At What Cost Did We Triumph?

There you have it. Brexit has won. Trump is the nominee. And in the rest of the world, from the triumph of the soon-to-be-dictator Duterte in the Philippines to the stunning success of right-wing European parties, outsiders are challenging expectations. To the supporters of these unconventional outcomes, the political narrative is one of corrupt interests, globalist control, and useless democracy. Their sentiments however, are more emotional than ideological, which manifests as a strategy of taking extreme positions in order to dismantle the political machine at any cost. Take Sanders supporters. It appears as if their energy comes from die-hard progressivism, but in a survey conduct by the American National Election Studies, Sanders supporters are less likely to support a minimum wage increase, an expansion of health care, and an increase in social benefits than those “moderate” Clinton supporters. Doesn’t seem so unlikely that Trump will draw in Sandernistas now, huh?

However, it seems to me that their success only serves to undermine their motivating rhetoric. If the world was truly as rigged as they believe, then how could the underdogs claim such victories? In their effort to dismantle vested interests, populists have confirmed that the powers-that-be aren’t as powerful as they thought, and if any good can be gained from their choices, it’s that democracy is more-or-less functioning as it should. Of course, one could make the argument that it took a devoted cause – nay, a political revolution – for the people’s will to be expressed. More likely however, the people are merely realizing that in order to have their desires expressed, one must actually care. One cannot sit at home expecting that politics will play out in her favor, then call foul and fraud when it doesn’t. One must actually take the reins in her own hands, make demands, and most importantly, vote.

Forging a movement with political energy does not constitute a drastic effort by the oppressed to reclaim their nation. Rather, such was intended to be a daily experience of a functioning civic society in a stable democracy. If the devil’s greatest trick was to convince humanity that he doesn’t exist, then the political puppeteer’s greatest trick was to convince the people that she does exist. From there, people conclude that no matter what they do, they will be undermined by corporations, lobbyists, and Hilary Clinton, and so the prophecy inadvertently fulfills itself. But as recent history shows, the people are more powerful than the myth foretold. However, I am unsure if its any better knowing that democracy is functioning when living in a society of once-apathetic racists and bigots.