Thursday, September 24, 2015


Over the last few days I’ve been brooding about trends in politics.  Not about which candidate will win which election, but rather about the way people in democracies across the world appear to be searching for something different.  It seems that they’ll support any charismatic wanabe, no matter how odd his or her policies, provided that person is not linked to the political establishment.  Maybe it’s the concrete expression of disgust that we all feel about where the world has been brought by its leaders.  It’s understandable, but it may be dangerous.
Pretty well as large as life

Larger than life
Take a look at the current goings on in the US presidential campaigning.  The candidates coming to the fore all present themselves as outsiders and antiestablishment.  On the Republican side, Trump and Fiorina say they are independent business people who want all the financial nonsense swept away and managed by someone who really understands these things i.e. themselves.  The fact that they are extremely unsuccessful business people seems to be neither here nor there. (Take a look at this OpEd from the New York Times.)  They are charismatic and outside the political establishment; that seems to be good enough and the party insiders don’t know what to do about it.

That about sums it up!
The Democratic Party is no different.  There we have Bernie Sanders who is drawing big crowds and leading in New Hampshire – not, I suggest, because of his policies, which he probably doesn’t expect to implement in any case, but because he’s an outsider.  Hilary Clinton should be a shoo-in, but she has a huge problem to overcome – not the email “scandal” (which I frankly don’t even understand), but that she’s the ultimate insider.

This seems to be repeated around the world.  James Corbyn gets elected as leader of the Labour Party in the UK on a platform that conventional wisdom says makes Labour unelectable.  In the last election Scotland threw out all the established candidates, having toyed with independence from the UK shortly before. In the same election -although winning only one seat as a result of the constituency system - UKIP drew substantial support on a xenophobic platform.  It even seems possible that in the upcoming referendum, UK voters will decide to withdraw from Europe in spite of – or maybe partly because of - all the main parties telling them not to. 

SYRIZA wins the election in Greece – a charismatic leader with a group of outsiders (who have actually become insiders but no one has noticed yet). They get another chance after essentially reneging on everything they promised in the previous election.  How does that work?

In South Africa – despite the government’s endemic corruption and mismanagement – the established opposition gets nowhere.  It’s the new outsiders here – the Economic Freedom Fighters – who are suddenly winning new voters.  While race is still the card played by all sides, much of the real division is now around class - the haves and the have nots. A black government of wealthy politicians doesn't cut it any more. 

Annamaria pointed out a few days ago that there seems to be just one story that the media run with at any moment.  It was Syria, then it was Greece, then it was the Refugee Crisis, then… and the older stories seem to fall by the wayside, not because they’ve been resolved - far from it - but because ennui has set in and we need something new to appall us. Surely this also drives the disgust we feel; all of these issues are leadership failures writ very large.  Successes – and there really are some throughout the world (take a look at Sujata's post yesterday) – just don’t make news.

The reason I think this could be dangerous is that one of these days we’re going to end up with an outsider we really won’t like.  Brexit?  President Trump?

What’s the answer?  I’m not even sure that I know what the question is.

Michael - Thursday


  1. Personally, Michael, I've always felt Stan had something to do with Jesse's rise in Minnesota. It just seems like his sense of humor. Speaking of a sense of humor, if you can't keep one in the face of all the disastrous happenings in our world today, you will go insane, seek out ways of attaining a different reality, or gorge yourself on chocolate daily.

  2. I think there are a lot of qualified people that could be great leaders, but they are not bizarre enough with an ego the size of the moon. Therefore, I doubt if there will be any noticeable improvement.

  3. Well Jeremy/ James Corbyn is sticking by his guns and people are respecting him for it. They might not agree with him but they do respect him - and that respect is far so good!

  4. With hundreds of millions (and even billions) of people involved, we're just a large statistical morass that moves inexorably based upon what's happened in the years and decades prior. There's little that we as individuals can do except to try to surf the tidal waves of social ebb and flow, and "make good" in our own tiny spheres of influence (as opposed to the politicians' spheres of flatulence...)

  5. Thanks for the comments.

    Indeed, it's true that large numbers of people behave in statistical rather than deterministic ways. I guess what I find surprising is the trend that seems to be almost universal. A rejection of the status quo in favor of change. Encouraging in a way, but the change doesn't seem well directed.

    Keep calm and eat chocolate, to paraphrase Jeff.

  6. If it comes down to Bernie vs Trump in the US, we won't be in a tidal wave. It will be white water. I went rafting in it once in Alaska. I know exactly what to do: hang on tight and try not to scream. And eat chocolate. Professor Lupin was right about that.

  7. I agree. Do not watch too much TV news or related programs. Watch a lot of movies on Netflix or MHZ Networks (global mysteries). Read a lot of crime fiction.
    And eat chocolate! Yes.
    The regimen to get through the U.S. elections -- for the next 15 months.