Foreign elections are often viewed as light relief, to the more painful machinations of the idiots of our own political class. Instead of using humour as a coping strategy, it is possible to relax a little more as we are a little less affected and thee is some comfort in things being just as stupid elsewhere. Sometimes characters come along, such as Donald Trump that provide much material for mirth, until you realise that he is being taken seriously in some quarters.
The revelations this week that Trump advocates Muslims in the US wearing identification and being barred from entry to the country, is essentially fascist, drawing scarily accurate parallels with the Nazis. What has happened? Did my grandparents generation go on a massive war against the Nazi regime for nothing?
The Second World war created the post war consensus, a sense of solidarity throughout society. It has been argued that this consensus is fading, with negative consequences.
It may be an indirect consequence, but when I was younger politicians used to argue the case for their proposals, rationality and reasoned argument were important. In recent times, such rationality has been lost, policy has been framed and argued for in populist terms, rather than its true effect on the economy. For example, The UK had the Labour parties PFI reforms, an insanely bad idea, however they fitted the popular narrative at the time, they appealed to the demographic the Labour party needed to appeal to, to stay in power, so PFI was implemented and the UK taxpayer is still paying for them.
Last week the UK parliament voted on joining the bombing of ISIS in Syria. The actual argument for the campaign was very unclear, however the rhetoric from the government was that: ‘Well we might not have thought this through, like we didn’t think things through before the Iraq war of 2003, but look, the US and France are doing it and ISIS are bad guys right?’
The problem with this, is that it’s beginning to go beyond just trying to be popular (though that is bad enough), instead it seems that politicians are creating their own populist causes, with the full backing of the mainstream media.
Last night, I was watching on the telly an interview with a prominant Trump supporter. The interviewer asked ‘I live in London, I know for a fact that there are no ‘no-go extremist zones’, so where does Trump get these ideas from?’ The interviewee, after coughing and spluttering a bit, said that well, it was possible that in cities like London, such areas could exist potentially’. Trump’s argument collapsed as his premises were proved to have been made up. Some months ago, Fox ‘news’ were claiming such areas existed in Birmingham, they later admitted the error and apologised.
These days, losing an argument isn’t the end of the story, losing a rational argument no longer matters, what is important is the narrative. This is the problem, this is why many in the UK are really scared of Trump winning, because people often vote in idiots, look at the UK prime minister! Scarred because it is this populist changing of the narrative, picking a scapegoat for all the countries supposed woes, that led to the rise of the Nazis, with popular support.
It’s not the rise of politicians I personally don’t support, that bothers me, it’s the loss of rational debate and discussion that concerns me. To many who think about politics, it is often exasperating that there are so many things to work through with political opponents before you get to the actual issue, political discussion requires a great deal of patience and listening. The issues seem so obvious to those so politically inclined, that often the issue isn’t listened and responded to with opponents. This exasperation can lead to labeling opponents as being stupid. Often arguments in the media and from contemporary politicians mainly concern calling the other side stupid as a side show away from the real issue.
Of course, most people are not stupid, most politicians are a lot less stupid than they act in public. Do we really want flamboyant characters as leaders who make terrible decisions, but we like their narrative, or rational thinkers to make decisions?