I have to confess that I’m disappointed. I’m disappointed that the UK voted to leave the EU in June. I’m disappointed that the USA voted Republican across all three branches of elected government. Neither of those were my preference. Having said that, I don’t actually have a franchise in the US, but you understand my point.
I’m reading a lot of discontent from those on the sides that didn’t see their preference win out in the elections. I’m also seeing a lot of crowing from the side that did win. I don’t really want to talk about that too much – there are always bad winners and bad losers. In today’s world where so many of us simply block those we don’t agree with we live in as polarised a world as we ever have done. After all, the imprecation to never talk about politics or religion at dinner is much older than the internet so I don’t feel it’s all that smart to blame social media for giving us a megaphone for issues that we’ve always struggled to debate effectively.
It was in the 1950s that Niebuhr said that democracies had to have the consent of all the governed otherwise they become tyrannies. This has always cut both ways for a form of government that is really startlingly new and like a sheet of glass – strong in some directions, brittle in others.
The point of this post is for me to talk about democracy. Not mob rule but the type of democracies we have in the UK and the US (which although constituted very differently are both of a specific type) – that is representative democracies.
I also want to debunk a number of facile arguments made by both sides about the results.
- We won, get over it. The country voted our way. This is disingenuous at best and miserable at worst. Representative democracies are not mob rule, they are a way of voting in people to make the complicated social and fiscal decisions for us. They may come with ideologies that we share or dislike but in the end their job is simple enough – rule in our stead. It’s never a case that a candidate is going to agree with their entire constituency, or even those who voted for them. It is massive overreaching to claim that ‘we won, get over it’. Politics is the art of achieving the possible with an underlying aim, for most, of improving society. Whatever your view of ‘improvement’ actually is. To suggest that winning an election is akin to winning the 100m sprint is to misunderstand both races. For elections it simply means the HARD WORK STARTS NOW and part of that hard work is to represent ALL THE PEOPLE. For the 100m dash, well, you may have won, but next week there’s another race and, frankly, you’re only as good as the last one. We should NEVER assume that the story’s over just because we’ve won a stage.
- The world will fall apart. Look, let’s be honest here, it’s pretty unlikely. It can happen and it does happen. But it remains pretty unlikely. We can make it more likely, on which more later, but overall, we have a complex and powerful system of government which means that most excesses have been anticipated and curbed before they can be started. Sure, there are always exceptions and issues that break the rules (campaign funding) or simply can’t be contained by the rules (climate change) but these are the cutting edge of how society organises itself and we should be absolutely expecting to fight hard on these battlefronts.
- The result wasn’t valid because so many people didn’t vote. I’m sorry, but I don’t care about this. It’s pure speculation to suggest those uncounted masses would vote any differently than the rest of society if they did vote. In fact, statistical evidence suggests they’d vote along the lines of those who did within the margin of error. So this doesn’t invalidate the vote. Now, Clinton may have lost because she couldn’t persuade people to vote for her, but that in itself is a valid message about the candidates.
- Particularly for the US, more people voted for Clinton than Trump. Yes they did. So what? We all knew before the election how the electoral college system works. For goodness sakes, it’s what did for Gore. It was deliberately set up to stop mob rule and for the most part it does that job really well. It means that just because California votes overwhelmingly one way it doesn’t mean the other 49 states get overridden. It’s an excellent example of constitutional checks and balances working well.
- Tyranny will follow!!!1!1!111!. Tyranny can always follow. So what? Right wing ideologues, of which it’s not clear that Trump is, tend to favour liberty more than left wing populists and although they have several views with which I disagree, fascism is NOT the same as Republicanism or Conservativism. (He may be a populist buffoon but check your judgements because another blond haired politician also presents that way but is far smarter behind that guise than most people credit him for).
I hear a lot of people saying that there’s something wrong with the system, that people on the other side are stupid or ignorant or elite or liberal as if these things invalidate their views. They don’t. That’s the entire point of universal suffrage. The democratic system is NOT broken even if the sponsors of that system on all sides have had their noses bloodied this year on both sides of the Atlantic (including Germany and probably France next year). I am unconcerned about vested interests getting a punch in the face.
I have never seen people more engaged with democracy. I mentioned to someone the other day that I almost wished for the time when we could rely on feckless apathy because it was less exhausting.
Yet the point is, our society is worth getting engaged over, getting emotional over. We should be talking, arguing and debating what we think we want from society. If we aren’t involved then that’s the real tragedy and that’s where the disasters we truly fear, the bogeymen themselves, can get their foot in the door. Political volatility has been blessed absent for the last twenty years in English speaking democracies. However, that minuscule interlude shouldn’t let us believe this is the norm.
I am proud to be part of a democracy. I am proud to be English, British, half-caste. I have views that I’ll champion but crucially, when the democracy I’m a part of chooses otherwise I will accept that decision all the while seeking to make my voice heard. Attacking the system is pointless, possibly even disastrous, because what if we succeed in truly dismantling the thing that’s kept debate and speech open in the post war period? What then? Who gets to rule then?
Get engaged in politics. Organise yourself. If you don’t like the parties on offer change them or replace them. Wars have been fought over less and we have a blessed society in which we are far from such danger. Make your voice count but talk about the right things – not the failure of your argument to persuade others, not the success of opposing points of view, nor how you couldn’t game the system but about what you believe in.