Oh my God!! Trump won the elections!! How did this happen, I did not know that we will stoop so low!! How can this happen in an educated and responsible society?
These are some of the remarks that are floating around after Donald Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton. The question is this really something out of the blue or is this just a sign of things as they stand today…
Two years back, when Narendra Modi took on the establishment of Lutyens Delhi, there was a similar hue and cry with the high pitched intellectuals and media barons just running him down. The flashpoint of elections was the “Chaiwalla” remark from Mani Shankar Aiyer which became the epitome of high handedness of the political class (or crass) as people saw it then. Everyone who was supporting Modi was termed a right wing extremist and was named and shamed in public. The public response to this approach was seething anger against these elitist, but also tremendous restraint in not letting their views out!! All polls showed that BJP would not win or if it wins it would be by so small a margin and being untouchable for other parties will not form the government. Come election day, the results baffled one and all, not only did the seething anger translate to votes, it led Narendra Modi to an unbeliveable absolute majority that shook the elitist but reinvigorated a nation!!
In June, this year, when Nigel Farage teamed up with Boris Johnson to take on the establishment of Brussels, Euro, there was a similar hue and cry with the same contempt and mockery that Modi faced in India. The media barons left no stones unturned to call them a Joker, a Dangerous threat, a Racist and all other such epitomes that they could come upon. Again they named and shamed their supporters as maniacs and simply dismissed them. The response was very similar, the same seeting anger suppressed inside. While David Cameron was getting set for his greatest moment, this seething anger turned the applecart and Britain decided to Brexit against all opinion polls. All the doomsday predictions of the elitist came to a pass for a couple of days, then the world adjusted to the reality and since then the world has not changed much just that a few of the elites have a sorry face to show.
Cut to US elections, when Trump became the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the whole of media turned against him. His every statement was dissected and taken out of context to paint him a super villain, the proverbial Joker of the batman series. Again the media and the elitist started a name and shame campaign against his supporters. The response of these ordinary common people having to put up against these elitist was exactly the same as had happened in the other two continents!! Silent restraint and then an outpouring at a single moment to take the Goliath of establishment down. Trump not only won, but won handsomely enough to stun the media outlets and the elitist in the US!!
A similar story panned out with Dueterte in Philippines in April of this year!!
So countries across three different continents, accounting for 25% of the world’s overall population decided to go against the mainstream media and establishment and elect the “Unelectable” candidate as per the standards established by the elitist. Why did this happen? Was this just a knee jerk reaction? What can the rest of the world learn from this?
For starters, the first thing in common here is that in all these places, there was a growing discontent amongst the population against existing government policies of slicing and dicing the people into groups and categories instead of looking at them as a nation. In India, ever since the emergence of the Mandal politics, the only thing that was considered important was the caste equations… This leader has the backing of this caste, so he will win these many votes… and then came the Kamandal politics and religious groups became the other aspect… So all the poll commentators speak is about how each caste is going to vote for a particular person and how each religion is going to vote for a particular person. By doing this over and over again, these people were exposing the fault-lines that exist within any pluralistic society and they were making them more rigid and direct and thus increasing the conflict in the society. This resulted in the rise of fringe groups and with that the security of the larger benevolent population started to get affected!! Vote-bank politics started to influence all spheres including justice, so suddenly terrorists started being branded as national figures just to garner the votes of one community. Any complaint against an individual would quickly flare up as a caste based or a religion based discrimination instead of looking at the incident on its merit. Within these so called minorities, entities started emerging who started to manipulate the system for personal gains and started to flout all the norms of the society and larger population was made to suffer in the name of “Political Correctness”!!
Similar conditions were prevailing in Europe where the terrorism issue and problems of ghettoism, for the first time gave them a taste of some of the problems India has faced over the last three or more decades. The local people started to understand the view that most Indians have held about the duplicity of stance of some of the Western nations viz a viz terror. As every terrorist turned out to be from a particular religion or community, the Western leaders simply decided not to look at the root cause of these issues in the name of “Political Correctness”. While the common man had to endure concern with security and fear in day to day life, the elitist were busy lecturing them on how to be tolerant!! The migrant situation then forced the hand as apart from security issues, the economic issue and the intregration issues started to show up some of the real issues of not addressing the root causes of this problem. Again the Europe’s elitist while continuing to enjoy a grand lifestyle themselves were administering austerity measures to the general public and asking them to make sacrifices. The faultlines were again clearly opened up and the nation was being divided and anyone who raised a voice against this was branded a racist or a bigot. So the openness to feedback and corrective measures which were the hallmark of the European society after the Renaissance was gone!!
