This past year has threatened the foundations of democratic process across the board. I’m happy to sit here and say that every process I’ve witnessed – the NUS campaign, the EU referendum, the Labour leader re-elections, Columbia’s rejection of the FARC peace deal, and the US Presidential elections, have all revealed terrifying aspects that populist democracy has created.
For once, I’m writing without initial judgment, because I’ve seen the horrors that democracy can create: The petty, bitter arguments created by the NUS debate; the rise of homophobia, racism and Islamophobia as a result of the EU referendum; reports of psychiatrists reporting staggering numbers of individuals suffering from anxiety stemming from the possibility of a Trump presidency; the Labour left ignoring the anti-Semitic bodies within their ranks. All these issues stem directly from democratic processes that have occurred in the past year.
“Democracy is ultimately both our threat and our saviour”
Yes, I just threw shade at Corbyn. Deal with it. Despite being as socialist as you can get, I’m more than aware of a rise in hatred being a key aspect in politics, and Labour shouldn’t think its somehow immune to it.
So, yes, democracy has led to an incredibly tumultuous time, and a lot of people mightn’t appreciate the results. I’d understand people’s displeasure: wages are stagnant, households live precariously, and war continues to rear its ugly head. However, while the democratic process is at fault, it is also the only thing that can save us from the abhorrent hell that 2016 has been.
In all honesty, what happened in 2016 is no different to Obama’s presidential election in 2008 – issues regarding one particular voting body, whether legitimate or not, were raised – and, getting people out there to vote was what won Obama the Presidency for two terms. It is also what won Corbyn the position of Labour Leader twice.
“I’m of the staunch belief that a few words can go a long way”
What hasn’t seemed to be paired with democracy in 2016, however, is education. It’s taken until 2016 to make the wider Western public realise that their voices do matter, and many are still yet to find out or care. Of course, we mightn’t be happy in the results – I’m not happy with most of them – but they’re still legitimate democratic results.
The only thing that will change votes are conversations on what you’re voting for, and we can’t allow for a lack of education. That’s led to an argumentative, negative and petty NUS referendum here on campus. That’s led to a UK political campaign that thrived on the demonisation of individuals who weren’t white.
That’s led to a US Presidential candidate at whom people cheer when he threatens his opponent Hillary Clinton with incarceration if he becomes President. Of course, her illegal acts in the email scandal are undeniable, but it’s not Trump’s position to make those threats - especially as a tax-dodging fraud himself.
“The only thing that will change votes are conversations on what you’re voting for”
Democracy may have allowed for these two contemptible nominees, and a whole host of terrible things, but democracy is the only thing that can solve it. After all, we have no alternative. Anti-democratic systems of government like Fascism will lead only to more war, more death, and more abuses of humanity and dignity. Our problem is a lack of democracy, a lack of actual peoples’ interests being represented over those of detached elites.
To save democracy, we need educated discussions - they’re not happening, and all we’re doing is throwing stones at one another. We need better, clearer, less biased sources of information. We need from cradle to grave a culture of learning and education in politics and policy. I’m of the staunch belief that a few words can go a long way, and it just takes making the effort to have those conversations – and listen to those conversations – to, um, make democracy… great again? I hate myself after making that pun.