing clown, the most outrageous buffoon.
We can’t conceive that there would actually be terrible consequences.
Brexit and Trump demonstrated with absolute clarity the fact that a great many voters are far, far more gullible, ignorant, and stupid than even the most cynical politician had hitherto dared to dream. This is knowledge that cannot be un-learned.
Around the world, eager politicians rushed to play their own version of the Brexit/Trump game and for the most part found that it enabled them to gain power with ridiculous ease. The few who suffered setbacks went away to lick their wounds before trying again (take a bow, Marine Le Pen and Matteo Salvini).
As is always the case, naïve people assumed that even with infantile incompetents at the helm, things would carry on much as before. Journalists rushed to explain why “really” the blustering idiocies of the various demagogues were actually clever and highly-calculated meta-messages and not in fact the infantile lies and crude deceptions they appeared to be.
Best of all, the same journalists assured us that stupid people voting for rich and privileged candidates was “really” a protest against “the elite.” Quite how this contortion was supposed to have occurred was never explained, but it enabled journalists to pretend they hadn’t been highly complicit in the process of enabling such posturing buffoons to gain power.
Because those same journalists had repeated all the lies uncritically and spread them widely, giving the blustering demagogues billions of dollars worth of free publicity and recognition.
Once in power, the demagogues began to behave with absolute contempt for former norms and legal constraints. In the USA a supine Republican Party granted the president absolute power by refusing to take impeachment seriously. In the UK the Brexiteer Conservative Party has just proudly announced that it feels no need to abide by international law nor abide by agreements it made less than a year ago. Duterte has put death squads onto the streets of major Philippines cities and Orban is turning all of Hungary into his own personal propaganda machine. Poland is turning down the dark road of theo-fascism and India under Modi is pursuing religious hatred as a means of bolstering his popularity.
Naïve people fondly imagine that some future election will magically turn the clock back and enable us all to return to a time when we could overlook the many defects of representative democracy and keep pretending it is almost adequate.
In reality, the die is already cast. We’ve come to the end of our accidental experiment with representative democracy and we’re now at the earliest moments of tyranny. Now that the current crop of incompetent halfwits has demonstrated how easy it is to subvert every former norm of legal and civic order, the door is wide open for the self-controlled, the cunning, and the ruthless to stride straight through.
Johnson and Trump and Duterte and Bolsonaro et al may be infantile incompetent blustering cretins, but those who follow will not be. Those who follow will be truly dark individuals who will ensure that today’s half-baked gestures towards concentration camps, demonizing minorities, and destabilizing society will be remembered almost with fondness for their ineptness and incompleteness.
And we owe it all to representative democracy, built on the blithe assumption that people who know nothing and understand nothing must be permitted to vote for candidates who likewise understand nothing except how to tell simple-minded lies to the great mass of very stupid and ignorant voters. Even today, when the consequences of representative democracy are in plain view, most people still imagine that somehow “the next election will enable us to get back on the right track.”
This is akin to believing that although we’ve chopped off both of our legs, our next operation will restore us to perfect health. It’s a pleasant enough delusion within which to hide from reality, but it does nobody any favors.
As Plato noted more than 2,500 years ago, democracy will always decline eventually into tyranny because people are always foolish, gullible, and ignorant. Populism, which is nothing more than a blatant appeal to folly, credulity, and ignorance, is already wreaking its first phase of destruction. It’s too late to turn the clock back; we must accept that long dark days lie ahead.
As we can’t change people, we need to change the way we approach governance. Let’s hope that after the inevitable horrors to come, we look for far more adequate approaches than the hopelessly failure-prone nonsense of representative democracy that has brought us where we are today.