Here’s an interesting question: can you have too much democracy? Looking at different countries around the world, and all the variations on democratic structures that exist, I sometimes wonder about it all. On the one hand, there can be no doubt that the widening of the franchise over the past couple of centuries has been a just and righteous move. Regular people now have a say in how they are governed, and by whom. This is surely more preferable than old monarchical or oligarchical systems, where the wealthy and powerful few make all the decisions.
On the other hand, how much can you trust your fellow citizens to make rational and intelligent decisions about who to vote for, or which party policies are most beneficial to the society? I think we have all been faced with these questions, particularly in the decades just past. Looking at the kind of decisions people have been making at the ballot box really makes me wonder about the basis for modern democratic elections. Populism is at a level of popularity not seen since the 1930’s, when the rise of fascist and communist dictators created an anti-democratic crisis in Europe.
Now we see again the rise of “strong men” around the world, individuals who are happy to make use of the democratic system to gain power, so that they can then destroy the same system from the inside. The most puzzling and irrational coalitions are forming, such as that between American Evangelicals and the Trump regime, which would make no sense in any other historical context. Short-term gains are grasped in spite of the long-term implications.
Boris Johnson has gained power in spite of his reputation as an unreliable, womanising, Eton-educated elitist by appealing to working people and portraying himself as the champion of the underdogs and neglected parts of the United Kingdom. He can make clear promises one day, and break them the next, without, it seems, alienating his base support.
And don’t get me started on Trump! The man is a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction (ok, mostly fiction). The number of clear and documented lies he has told is in the thousands, yet his core support, especially among those Evangelicals, remains constant. Why? How? He has ripped the spine and conscience out of the Republican Party, a group of men and women (mostly men) who have turned a blind eye, deaf ear and any intelligent capacity they have. This is not an attack on the grounds of party affiliation: it is simply an attempt to understand why the political world has been turned upside down, where traditional party platforms, not to say morality, has been totally undermined and reversed.
Senior Republicans are making arguments during the impeachment trial of Trump that flatly contradict positions they held a few years ago. In spite of video and documentary records of their previous statements, they blithely state the reverse today, apparently without blinking an eyelid, or blushing with shame. The really unsettling point in all this is that they may well get re-elected, in spite of, or perhaps because of, their willingness to abandon their personal integrity and honour.
People will vote for them again, just as Johnson won an overwhelming victory in the recent election. These are strange times, indeed. We may be thankful that Canadian politics has not reached such a low ebb, although the election of the Ford character in Ontario did raise some questions in that regard. No, it seems that the main question in Canadian politics right now is: did Justin “he’ll never be his father” Trudeau grow a beard in order to appear more mature? Will it work? Does anyone really care?
So, in our time of dwindling voter participation, increasingly outrageous tweets, talks and attitudes, and as we see the traditional basis of popular democracy being used and undermined by anti-democratic forces, we have to ask the question. Can you have too much democracy? Has our system allowed these would-be dictators, chancers, scoundrels and con artists the freedom to succeed? Even more fundamental, in a way, is the question as to whether our sadly defective educational system has produced such a rise in, to put it bluntly, deeply stupid people who will vote for someone, regardless of the negative impact it might have on their families.
Johnson won over most of the traditionally strong Labour ridings in the north of England. Today, it was announced that most of them will have their local government budgets slashed, while the traditionally Conservative ridings in the south will see an increase in theirs. Will that affect Johnson’s popularity? Probably not. And that is the current state of affairs. It’s all too much.