When the votes go ‘wrong’

Jamaica Gleaner - - IN FOCUS - Martin Henry Martin Henry is a univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tor. Email feed­back to col­umns@glean­erjm.com and med­hen@gmail.com. An­thony Gam­brill is a play­wright and his­to­rian. Email feed­back to col­umns@ glean­erjm.com.

AT THE heart of democ­racy, which we wor­ship so much as the best form of gov­ern­ment, is the no­tion of one per­son, one vote.

But what hap­pens when the votes go wrong? Wrong at least in the minds of the power elites who are al­ways lurk­ing be­hind the po­lit­i­cal power struc­ture and be­liev­ing them­selves, nat­u­rally, to be more equal than the ple­beian masses whose num­bers count at the polls.

The great Win­ston Churchill fa­mously quipped in the Bri­tish House of Com­mons, the home of ‘democ­racy’, “Democ­racy is the worst form of gov­ern­ment, ex­cept for all the oth­ers.”

In free and fair post-war elec­tions, that hero who led the Al­lies in win­ning World War 2 with “blood, sweat and tears” was routed out of of­fice as prime min­is­ter by Bri­tish vot­ers. In the shock of de­feat in the 1955 gen­eral elec­tion af­ter two pre­vi­ous wins for his Ja­maica Labour Party (1944 and 1949), Bus­ta­mante damned Ja­maican vot­ers as “Ju­das peo­ple”. And a stunned D.K. Dun­can stut­tered on the night of the 1980 gen­eral elec­tion that swept from power the PNP and demo­cratic so­cial­ism that was “right” for the peo­ple, “What hap­pened to black peo­ple vote?”

There are some hot cur­rent cases on the world scene. Don­ald Trump has emerged from be­ing a ‘dirty old man’ and clown count­ing his busi­ness bil­lions to cap­tur­ing the nom­i­na­tion as pres­i­den­tial can­di­date for the Repub­li­can Party, beat­ing out more ‘wor­thy’ op­po­nents and stun­ning the Es­tab­lish­ment. Never mind his cur­rent trou­bles un­leashed by the re­lease of the tape, he had dra­mat­i­cally closed the pop­u­lar­ity gap down to zero, at a few points in time, between him­self and his op­po­nent in the Demo­cratic Party, Hil­lary Clin­ton, a woman of near im­pec­ca­ble po­lit­i­cal pedi­gree.

Over in the UK, left­ist Jeremy Corbin was re­turned as leader of the Labour Party with a larger mar­gin of vic­tory than when he was first elected from the deep back bench a year ear­lier. And this de­spite the re­bel­lion against him of the cen­trist Labour elite that thought it had the New Labour Party of Tony Blair, Gor­don Brown, and the Mil­liband broth­ers locked.


And still in the UK, the Brexit vote was an even big­ger shocker with more far-reach­ing con­se­quences than the Labour Party lead­er­ship elec­tion. The po­lit­i­cal Es­tab­lish­ment linked arms across party di­vides for Re­main. And, al­most to a man and woman, some­one has pointed out, the Bri­tish Pub­lic Ser­vice, which must now carry out the vast and dis­taste­ful ad­min­is­tra­tive task of dis­en­tan­gling the UK from the EU, was al­most to­tally pro-Re­main. Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, who suc­ceeded the Re­main man bro­ken by the Brexit, David Cameron, must also lead the po­lit­i­cal process of dis­en­gage­ment as a Re­mainer her­self.

The cases of the votes go­ing “wrong” in demo­cratic elec­tions have been mul­ti­ply­ing and will con­tinue to mul­ti­ply as democ­racy faces in­creas­ing stresses.

Trump has man­aged to garner the sup­port of up to 40 per cent of the Amer­i­can elec­torate. A Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump has up­ended the main­stream stra­tum of his party with bom­bast and drama.

per­cep­tive let­ter writer to this news­pa­per asked, “So, Don­ald Trump may be the next United States pres­i­dent, even though he is seen by many as un­fit to serve. But how did Trump, who some com­men­ta­tors and op­po­nents de­scribe as ar­ro­gant, big­oted, crude, di­vi­sive, even in­tem­per­ate, ir­ra­tional, and racist, rise to be­come the nom­i­nee for his party and pos­si­bly next US pres­i­dent?”

The writer, in an­swer­ing his own ques­tion, noted that “noth­ing rises or stands with­out sup­port. It, there­fore, means Trump’s be­liefs and be­hav­iour con­nected and res­onated with an in­flu­en­tial and sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of Amer­i­cans who see him as trum­pet­ing their cause. Maybe it is not about the per­sona of Trump, but the pains and prob­lems peo­ple are hav­ing, per­ceived or real, and crit­i­cally im­por­tant, the ben­e­fits to be de­rived from sup­port­ing him”.

Ditto Jeremy Cor­byn and the lead­er­ship of the Bri­tish Labour Party. Ditto Brexit.


When you drill down be­low sur­face sen­ti­ment, these re­sults re­flect the very essence of democ­racy, which has its own set of flaws as a sys­tem of gov­er­nance crafted by flawed hu­man be­ings. But the pro­gres­sivist in­tel­li­gentsia and po­lit­i­cal power elites will have none of it when the “wrong” re­sults are de­liv­ered by the ‘peo­ple’.

