With Trump gone, will the USA (and for that matter any other western nation facing political polarisation) be able to make structural changes to address the underlaying problems. Will Covid-19 be a catalyst in this process or perhaps the American insurrection?
If we look at the western democracies than America is facing much deeper problems than the rest. If that is not addressed it will take many other countries with it on a slippery dip downwards.
It becomes obvious that a two-party system is enabling a much stronger polarisation than a multi-party system. While there is polarisation in the latter countries as well it gets tempered in such a system. See also: Rhineland model.
Structural problems that we face in our society include, inequality, how to deal with refugees, how to deal with different cultures, climate change, misuse of media, just to name a few.
A fundamental issue here is that changes will cost money. Over the last 40 years we have moved more and more towards a neoliberal capital system, with more reliance on market forces and less government involvement in the economy. So, money has flown away from governments to private industry. To a certain extend that has worked well as in general we are individually better off, even the lowest paid people in our society. At the same time this has led to a widening gap between those who have financially profited the most from neoliberal policies and that is causing unease in societies.
With money taking out of society we do see increased problems in healthcare, education, social and environmental services as these are societal issues rather than individual issues. Problems flowing from here do effect those who have financially benefitted the most, less. With greater reliance on the market economy (business) people in charge of the economy have become more powerful and more influential in the political sphere and therefore have a proportional bigger voice in the political decisions of the day. Many will argue that they need more tax benefits, less regulation and are reluctant to see more money flowing to social services (education, healthcare, etc).
However, as we have seen in the pandemic, government will need to be involved much more than they have been ever before since WWII and its immediate aftermath of reconstruction.
Also, to ensure national resilience we need to ensure that everybody is protected and looked after, otherwise society collapse. America came dangerously close to such a collapse. But also, indecisiveness in many other countries for example regarding addressing the pandemic crisis shows how important the need for social cohesion is. Inequality and social dissatisfaction severely undermine social cohesion, again the USA is a sad example here.
Countries with a less partisan political system are cushioned again the level of division and are therefore politically better manageable. What happened in America would not happen that easily in a mainstream way in any of the other democratic countries. Yes we all suffer from serious political problems as we speak, but nowhere in the western democracies is it as bad as in America.
Now here is the crunch. Making structural changes is really, really, really difficult. It is much easier to have a range of incremental changes. However, if societies fail to make such changes we are moving towards a cliff, as it becomes increasingly more difficult to prevent looming crises. Social cohesion comes under pressure and populist get a free reign to move from democracy to authoritarian and totalitarian regimes. What is needed is a resilient society and that cost money and requires political will.
In the deeply seeded partisan situation in America,many well-educated and intellectual Republicans upfront and blanketly condemn any policy of the Democratic Party, they don’t trust them at all. So how do you start the healing process? This being the case what hope is there for the tens of millions Trump followers, many of whom believe in lies, fake news and conspiracy theories.
This is not about disagreement; this goes much deeper. This is exactly the line that Trump followed and while in less intellectual words the insurgents where screaming when breaking into Capitol Hill.
In the end we all must live together, and I have no problem whatsoever to support good policies from the other side, whatever the other side is, equally I will condemn policies from ‘my side’ if I do not agree with them. I supported the conservative Malcolm Turnbull when he was elected PM, yes we had our differences over the NBN, but I supported many of his policies. I am supporting our current conservative PM Scott Morrison on his Covid policies and yes I disagree with him on many other issues. I disagreed with Kevin Rudd when he abandoned the climate change policies, even though I was an adviser to his government on the NBN. I am disappointed by the lack of leadership from the current Labor Opposition. None of this is based on partisanship but on a judgement of the individual policies they make, some are good, some are not so good.
With a significant shift in social policies during the pandemic, we can use this situation to start making incremental changes going forward. As the pandemic will continue to dominate politics during 2021 it will increasingly be more difficult for conservative policies to go back to ‘normal’. We need to end up more in the centre. Furthermore, we will need at least a decade to recover after the pandemic crisis is over. No, I do not expect radical change to happen, unless the situate gets much worse when even more serious disasters are going to happen. Legend has it that Churchill has said ‘Never waste a good crisis’. It would certainly in the spirit of this much-love statesman to use this opportunity.
Another issue that crossed my mind writing this and what is related is education. I find it very hard to believe/understand that all those people in the USA fall for Trump’s lies and fake news? Do these people miss the educational capacity to think more critically or to undertake some basic research? While this delusion does not seem so bad in other countries it is a warning sign that we do need to be vigilant about education. Now more than ever do we need our children to think critically. This is a warning for any nation that is or is considering tinkering with its education system.
I have been critical about America in this article as we in western democracies do have a vested interest in America as this country still is the leader of the western world and their downfall will have a massive effect on all other democratic nations. At the same time, I am looking at Europe for more tolerant and balanced leadership, we at least do see incremental changes happening here. With Brexit over and done with Europe can act more united. Biden will need Europe as a partner, and this could benefit decision making processes. Hungary and Poland are becoming more isolated and will need to make a choice to move away from their ultra-right populist directions. Let us hope that these new opportunities are used to change direction into a more humane and sustainable direction.