6.7.8.4 Risks in Ignoring the Problems of Change

The preceding sub-sections have focused on how politicians can respond proactively to rapid social change, but too many have simply ignored the problems of people who have been harmed by it.  People in several countries became disillusioned with mainstream politicians (6.3.9), feeling that recent governments had not listened to them or understood their problems.  There have been marked political backlashes.  Hillary Clinton had been widely expected to win the U.S. presidential election in 2016 for example, but she was too easily seen as representing an out-of-touch and uncaring political elite.  The British ‘Brexit’ vote was another example of a backlash, in the same year (6.6.5.8).

People can experience status anxiety (4.3.2.3) when they have lost their jobs.  They may be prepared to listen to anyone who offers to fix their problems:

  • They might follow populist politicians who attack the political establishment, possibly putting the democracy itself at risk (6.3.2.5). This was illustrated by words used at the Donald Trump Rally in Sarasota: “My contract with the American voter begins with a plan to end government corruption and take back our country … we are going to drain the swamp”.
  • An appeal to nationalism can help a politician to build a sense of shared identity among people who feel resentful about how their country is changing. Trump promised to “make America great again” and, as described earlier, politicians with similar messages are gaining support in several advanced economies (6.3.2.6).
  • People who are suffering become vulnerable to believing in conspiracy theories that offer comforting but ludicrous explanations of their plight (6.4.2.7). Trump welcomed their support.  The BBC report on the Capitol riots: Who broke into the building? noted their presence in the storming of the Capitol building on 6 January 2021.
  • Some people can be persuaded to believe that they are innately superior to others, which comforts them when they are suffering financially. This ‘alt-right’ narrative has been exploited by politicians in several countries, including America (6.2.4.6).  White supremacist militias took part in the assault on the Capitol.

The storming of the Capitol building was the culmination of Trump’s determination to hang onto power.  It failed, but the threat to America’s democracy remains and further violence remains possible at future elections.  A Washington Post article – Voter suppression is bad. But this tactic is even worse – makes the following observation:

“President Donald Trump’s effort to steal the 2020 presidential election fell short. Now Republicans across the country are promoting changes to laws and personnel that could allow him — or someone like him — to succeed in 2024.”

America is not the only country whose democracy is under threat from an authoritarian populist.  A European report finds waning of democracy in Poland, Hungary: it “deemed Poland deficient in the four main areas reviewed: national justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and checks and balances” and in “Hungary, government-sponsored laws targeting media freedoms, minority rights, the electoral system and academic and religious freedoms drew the commission’s notice”.

If the population distrusts the result of an election, and cannot replace an unsatisfactory leader by democratic means, there is the potential for violent protests – such as those described in a BBC report on What’s happening in Belarus?  A complete collapse of law and order (7.2.6) cannot be ruled out there, or in Myanmar where the military overturned the election results in 2020.

The risk of disorder is not confined to a country’s borders.  Politicians seeking to boost the morale of a discontented population sometimes resort to aggressive foreign policies (6.7.7.1) in an attempt to look strong and make people feel good about their position on the world stage.  Trump’s rejection of international agreements made by his predecessors was popular, and Russia’s annexation of Crimea (7.3.5) boosted President Putin’s popularity.

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This is a current page, updated since publication of Patterns of Power Edition 3a.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition03/6784b.htm