USA had a similar set of issues. The real downturn of outsourcing at the cost of local population and huge immigration population forcing its way into the US both legally and illegally started to hurt the locals. While the Washington elitists kept lecturing the population on being tolerant, need to have austerity measures, need for tough decisions, they themselves have a lavish lifestyle and are completely detached from these day to day issues. Again the race politics of US which has never been addressed in a proper sustained manner, but has been used as votebank politics, surfaced. Over the last few years, the faultlines have opened up big time. While Obama won his election by the idealistic “Yes, We Can” campaign, it quickly transformed as the “First Black President” campaign. This led to hardening of positions on both sides. Again the migrant issue, tipped the scales big time and the subsequent exposes from Wikileaks showing the Media-Politician nexus, just re-enforced the public thought process. In Philippines, it was the war against drugs that was destroying families, that propelled Dueterte to the top.
In each of these instances, the concerns were genuine and families were feeling threatened about their existence and their future. How did the establishment react in each of the case? In India, the media and politicians went after Modi. They branded him everything under the sky. From the Gujarat riots to trying to paint a terrorist as a nationalist and then blame Modi for her encounter to attacking his roots to attacking his humble background to questioning his “temperament” to be the leader of the world’s biggest democracy!! Sounds familiar? They went after the messenger who told them of what Indian families wanted!! They villified him, named and shamed him.
At first, when the initial reports came, there was some level of belief in the people about these news. But then when it became constant, then the numbness started to set in. Then when the ridiculous statements started flying out like “A chaiwallah will never become a PM!!” the reverse polarization started happening and people started to question all the previous allegations as well. And as a public debate started, it started to get more and more evident that all the cases were circumstantial and something was not right about them!! The Supreme Court of India had already absolved Modi of any wrong doing.
Modi being the great orator that he is, was able to build on these stories. He played the waiting game, talking only about development to begin with, but then at every gaffe that his opponents made, he jumped on it to exonerate himself. He understood the people of India and explained his stance in their language and that means using colloquial terms such as “36 inch ki chaathi”, “15 lakhs in your bank account” etc. All the media elites jumped at the literal meaning of these words and started judging him as not having the qualifications to be the PM. But these same statements were understood by the public he was addressing as examples or similes and they appreciated it for what it meant rather then the literal translation that the media houses were trying to potray. The disconnect between the media and the public started to widen. Being the smart player that he is Modi decided to use more of these controversial terms to give these media houses a lot to talk about him rather than address the real issues the public wanted to address!! So we heard him talk about “Rs. 50 crore Girlfriend”, “Concern even about the death of a dog”. While the public understood the context in which he was discussing these points, the media experts stopped at the literal meaning and were conducting naming and shaming campaigns around that. So he got the media time to reach every house in India, while also used the negativity to fuel in reverse polarisation and then went on to take the race.
A very similar reaction was done by the establishment in Britain. BBC took upon itself to insult every one involved with the Brexit campaign. So portions of Nigel Farage’s speeches were taken and shown to highlight him as a racist or a bigot. Every of Boris Johnson’s statement was potrayed as buffoonery. But the public now laced with high speed internet could look up the entire speech in matter of minutes and make up its own mind about the context and tenor of the comment. The more negative the campaign got on the media, the more reverse polarization started to take place. The establishment could not provide the electorate with a clear view of the policies that would alleviate their problems, instead this villification became the centerstage. It was never about what Cameron can do for you, but it was always about what Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson will do to you. The outcome of this approach is now very clear!!
