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Democracy’s dirty little secret…

May 14, 2016

So, I read in the Globe and Mail yesterday that Donald Trump has wrapped up the Republican nomination, yet there remains great consternation within the party elite as to the direction Trump will take the party in the November election.

The problem with populism, and populist movements, and populist leaders like Trump, is that they can play to our highest ideals, or fuel our darkest.

Canadians in our last general election, fearing the increasingly racist ideology of Stephen Harper (our then Prime Minister), rushed to vote for a more tolerant, idealistic, happier Justin Trudeau.

The people of London, England, tired of the old Eton white boys club that had led that city for most of the past half century, swept a young’ish, hip man of Pakistani origins to power – in a move no Englander, or Anglophile would have ever dreamed possible ten years ago.

Sadiq Khan talks of inclusion, moderation, progress, and like Trudeau, looks awesome in a finely cut blue suit.

On the other side of that populist coin, however, you have Donald Trump, and Marina Le Pen of France (leader of the French Nationalist Party).

They are the dark Orks who work under the Eye of Soron – feeding the darkest needs of our Id, masticating on hate, tribalism, intolerance of the Other.

In their wake one hears the marching of the Brownshirts, one watches as the razor fences are erected, one smells the smoke of immigrant neighbourhoods being burned to the ground.

At its worst, as History has so often shown, there are gas chambers, crematoriums, small pox blankets, and attempts at the mass extinction of the other.

Populism is a coin that is both about creation, and about nihilism. The celebration of life’s collective possibilities, and Freud’s death drive.

The dark side of populism – both in the US and in France – is that too many people, millions and millions of people, have been economically excluded from the neoliberal global economic boom that has supposedly occurred over the past quarter-century.

The gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow, and is, in fact, at its worst since the Great Depression. Sixty million Americans now live in poverty. Another twenty million live pay-to-pay, hovering just on the edges of poverty. That is a lot of fear, and a lot of anger contained within a country that prides itself on the myth of success and materialism.

Economic marginalization is the fertilizer that grows the Garden of Intolerance, that brings out the very worst of our tribal instincts.

Poverty pits neighbour against neighbour, as everyone scrambles for smaller and smaller crumbs.

Donald trumps rises to power because party elites – all party elites – are seen as being more interested in nepotism and maintaining the new economic status quo then dealing with the growing marginalization of the (white) middle classes.

Le Pen argues that the French elite have lost their moral compass, are delusional about immigrants, have lost sight of supporting the French working and middle classes.

Populism is about reactionary political responses. It becomes far easier for white America to blame the dark-skinned man, the muslim immigrant, the Asian over-achievers for their economic insecurities than it is to de-construct a global economic system that has been very precisely designed to fill the pockets of a few – and over which the individual has very little power to change.

Karl Marx was not the first to say “follow the distribution of wealth” to understand the follies of History, but he is the most famous.

Words worth remembering as we watch the worst aspects of populism sweep through America and France (and other democracies) over the next couple of years.

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