A fel­low colum­nist wrote a few days af­ter the let­ter writer, “I feel,” he said, “the frus­tra­tion of the main­stream US me­dia dur­ing this present elec­tion cam­paign. What is sup­posed to hap­pen is that when the foibles and fool­ish­ness of a can­di­date are ex­posed to the pub­lic, the pop­u­lar­ity of the can­di­date is sup­posed to fall in the opin­ion polls. In the past, the US mass me­dia” (ma­nip­u­lat­ing democ­racy?) “have had the mus­cle to pro­mote or dis­credit po­lit­i­cal can­di­dates, and they have used their power in their best in­ter­ests ... . This has not been hap­pen­ing with Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial can­di­date Don­ald Trump.” Is this more or less democ­racy as the me­dia see their power of ma­nip­u­la­tion de­clin­ing?

“This is not how it is sup­posed to be,” the colum­nist moans. “When an ego­tis­ti­cal buf­foon is ex­posed as an ig­no­ra­mus, he is not sup­posed to be­come the dar­ling of the elec­torate. Yet in the pri­maries, he beat out 11 other can­di­dates to be­come the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee ... . Trump has re­ceived the most pri­mary votes of any Repub­li­can can­di­date in his­tory.”

But Trump’s sup­port is not with­out rea­son, for “clearly, the mil­lions who faith­fully sup­port Don­ald Trump for pres­i­dent – de­spite his ob­vi­ous de­fi­cien­cies and dan­ger­ous per­son­al­ity flaws – feel se­ri­ously threat­ened by some­thing. Their un­re­lent­ing

IJeremy Cor­byn, whose lead­er­ship of the UK Labour Party has been char­ac­terised by frac­tious­ness.

sup­port of Trump – fly­ing in the face of what the me­dia and the in­tel­li­gentsia and main­stream Repub­li­cans are telling them – seems al­most patho­log­i­cal.”

Smart pro­fes­sional pols work the de­mo­graph­ics. Barack Obama was the best. And Hil­lary Clin­ton’s hus­band was very good in his time. But the “buf­foon” Trump shouldn’t. “Trump sup­port is high among work­ing- and mid­dle-class white male vot­ers with an­nual in­comes of less than US$50,000 and no col­lege de­gree,” the colum­nist noted. And these peo­ple, vot­ers like every­body else, have their rea­sons. “This group, par­tic­u­larly those with less than a high­school ed­u­ca­tion, has suf­fered a de­cline in its in­come in re­cent years and ris­ing un­em­ploy­ment. They have ob­served their jobs go­ing to lower-paid im­mi­grants (their salaries de­clin­ing in re­sponse), or dis­ap­pear­ing over­seas. Clearly, there is strong anti-glob­al­i­sa­tion, an­tiWash­ing­ton Con­sen­sus sen­ti­ment com­ing from the lower classes in the USA, who have de­clined to sup­port the tra­di­tional Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal es­tab­lish­ment. Hil­lary might win this one, but what is go­ing to hap­pen in 2020?”

What is go­ing to hap­pen longer term?

Arthur Shen­field, a Bri­tish lawyer and economist, in a bril­liant anal­y­sis of “demo­cratic de­gen­er­a­tion”, noted that “the process of demo­cratic de­gen­er­a­tion dis­plays it­self as the gen­eral in­ter­est be­comes sub­or­di­nated to var­i­ous sec­tional group in­ter­ests so that the legislature ceases to be a fo­rum for the de­ter­mi­na­tion of the gen­eral in­ter­est ... but be­comes an arena in which spe­cial in­ter­ests jos­tle and bar­gain with each other for the favours of the State. It is not the wishes, still less the in­ter­ests, of the ma­jor­ity which pre­vail, but the de­sires of fluc­tu­at­ing coali­tions of mi­nori­ties.” Ex­actly what we are see­ing in ‘democ­ra­cies’ right now.

Such a sys­tem must be un­sta­ble, Shen­field ar­gues, and its true na­ture can­not for­ever be con­cealed from the peo­ple. “What must bring it down,” he writes, “and ... end even the pre­tence of ma­jor­ity rule is the fact that it must pro­duce mount­ing dis­con­tent which ... turns out to be even more de­struc­tive among the coali­tion in-groups than among the outer groups which are the vic­tims of their plun­der.”

Could it be that the mat­ter of the votes go­ing ‘wrong’ is only a late act in this Shake­spearean drama?

Is­teers, 34 mules, two horses, a bull, three calves, and three cows.

It is an ironic con­clu­sion to the story of John Camp­bell Black River that his son, Colin, had no heirs, and his fa­ther’s es­tates were the first Camp­bell hold­ings to be bro­ken up. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of avoid­ing this, Colin had in­serted into his will a clause that if his daugh­ters wished to re­tain their in­her­i­tance rights upon mar­riage, any fu­ture hus­band was re­quired to ob­tain an act of Par­lia­ment to use the Camp­bell name and no other. In the end, none of his chil­dren pro­duced heirs to ac­com­plish this.


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