As they say some people never learn, the American media latched onto Trump with all viciousness and bile that it could summon. Like Modi, Trump was smart, he picked his loyal followers and kept firing them up by what they wanted to hear. He knew very well that the media will take all his comments literally. So while the media was busy discussing the cost of the wall, the length of the wall, the absurdness of the idea, the majority of the public was not thinking at a physical wall, but a wall like protection in terms of either physical or logical obstactles put in place to stop illegal immigrants coming in. While the media was busy dissecting his every speech, he was busy giving them the headlines that would make him look persecuted and thus lead to reverse polarization like it happened in India and Europe. His opponent handed him a golden opportunity when she made the “deplorable” comment which was like the “Chaiwallah” moment in India. Trump latched onto this with both hands and his campaign hammered this point to get all the deplorables fired up to go and vote against the elitist!! Ironically, Trump had Farage during the Republican Convention and just before the elections used Modi’s catchphrase “Ab ki baar, TRUMP sarkar” as if to highlight the similarities of what is happening in three different campaigns world over!!
While each of the leaders above won their elections, it is by no means a character certificate or endorsement for the views that each of the above individuals might have in their personal life. In fact, the general public might disagree with a lot of bile and statements that have been doled out by these individuals. But, they have given these people as outsiders an extra bit of support in their fight against the establishment, to level the playing field if you may like. In today’s interconnected world and Internet generation, you do not need experts in studios to fact check and explain what you need to understand from each speech. Each interested individual can easily go on the internet and find for oneself. The key thing here is to make the individual interested enough to look you up on the internet. It is such people who will also take that extra step to go to the polling booth to vote. When people come to hear from individuals not for the sake of the freebies on offer, but as a genuine interest in listening to what the person is saying, then these people will also go to vote. When people were filling up Modi’s rallies or Trump rallies, the other side simply dismissed it as saying that rally numbers do not matter in poll numbers. How wrong these people were as they did not understand the difference between genuine interest vs. a superficial interest.
The death of opinion polls as we know it is on the anvil. In India, election after election recently has shown that such polls don’t matter. Brexit again proved the same and now the US election again proved the same. If the techniques were really robust, then one or two aberrations could be understood, but such consistent failure would not have happened. The modern voter the world over is becoming truly democratic, i.e. he is possessive of his vote and does not want to reveal his intentions other than in the ballot box!!
Concepts such as social justice, morality, political correctness can only exist in a civil society. When a civil society is challenged by threats such as Terrorism, Corruption, National Security, Social unrest, then the civility of the society is threatened. At this stage all bets are off, because the public first want a solution for this problem and return to civil society before it wants to consider the other aspects. At this stage it is important to focus on these aspects and nailing the real problem rather than lecturing the people on morality and social issues. This is the classic Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in play!!
Independent media is a myth. Each of these elections saw the politician-media nexus come to the forefront. Of course, the media consists of people and people will have their opinions. With the advent of TV, more and more media houses have gone from reporting news to building opinions and it is this second part that is now beginning to hurt. As the opinion makers bring their own brand of opinions into play and when the bias plays day in and day out, the credibility of a news peters out. So now there is a standard two sides of the coin for each news and the value of the news is nothing. Real Journalism as we know is dead, now it is about paid media. One of the strongest discussion topic in the media during the US elections was on how much money was collected and spent during the campaign and the campaign ads. So basically the one who spends the most on ads gets the most positive coverage!! But, now, the audiences are not fooled anymore as there are other avenues where one can connect with the real news. So journalism is at crossroads, and the next few years will determine what the future of journalism holds.
The politics of character assasinations can only work to some extent. It you overdo it, it will boomerang big time. So before choosing this route, one needs to be very careful and needs to keep a tight leash on the messaging to prevent such reverse polarization.
To me as an observer, the world politics is on a knife’s edge. After the break up of Soviet Union, the left wing idealogy had slowly seeped into every political discourse across the globe. The left lean started to increase with time and at this moment, the world is more left of center than it has been for nearly a century, though we do not have the big red countries other than China any longer. After the initial success, the world is now faced with the realities of this lean towards the left with weakened economies with huge deficits, more stark difference between the elitist and the rest, Biased Media propaganda and a general apathy to individual’s life and family. Add to this the increased threat of terrorism globally and mishandling of the various wars being fought the world over in the name of restoring democracy across the world, the world has reached the tipping point.
India started the trend to correct towards to the right with the election of Modi, now other countries are beginning to follow suit as evidenced by Brexit, Dueterte and Trump. Other countries in Europe most notably France and Germany could be the next. In Asia, Japan is already starting to lean right with its intention of raising its own army. Will the politicians worldwide wake to this reality and take note and take steps to ensure that this time the tilt to the right is restricted to correct the imbalance and does not go beyond leading to old problems such as fascism!!