Strongmen & Oligarchs- 1,
Liberal Democracy- 0
Tribalism- 1, Inclusiveness- 0
Nationalism- 1, Globalism- 0
Religious Fundamentalism- 1, Secularism- 0
That is the scorecard right now. People all over the world have given resounding thumbs down to liberal democracy and have instead wholeheartedly embraced tribalism, strongmen and religious fundamentalism. No one expected this after at least 75 years of reasonably steady liberal democratic rule in most of the world. Even Pundits and political commentators are stunned at the speed with which this transformation happened and how seamlessly people went from one end to the other of the political, social and cultural spectrum. How did this happen all over the world in just 10 years? And that too through democratic means like the elections? That is the million-dollar question.
Liberal democracy, like a car suddenly breaking down in the middle of a highway, has sputtered to a standstill. In fact, barring a few Western European countries like France, Germany and Scandinavia, rest of the world seems happily hitching their wagon to the Strongmen for a staunchly nationalistic model. Even Britain, the very seat of liberal democracy just scrapped their parliament, happily going with the strongman Boris Johnson whose disdain for globalism and liberal democracy is well known. It's not just Britain, but people all over the world--Russia, Philippines, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey, the U.S. and now India seem to be enamoured with the mystique and appeal of Strongmen, gladly abandoning liberal democracy with inward-looking nationalism and Tribalism with a 'Us versus Them' worldview.
With the technical, communication and transportation revolution in the past 30 years, the world seemed to get closer and more in sync, exchanging ideas, knowledge and just co-mingle to find common ground for common good. Liberal Democracy seemed to be the right platform to bring the world closer, make it more harmonious and peaceful. The 21st-century dream of One World seemed at hand and achievable. There was every indication that the exponential growth in technology and communication was enhancing global understanding and cooperation, leading to the economic prosperity of the past 15 years for the common man. But was that really true? Let’s see.
The reality in the U.S. was somewhat different. Technology and all the recent advances actually went mostly to the 'Haves' and not the “Have Nots” who were hoping to level the playing field. The income disparity actually rose to an all-time high where the CEOs, entrepreneurs and those in key positions made up to 10,000 times more money than the ordinary workers and most benefits went to the top 1% Billionaire class. The middle class in the Western world saw their wages stagnate and they actually became the victims of the increased productivity and efficiency that everybody thought was going to make their lives easy. Even those with good jobs were constantly looking over their shoulders to see whether they will be the next ones to get the axe, being replaced by robots or the cheap Chinese labour. A feeling of insecurity, uncertainty and a constant worry of losing everything destroyed their peace of mind, the joy of living and just the day to day family life.
Globally, the picture wasn’t much different. As the third world learned English, got education, skills and discovered mobility, they flocked to Europe and America, replacing the Blue Collar White American and European workers en mass. These workers were squeezed from the top by educated Indian, Chinese and Eastern European tech and IT professionals and from the bottom by the Mexicans and other Latin Americans who did menial jobs at a much cheaper rate, living frugally and working hard. Suddenly, the American dream and stability of the Middle Class went out the window, replaced by a feeling of being marginalized with no way out. And it was not just about the money. It was much deeper than that. The very culture, a sense of homogenous community and the American way of life was suddenly and drastically changed to the extent that the Native Sons felt alien and alienated in their own land. Globalization and One World [as in the Beetles’ famous song 'Imagine'] suddenly seemed like aggression rather than assimilation. It’s the revolution versus evolution paradigm that shakes people to the core and desperation reigns supreme.
So, how did the locals react? As predictably, and as the human nature would radically shifting to the defensive mode. Suddenly, all the democratic norms, civility, acceptance and good feelings were overpowered by the primal survival instinct and tribalism, seeking mental comfort and safety in a 'Us versus Them' battle royale against the immigrants, newcomers, multi cultural and multi racial 'them' or the enemy that was 'taking' all their jobs, lifestyle, a sense of community and the pride of being an American. Afterall, democracy is merely a 200 year old concept while tribalism is as old as our DNA! The feeling of losing a comfortable lifestyle, rapid urbanization, technical revolution and a melange of people from 120 countries around them was too much for them to take, bear or get used to in such a short time. Further, losing or fear of losing the top position in the socio-economic hierarchy is like losing your soul and the purpose in life. They thus went deep into their comfort zone with religion, guns and overt or covert racism. That is the time when the masses look for a Savior, Messiah or a Strongman who promises that all will be well only if they pledge him their unquestioned loyalty and blind faith. It’s the Pied Piper phenomenon that we know all too well. By the way, all this happened in just a short period of 10 years! It's now abundantly clear that the masses cannot cope with such rapid and drastic changes in socio-economic, cultural and hierarchical arenas. As the technology and communication revolution only promises to accelerate further, there is certainly no respite or escape from this transformative environment, further pushing the common man to seek safety and comfort in tribal politics.
As there is no apparent coping mechanism, there is no hope of slow adaptation or acclimatization insight. This seems like a one-way train at least for a generation, until the new one grows with this environment as their natural setting and copes much better and even masters it. We are still talking about another 30-40 year period of fear and hatred based politics and social discord. Who would have imagined the Indian core philosophy of 'Vasudhaiv Kutumbakam' or 'He Vishwachi Majhe Ghar' [The whole world is a family and my home] will be thoroughly defeated in India itself and all over the world. The fact that the world population went from 3 billion to almost 8 billion in just under 50 years with a guarantee of further growth also has something to do with this 'too much closeness and not enough space to breathe free' type feeling all over the world. The Indian saying 'Guest is God' sounds hollow even to most Indians and an anti-immigrant sentiment pervades the world.
- Sunil Deshmukh
(Author is a U.S.A. based philanthropist and Corporate leader of Wall Street. He is the Originator of the prestigious 'Maharashtra Foundation Awards for Literature and Social work'.)
This article is published in two parts. Click here to read 'part two' of this article.