Smoke and mirrors are no panacea for populism

by Julian Glassford

Breathtaking political plot-twists of recent months have left many onlookers decidedly discombobulated and key opinion formers remonstrating amongst themselves. So what do bellwether Brexit and US electoral outcomes indicate? Arguably, a repudiation of neoliberal globalism, elitism, and fear-based propaganda pitched at maintaining an awkward status quo. Hail, the temerarious new age of anti-expert ‘improvpolitik’!

The course runs deeper than our small pool of politically incorrect reductionists and the wave of discontent they ride, however. It flows beyond the poignant picture of inequality emblematised by the castaways “left behind” by USS Globalisation and HMS London: those financially “just about managing” to stay afloat (JAMs). Against a cold, unremitting tide of pervading progressivism and juxtaposed conspicuous consumption, folks feel all at sea. Communitarianism, constancy, and confidence in the system and its captains of change, have plunged to new depths. Old certainties languish on the seabed – hollowed out hulks, shrouded in the deep blue.

Bastions of the established order would love to wish away ‘shy’ (or sensibly silent) voters and the not so shy (if somewhat shadowy) ‘alt-right’. But what was a fanatical fringe has morphed into a formidable counter-cultural force clearly capable of swinging political events, bigly; hence the hasty repositioning of our Conservative incumbents.

If commentators are to remain politically literate they must engage with the unpalatable reality that contemporary social, gender, and intercultural dynamics do not universally translate as sources of profound strength and stability. Contentions ranging from mass immigration exacerbating economic disparity, through work-life imbalance representing a major social ill, to The Clash of Civilisations thesis, cannot be effortlessly extinguished. Contrary to historian Simon Schama’s prescription, the simple introduction of a broadsheet diet will hardly suffice!

The growing public perception is that the ‘Westminster village’ and those ‘inside the Beltway’ (Washington’s equivalent political bubble) are increasingly “out of touch”. ‘Lefty loons’, ivory tower ‘champagne socialists’, and rent-seeking ‘Crony Capitalists’ aplenty; a quasi-oligarchic collection of odd bods belonging to a cliquey, self-serving broader cultural and financial metropolitan elite.

Despite their best efforts, sociopolitical scriptwriting shepherds in the employ of abovementioned chiefs appear, so far, only to have managed to corral ‘sheeple’. Plainly, the kind of calculating, carefully calibrated and choreographed ‘perception management’ noted in the acclaimed Adam Curtis documentary HyperNormalisation, has failed.

#DigitalDisconnect i.e. all-consuming tech distraction (of the proles), extraction (of their increasingly thin capital), and irradiation (of their poor families), may be the order of the day for many but by no means all. As the robotic and sclerotic Clinton team discovered late in the game, turns out people aren’t all that blindly susceptible to Digital Age programming and patently on-message mainstream media curation. Who knew?

On the flip-side, Messrs Donald Trump and Nigel Farage have prospered in appearing relatively human and unfiltered. Alternative and social media undoubtedly helped propel their respective head-spinning political triumphs but the suggestion that this was materially predicated on public ignorance and game changing mendacious misinformation is absurd. The hyperbolic, condescending, and decidedly one-sided post-truth narrative originally sprung, of course, from shocked and sanctimonious sore losers. Today, it constitutes a convenient cover for the connivance of hubristic pseudo-democrats hoping to frustrate and override the will of the people.

Vladimir Putin may well have been up to hacktivist mischief during the US presidential election, and shared the fruits of his labours with the likes of whistleblowers, WikiLeaks. However, as Leonid Bershidsky recently observed, criticism of entities construed as Russia’s opponents is all of a sudden being branded “Russian propaganda” left, right, and centre. Cognitive dissonance meets McCarthyism 2.0. Back in the real world, it’s pretty clear the Kremlin didn’t trump democracy with ‘fake news’, the Democrats Trumped themselves in failing to make news.

So where do we go from here? Clearly, the antidote to the nascent populist paradigm lies not in continuing in the same vein, and the imposition of evermore Orwellian conditions is no elixir for the ills of postmodernity. Little good will come of militarising the police, over-policing the internet, compelling virtual fora to sanitise themselves, and further curtailing free speech with evermore bizarre innovations; recent examples range from insular ‘safe spaces’ to the criminalisation of wolf whistling and declining to promote ideological messages (see: ‘cakegate’).

Fighting fire with fire manifestly only fuels the flames of anti-establishment resistance and resentment. Instead, the answer lies in calming invective, healing division, draining the swamp, and promoting more ethnographically enquiring and (proportionally) representative public discourse. Concomitant institutional evolution will, then, move in the direction of a more sustainable political philosophy e.g. that of Fourth Way political pragmatism.

Ultimately, regressive regimes fronted by “braggadocios” hot-heads whose off the cuff rhetoric comes couched in specious demagoguery are likely to make plenty of headlines but precious little political headway. Expect captive populations to be catapulted back towards a rebooted ‘hard centre’, and crowd-pleasing clowns, once again, into obscurity.

Julian Glassford is a UK-based political commentator and social entrepreneur.

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4 Responses to “Smoke and mirrors are no panacea for populism”

  1. Malc says:

    A lot of people don’t trust elites these days. The #chickencoup showed how self-serving our elites had become. The Labour party’s Blairite elite, for example, despise the unions, their membership, and the wider electorate.

    The good news is that things have changed for the better under Jeremy.

  2. paul barker says:

    Can I just point out that Clinton won the popular vote ?
    And that Brexit hasnt actually happened yet or even begun.
    Polling so far is pretty clear that there has been a small fall in support for Brexit, around 2%, most of those shifting to “Dont Know”.

  3. Dust says:

    Dusty Hughes

    Julian, this is obviously intelligent, ironic, controversial and witty but you need to communicate in English and not geek speak. The essential problem of communication … aka … politics?

    And Malc, things have not changed for the better under Jeremy any more, because he now supports an alliance between the anti-working class, anti feminist pro-Church dictatorship in Russia who are now allies with the Great Satan – Donald Trump’s soon to be Great Again, USA.

    Untie yourselves from that knot guys and good luck! We’re all going to need it.

  4. Tafia says:

    “Polling so far is pretty clear that there has been a small fall in support for Brexit, around 2%, most of those shifting to “Dont Know”.

    Boot ttrue. Support remains firm for both sides still at pre-election levels.

    Unless the hoghly unreliable BBC, Sky, YouGov, PoliticalBetting, ComRes and that tawdry red-brick polytechnic Cambridge Uni are all talking bollocks.,

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