How many of today’s major political issues would still rank as major political issues if the objections of concerned voters had been genuinely listened to by politicians before taking things too far? Precisely. Very few. This is one of several key reasons I am convinced our politically tumultuous times require a much greater respect for the collective wisdom inherent in voter verdicts. Yes, neopaternalists like to point fingers at radical outliers and pretend these outliers make democracy unsafe. Such a tactic is deceitful for three key reasons. First, radicals exist in all political camps and on election day their votes tend to cancel one another. Second, the radicals might be vocal but they still only represent minority opinion. There is plenty of reason to believe that most voters in most camps engage politically not by seeking radicalism but by seeking backtracking from the perceived radicalism of their opponents. Third, the by far most radical act is not paying heed to voter verdicts. This is a fact that does not change regardless of how many so called establishment experts are lined up to nod sagely while talking contradictory – and absurdly – about the need to rescue democracy by “temporarily” offsetting democracy. The key reason democracy beats all other political systems is, at the end of the day, that only voters will safeguard against the power grab tendency of every establishment that operates without such a safeguard. This has been proven so many times in history that those claiming otherwise should never be trusted. Such people will be part of the power grab problem. Especially if operating within a government bureaucracy – or the bureaucracy of an internationalist organisation – while insisting on the efficiency of the internal mechanisms supposedly designed to safeguard against power grabs.
There really is no need to be surprised we are presently experiencing the deepest establishment-vs-the people divide since the democratic breakthrough. The problems started when a reform oriented and well intended Internationalist establishment failed to stop when the continuous more-of-the-same agenda slided into excess terrain no longer well liked by voters. Real democrats and real moderates would have taken pride in achieved accomplishments (and Internationalists did indeed achieve great things as long as reforms were in sync with voter sentiment); and then concluded that society is poorly served if pushing for more without a clear voter mandate. Unfortunately this was not the course chosen. The Internationalists, riding on institutionalised powers and a close to unstoppable wave of idealism, good faith and excitement, kept going while increasingly dismissing voter concerns as the concerns of simpletons. Like power grabbers across the ages many simultaneously convinced themselves that they really knew (know) better than the people what was (is) best for the people.
However, the logic also goes the other way. If voter disrespect is the problem voter respect is the solution. Democratic reinvigoration is in fact a foolproof way to return political stability and positive growth prospects. Simply because voters would no doubt support taking things down a notch. Or three. Depending on the issue and on how far the orchestrators of excess have overstepped. Backtracking from overshoot is precisely what politicians have been asked to do for quite some time. If doing things right there is a golden opportunity to move forward in a way that, for the first time ever, respects the concerns of both those recently disempowered in relative terms (the native working class) and those recently empowered in relative terms (ethnic minorities, women, sexual minorities).
A speech clip in which I suggest the key reason Denmark, Norway and Finland all outclassed Sweden during the coronavirus crisis. Speech delivered on September 12 during a Nordic conference, in beautiful Swedish town Kungälv, on how Nordic EU relations are influenced by the coronavirus crisis. The Pan-Nordic School (Nordiska Folkhögskolan) has luckily replaced the once proud Bohus Fortress as the center of town activity. The School is an embodiment of the fact that democratic erosion is not necessary in order to co-operate successfully across borders. In Swedish with English subtitles.
So given that the right action is taken there should be little doubt that the future can be bright. There really is much more that unites than divides the population. Despite claims to the contrary made by tribal careerists on both sides of the establishment-versus-the-people divide. Since, at the end of the day, most people want pretty much the same things. Such as an intact democracy, extensive international co-operation, prudent monetary policies, gender equality as well as an honest and respectful public debate. So the quarrels are almost never about the actual objectives but about how to best achieve these objectives. If we stop focusing on our largely invented differences and instead start focusing on our shared goals, we really can not only regain mutual respect but also reunite behind a new stable equlibrium.
This also means that we, in fact, are well positioned to relive, figuratively, the 1914 Christmas truce moment. The moment when German and allied soldiers shook hands on the battle field despite the quarrels initiated by unelected political paternalists. However, in 1914 war resumed already the following day. Why? Because all the paternalists responsible for the war were still in charge. Which is why we now need to make sure that politics is no longer hijacked by top-down-thinkers. Those who do not see the irony when exploiting the-better together argument while simultaneously treating concerned voters with paternalist condescension.
Temporarily the road has to be bumpy because strongly institutionalised opinions are never abandoned willingly. However, despite all the smoke and dust many positive developments are also playing out thanks to building voter pressure. Many of these developments are much underreported. Why? Due to a tendency famously described by another realist-optimist, Hans Rosling, when he illustrated, live on television, that if focusing only on the ugliness of a shoe sole our total judgment of the person wearing the shoes will be both unfavourable and unfair. In fact, there is plenty of reason to believe that beyond all the smoke and dust democracy is already reasserting itself in real time. So unless messing up this process, by believing the de facto anti-democrats who claim that democracy has to be saved from itself, political stability is about to be restored. Political parties rising to the task by navigating these waters correctly can in a fundamental way speed up the process.