An article has appeared on the ABC website on the topic of social media and ‘toxic politics’. Within are interviews with two New South Wales state politicians, both lamenting the way social media has shaped the direction of politics.
The article is quite solid, pointing to the dearth of able-minded people willing to enter politics on account of the genuinely poisonous environment that it has become, and quite accurately makes the case that society is increasingly tribal. But one quote stood out to me, because it is a demonstration of the inability of those in power to grasp political (or, at least, ideological) reality.
Catherine Cusack, an MLC for the North Coast region, is quoted as saying that she “fear[s] that we have a shrinking middle in politics, and that extremes either on the left or the right are very active in these forums…so when I read these comments not only in social media, but also online in newspapers and on Facebook, I have to [remind myself] this isn’t what the world is like, this isn’t what most families are like, but it is having a profound effect on political discourse.”
Last time, we looked at the possible reasons why the experts got 2016 wrong. It is now worth looking at what place 2016 may end up having in world history.
One of the few people to correctly predict that Donald Trump would win the election was Allan Lichtman, a professor at The American University. He uses his own methodology for predicting elections, built in the style of earthquake prediction. The reason, he says, was that the language we use for significant political events is mostly geophysical in nature: tremors, earthquakes, landslides, eruptions, and the like. I even used this language in my last post. Lichtman believed he could turn this into a system that would predict the winner a presidential election based on how stable the political climate leading up to the election was. Lichtman is yet to get an election wrong since creating this system.
If we were to take a similar approach to world history, 2016 could be considered a significant political-geological event. According to another university professor, it could well be the year of this century’s ‘Great Event’. Nicholas Boyle, a Cambridge historian, wrote in 2010 that world events were all pointing to an earth-shattering moment happening within the next decade. As proof of his thesis, Boyle pointed to similar ‘Great Events’ occurring in the second decade of each of the past five centuries.
2016 was not a good year for political experts. To be fair, it’s not as though they had that many opportunities to get things wrong, but the opportunities they did have were highly significant: the United Kingdom voting to leave the European Union, and the United States voting for Donald Trump as their next president.
For the most part, the people telling us that it was not a good year for political punditry are the pundits themselves, who are also trying to explain how they were shocked so badly. These explanations have ranged from the sober to the shrill, and everything in between. But few, if any, of these really manage to fully explain why the people paid to tell us what will happen failed to correctly tell us what would happen.
I believe there are two fundamental reasons political punditry got 2016 wrong. …
Politics is meant to be one of those topics that you don’t bring up in polite company, along with religion. I’ve long thought this to be rather unfair. After all, if people have strong beliefs on these things, then surely they will want people to agree with them, and how can people agree with them if they don’t know their beliefs on these issues that define and change lives?
I would go so far as to say that it is absolutely crucial that the average person have at least some level of political understanding in order for society to function. Politics affects every area of our daily existence, and the democracy itself relies on the concept that ‘the people’ have enough wisdom to elect the right people to form the best government.
The thing is, the average person doesn’t have a great deal of interest in understanding politics. This has become especially true over the last few decades, as large swathes of voters have moved away from identifying with a particular party and/or ideology, having instead found that the major parties are all the same. But aside from that, the fundamentals of political belief exist in a highly theoretical realm, and most people aren’t all that interested in theory, at least not beyond how it applies to them. Give them the basics, such as the theory of ‘the left’ and ‘the right’, and of who leads each party and what that means, and they’ll say that they know pretty much all they need to know.
But what if those basics are wrong? What if the fundamentals of how we understand politics have actually been leading us astray, and have resulted in the ever increasing disconnect between politics and the people? …
How many words can be written about the 2016 United States presidential election that have not already been said? America’s penchant for long political campaigns often feels at least a little bit ridiculous, but conventional political wisdom has been totally thrown out the window over the past eighteen months. Within that time, billionaire businessman Donald Trump has gone from being ridiculed and joked about for running any kind of political campaign, to being within reach of being the next president of the United States. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, has gone from being The Chosen One to looking seriously vulnerable. What we have now is a contest that is repeatedly being labelled ‘too close to call’, which is normally an annoying phrase that feeds the media narrative of a horse-race that doesn’t end up reflecting reality, but in this election may actually be true.
Such an election is worthy of a in-depth preview, and that is what I shall strive to give you here. …