Suc­ces­sive slaps in the face

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY ALEXIS PAPACHELAS

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.

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