As a neo-liberal, I’m dismayed by the political events of 2016. I cheer each ‘error’ the winners make, hoping that somehow reason – my reason – will prevail and all will be returned to right and good in just a few sleeps, or even a few years. But we neo-liberals need to wake up. We lost democratic elections and the right to democratic decisions and – hate it though we may – we don’t have a lock on righteousness. There are other people, other views. While Trump currently dominates our world (almost 50% of articles in the ‘World’ section of The Age online are Trump-related), Putin, Erdogan, Duterte, Wilders, Le Pen, Hanson and others have won or may win, all using the democratic election process that we hold so dear. We need to wake up if ‘our’ righteousness is to triumph in the future.
Are neo-libs really ‘right’?
Watching Brexit and Trump unfold, what surprises me is the narrow-minded righteousness that we neo-libs feel. That our issues have been unfairly treated, our evidence ignored or not understood, that people have been duped by our duplicitous opposition. And we have wallowed – supported by each other – in the balmy thoughts that we are ‘right’ and ‘they’ are wrong. But, surprise surprise, that’s exactly what ‘they’ think too!! And let’s face it. A lot of the people don’t agree with us.
So who is ‘right’?
So who is ‘’right’? What is the ‘truth’ in a ‘post-truth’ world? Here are a few uncomfortable facts for us:
– All the bad guys have won via democratic elections in systems we applaud(ed)
– Other voters seem to hold other things (jobs, national protection, immigration control, safety, trust) to be more important than what we value (fairness, equity, internationalism, social welfare, health, education, information transparency)
– There is more than one way to look at a situation, more than one set of ‘facts’ that relate to the same situation (the economy is generally doing well; my friends and neighbours are losing our jobs)
– The bad guys have communicated their messages better than the good guys
– It’s hard to work out what the real ‘facts’ are, when the media strives for ‘balance’ (not truth) and media segmentation allows each of us (yes, us too) to watch and listen to arguments, facts and commentators we already believe in. (We believe in our guys. They believe in their guys.)
Marginals don’t think like us
Neolibs have underestimated the importance of basic issues that matter to a major segment of the population and have been focussing on higher level issues, taking the basics for granted. And it’s not simply truth or falsehoods. It’s that different perspectives actually do see different things.
Let’s be clear. I think ‘we’ are ‘right’. But people in general don’t think like me, or you. So, unless we neo-libs find ways to understand, communicate more effectively (which is not the same as spouting our view of ‘facts’) and deliver better outcomes to those marginal voters who don’t think like ‘us’, the ones we need to swing from 45% to 55% to win elections, we’ll be the ones on a long term losing trend.
The rules are changing
The rules are being changed as we speak. US Congress elections are heavily gerrymandered…in the home of democracy! Most money going to campaigns in the US and here in Australia (I’m not sure of other countries, but I’d bet Russia, Turkey and others are similar) is dark money, hidden from sight under misleadingly named organisations. Our current PM effectively ‘bought’ his own election last year and we just accept this!!
Rules of free speech, of privacy, of information transparency, of taxation, of financial regulation, of business regulation are changing fast, and not for the better. We can wail about the ‘facts’ and the ‘righteousness’ of our case. But the truth is, unless neoliberals, women, minorities, the economically and socially poor can marshal resources better to fight these insidious trends, ‘they’ will win, and win democratically!
So, wake up! Understand what the marginals and disadvantaged are actually facing. Choose the key issues that affect them (not what affects us). Choose leaders with integrity (if any still exist). Marshal forces without wasting energy. Join the fight. There’s a battle on, but few of us realise what the battle is, how it is being fought and what is needed to win. And thank your lucky stars you aren’t living in the US, Russia, Turkey or other countries on the democratic frontline.