The populist maelstrom is becoming a threat to the social and economic future of the West. Policies which normally would generate national bipartisanship are suddenly becoming politicised, often simply for political gain. The leadership that the West has previously shown in international affairs is slipping away.
Now more than ever the West is faced with many challenges and this should force countries to work together. Instead they are splintering, both internally and internationally.
Issues such as climate change, energy, equality, press freedom, privacy, migration and refugees are being politicised in blame games; and critical policies, international treaties and collaboration are becoming casualties of this level of polarisation.
Even technology has now been weaponised in the trade wars – and it is one of the main tools we need to use in addressing and solving these issues!
It is extremely unlikely that the people who are voting for populists are unaware of problems such as climate change, but the populists are using these issues to polarise the ’us against them’ issue.
‘Us’ being the people who feel they have become the victims of the neoliberal policies of the last 30 years and who are often struggling to make ends meet. This happens especially in areas such as housing, energy, medical and educational costs. These people have lost economic power and they are witnessing massive tax avoidance by both companies and the wealthiest people. There is also a significant increase in poverty in, for example, countries such as the US and Britain. No wonder this is creating deep polarisation.
‘Them’ being the people that are, in general, well off and better educated and who can choose to spend more time and money on issues such as climate change, refugees and equality.
In order to make any headway the ‘them’ will have to take the issues of the ‘us’ far more seriously. Only when we have a majority together can we these problems more effectively. The ‘us’ group is also more susceptible to fake news, echo chambers and populism. This is happily fuelled by politicians for their own private or political gain, and by some of the media simply for monetary advantage.
The question is whether the current neoliberal regimes and their populist offspring can address the issues that are close to the hearts of the ‘Us’ group. Looking at the present political developments we must conclude probably not. Eventually this will come as a shock to those who voted for them. There is a ray of light in the Scandinavian countries, where populists are being voted out in favour of social democratic politicians.
It is more likely that a return to more social democratic systems is needed to effectively address the issues from both sides. Given that the ‘Them’ are in a better financial position they will have to make more effort to address the issues that the ‘Us’ are bringing to the table.
In the end more of the disillusioned people will need to be brought back into the fold so that we can all seriously address those global issues.
If we fail to work together nationally and internationally we will be unable to address the bigger issues – especially climate change, which could create an existential crisis for humanity. Because of the ongoing party politics of the last decade we have no national plan or strategy in place to address the complex disasters that are predicted to be coming our way. They include massive increases in climate change refugees driven to the west because of natural disasters, famine, lack of fresh water, epidemics, collapse of law and order, etc. We already see a great deal of this happening in Africa and the Middle East. The economic and national security consequences of simultaneous calamities will be enormous and can happen both in our region or within our country. This is known as simultaneity. Either way the effects on trade, energy and our way of life will be enormous.
Despite President Trump’s climate change denials, the US Navy is starting to work on protecting their marine bases around the world against the effects of climate change – something they have warned against since 2004. According to the Home Front documentary Australia doesn’t have plans in place to protect their navy bases or any of our other very expensive army or air force facilities. Nor does our defence force have comprehensive strategies in place on how to address what is internationally known as complex emergencies.
Finland is one of the few countries that has a permanent crisis council in place, which continuously looks at the various crises scenarios that could affect the country and creates and updates plans to deal with such situations.
It looks like the Australian government has taken a predestination view on climate change, energy crises and infrastructure attacks and is simply hoping for the best. Wouldn’t it be more prudent to at least prepare ourselves in a similar way to the way in which we protect ourselves from what is arguably a rather low risk event such as a war. Australia spends $40 billion a year on defence; I would argue that the economic and security risks from climate change would warrant at least a similar risk prevention effort.
If one or more of such complex events does happen it will be interesting to find out whether people will finally come together. Hopefully it won’t then be a situation of ‘too little too late’.
The changes needed will be massive and there will be a lot of pain and opposition in the process. Strong leadership will be needed, and unfortunately there is a significant shortage of this in the West.
But, as Scandinavia is showing, there is perhaps a way out of the current political crises that are hitting many of the western democracies.