Successive slaps in the face
Greece has already gone through what America is experiencing today and Britain experienced a few months ago. This is probably why the people of this country appear a bit blase about developments that should, reasonably, be very frightening. The prevalence of the extremes? Tremendous and growing public distrust of the elite and “systemic” mass media? The voracious consumption of conspiracy theories and simplistic interpretations of events and political comments? The deification of the internet and social networking websites? Unprecedented division and polarization in politics and society? Voting behavior determined by social class? Greece has seen it all, with visible results, from 2010 onward. We are the pioneers of such phenomena. And, in this misfortune, maybe we will be fortunate enough not to become what Scottish historian and political commentator Niall Ferguson describes as a post-populist society. Of course the people of America have not experienced the economic crisis in the same way that Greeks have. I am frightened by the thought of how they would have reacted if they had seen such a dramatic drop in their living standards and, more importantly, in the prospects they see in the future for themselves and their children. Fears of stagnation, of globalization and of immigration led them to elect a politician who flaunted every rule of politics. He was fortunate, of course, because his rivals included two representatives of the status quo, of the dynasties that have dominated the American political scene for decades. He beat Jeb Bush in the primaries and Hillary Clinton on the big day. The American political, media and academic elite was blindsided by the result. It was served the same painful slap in the face as the Greek political establishment in the first elections of 2012, which had failed to foresee its sweeping defeat. US voters wanted to send a message that would punish the establishment and express their anger, and they did so in the most resounding manner. The Americans are not alone in this. British voters did the same thing when they chose to break from the European Union in the June referendum, and there is a possibility that the French will do so as well when election time rolls around. These voters are like passengers on the globalization train screaming for the engine to stop so they can get off. The problem is that this is a train that cannot stop. Either it completely derails or it throws off those who can’t handle the ride.