Saturday, November 26, 2016

Greece, Brexit, the Populist World, and US


I sat down before my computer on this post-Thanksgiving morning with the intention of reciting all the reasons we have to give thanks on a macro level—a tough task considering the state of our world.  On a micro or individual level, it’s very easy:  just look at our families, friends (yes, even EvKa), and good health—puh, puh, puh.
But in looking broadly at our world, all that came to my mind was a French phrase, “Oy vey” (please check with Cara for the correct pronunciation).

So, I decided to take a look at Ekathimerini, Greece’s equivalent of The New York Times, to see what’s happening back in the old country.  Alas, I found little encouraging there to write about, but I did come across an article entitled, “The Post-Populist Pause,” by Nikos Konstandaras, a managing editor and columnist for Ekathimerini and contributing opinion writer to The New York Times.

I’ve been saying for some time that the populist mood in Greece that drove Greeks to elect Alexis Tsipras Prime Minister would haunt those in the EU who bred this round of populism through their callous insensitivity to the suffering brought on by EU imposed austerity measures.  Indeed, it’s populism that drove Britain in its Brexit vote, and populism that threatens to upend governments in upcoming elections on the Continent. Whether on the right or left, populism seems to rule the day in Europe.

No, like virtually everyone else, I completely missed the populist vigor in our own electorate that led to the election of Donald J. Trump as President of the United States.  Yes, I just expressed that in writing. J

Konstandaras’ column succinctly summarizes how the West got to where it is, and the results of populist expressions at the ballot box so far.  As for where we’re headed…well, let’s just say there’s hope. Maybe.

Here is Nikos Konstandaras’ column, “The Post-Populist Pause.”

One day we may look back at the end of 2016 and the beginning of 2017 as the relatively peaceful eye of the cyclone, the pause between an age that is ending and another that is beginning in anger and division. The only certainty is uncertainty – from our own country to the ends of the earth. In Greece we have learned how to live in crisis; maybe we don’t know any other way. For many years we have believed that politics is the art of saying much, doing little and letting “life” take care of things. Because we don’t expect to shoulder any responsibilities, we set our targets high, and when, inevitably, we miss, we excel in excuses – blaming foreign forces and their local lackeys.

The tragedy is that instead of Greece improving, major countries are following a similar course. It is not just the wave of populism changing communities and politics – for populism has always been a significant part of politics – what is worse is that this wave has no objective rather than following nebulous promises for the restoration of past grandeur. Many voters are drawn to demagogs’ calls for a leap into the void, thinking that in this way they can cut the Gordian knot of reality.

The Greeks were the first to believe that rejecting the old meant the solution of their problems. Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s dramatic turn last July, after six months of wandering around the barricades of an imaginary revolution, marked his surrender to a reality that would not bend to his will. Since then, his government has battled to deal with a crisis that was worsened by SYRIZA’s illusions, while day by day popular anger grows. Developments do not end with an election. When the search for solutions (or implementation of reforms) is not a priority, problems lead to dead ends. Like every other government before it, this one, too, thought that the fact of its election was the solution to all problems, and that if anything went awry, others were to blame. Now Tsipras is thinking of calling elections again. Defeat may relieve him of the cares of office, victory will gain him more time; neither will solve any problems.

The government of Britain followed a similar awakening, and the new US administration will do the same. Brexit will not be painless; wherever the British government turns, it discovers that the ills caused by the divorce from Europe may be worse than those it was supposed to address. Donald Trump seems to be realizing now what his election means. Already he appears to be backtracking on some campaign excesses but we still cannot tell what kind of president he will be. The few weeks before he moves into the White House seem like the quiet moment that will be forgotten quickly in the storm. The coming referendum in Italy, presidential elections in Austria and France, parliamentary elections in the Netherlands and Germany, and many other polls, will show the strength of populism. After the voting, we will see its weakness.



  1. Alas, storm clouds are gathering on the horizon all around the world (and have already rolled in overhead in some places), and it's rare for thunderstorms to gather and then dissipate again without a fair amount of fireworks. With a nod to Bob Dylan, may all you fine people find shelter from the storm...

  2. The percussionists are being assembled at this very moment.

  3. My head is still in the sand, Bro. But. We are certainly living through "an age that is ending and another that is beginning." Humankind has done that many times before, always in tumult and terror. We are in for it just now, it seems. But. Despite the occasional past attacks by the Four Horsemen, there are more (too many?) of us on this planet than ever before.
    Oh, and by the way, the President elect won the populist vote, but Hillary is over 2MM ahead in the popular vote. And she won the 18-24 voters by a huge landslide. We are not necessarily living on a planet dominated by populism. It's here, but it is not drowning out all reason. The future could be sunnier than we think. "Hope springs eternal in the human breast." --Alexander Pope

  4. The balance of that Pope's quote -- led in by a semi-colon--is:

    "Man never Is, but always To be blest.
    The soul, uneasy, and confin'd from home,
    Rests and expatiates in a life to come.

    Call me a nut, but I'd prefer we get something done in the here and now. :)

  5. Well, populism, with a large dose of xenophobia and racism here and in Britain with Brexit.

    I shudder to think about what will happen here. Many people will be hurt, I fear, by the coming regime.

    I hope the Democrats stand up and do not cave in, that the media does not "normalize" Trump, which many are saying is happening, and that young people and everyone with a heart and a brain goes out and protests. Or if you can't, donate to organizations that are doing it.

    The worst thing is complacency or seeing this as the "new normal."

    And by the way, can't wait for the new book about immigrants to Greece.