By Gunnar Eigener

“If you’re not careful, the newspapers will have you hating the people who are being oppressed and loving the people who are doing the oppressing”

Malcolm X

The US midterm elections will just about be complete by now and regardless of the outcome, something fundamental has changed. It’s subtle but significant, obvious but difficult to place. The will of the people (how many times have we heard that) will be followed but it is how the will of the people has been coerced that has changed. In the past, while campaigning has never been a polite business and politicians of all parties seek to undermine their opponents, the ultimate goal has always been the unification of a country, the understanding that whoever wins, the idea is to help the country achieve success and to help individuals thrive. Yet this year, more than most, is seeing the accumulation of toxic politics, which may foreshadow how politics will be carried out in the future.

‘Toxic’ is probably the most apt way to describe the current state of Western politics. A dedicated supporter of the US president Donald Trump, sent pipe bombs to a number of Democratic politicians as well as  noted Trump critics and CNN. This kind of behaviour is perhaps regarded to be  expected in African elections but in the United States this should have been more shocking. Instead, it was described by Trump as this ‘bomb stuff’ and widely denounced among Republicans as perhaps being a plot by the Democrats to gain voter sympathy. The Southern states have increasingly been found to be preventing those with criminal records from voting by purging them from electoral rolls. Black and Hispanic communities face the usual racial barriers to voting, such as lack of ‘appropriate’ ID sufficient to vote. Donald Trump, meanwhile, shows many faces. Sad and reflective on national TV regarding the pipe bomb campaign, and simultaneously malevolent and divisive at rallies across the country.


Debate is met with staunch denial that there are issues to be discussed.


The ability to debate issues seriously with Trump and the Republican Party poses a real threat to democracy in the US and, indeed, abroad. If Trump can say one thing to a national or international audience and then change his mind a few hours later at a rally in the deep South, then it becomes impossible to hold him to any standard or decision that can be debated honestly on the media or even in diners. This is the attitude that then becomes the norm amongst supporters. Debate is met with staunch denial that there are issues to be discussed. Each side is wrong as far as the other is concerned and there is no point discussing the merits of either. Then there is also the matter of surrender. Religious groups will vote for Trump because he supports anti-abortion rhetoric even though such people are disapproving of his personal lifestyle and even his other policies. The reluctance to fight for other issues other than an individual’s top priority is stalling the debate process.


The influence of such behaviour can be seen abroad as well. The recent presidential victory of Jair Bolsonaro, nicknamed the ‘Trump of the Tropics’, has left Brazil a deeply divided state. His derogatory remarks about women, the black community, and homosexuals amongst others, have left people very concerned about what would be considered justification for acts of hatred and violence carried out against such groups. His support for the old military regime should have been a significant warning, furthermore his support for the right of police to kill suspected criminals reflects the murderous policy of Rodrigo Duterte, the current President of the Philippines. And his desire to open up the Amazon to more industry is disastrous for the world as a whole with one of the last big carbon sinks now at risk.


The problem? Such men offer quick and publicly desirable solutions to issues that have been plaguing nations.


The problem? Such men offer quick and publicly desirable solutions to issues that have been plaguing nations. There were over 56,000 murders in Brazil in 2017 and a corrupt and uncaring left-wing party in government appeared to do very little about it. Trump has cornered the market in the US for right-wing angry xenophobes who visualise their country disappearing under a wave of ‘foreign’ intruders. His actions may seem callous but the US economy is growing and more jobs were taken up this last quarter, leading unemployment to a half-century low. Such results serve to further encourage his supporters, and make his economic decisions appear to be correct or, at the very least, taking the country in the right direction.


Yet these men aren’t necessarily the problem. Our societies have become ever more demanding yet intolerant at the same time. In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) is starting to fall apart under the burden of spiralling costs due to an ageing and unhealthy population alongside failed and expensive private-finance initiatives. The Brexit referendum has proven to repel much needed EU applications to NHS positions, yet leaving the European Union (EU) remains a popular decision with a large portion of the country even though those voters, along with the rest of the country, can only eventually lose out.


There is a need amidst society to blame and punish someone for the ills that we all feel. the 2008 financial crisis crippled many economies but the blame was deflected away from those responsible and instead focused on those who need help the most. The most open way for societies as a whole to carry out that punishment is through voting. Mistakes that politicians make, scandalous behaviour, bad policies and outright lies used to be picked up by oppositions, but these days oppositions are not only having to deal with governments who lie, but also a public which either doesn’t know what to believe anymore or refuse to indulge another opinion. It’s hardly surprising that people like Trump and Bolsonaro rise to the top when all they have to appease the wounds of a society with are promises of retribution and violence.

Featured image credit: Darron Birgenheier, Flickr (modified)


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