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Is anti-establishment the new normal globally?

By X N Iraki | July 10th 2016
A bridge over Colorado River on the Arizona-Nevada Border. A wave of anti-establishment is sweeping across USA and other parts of the world. [Photo: XN Iraki]

If you have lived in a developed country particularly in the West, it is hard to believe Donald Trump is doing so well in the US presidential race.

No one expected UK to vote to leave European Union. In Austria, the far right party nearly won the polls. In France, the National Front is enjoying a quiet revival, never mind about the family feuds as daughter and father fight over the control of the party.

Anti-establishment (hostility to conventional social, political, or economic values or principles) seems to be the new normal. In India, the Gandhi dynasty has been silenced by voters. Philippines has a new president sympathetic to extra–judicial killings. The same pattern extends to the rest of the world.

In Kenya too, demonstration against the establishment has become the new normal. In countries where voters are not changing regimes, violence is taking its toll. In the Middle East, political violence led by anti-establishment forces like ISIS and Al Qaeda has shaken governments to the core. Why is the old order under threat? Why is anti-establishment thriving?

Who thought less than a generation ago that after celebrating the end of the Cold War and the triumph of globalisation, the world would be on the edge, threatened by amorphous forces? May be we celebrated too early and failed to see the potency of the silent forces. Don’t silent waters run deep?

With the fall of communism, democracy became the new normal. But it had no countervailing force to use a term popularized by economist G.K. Galbraith. If you study democracy keenly, you come to an interesting conclusion - it is over romanticised. In reality, people vote, but the issues they vote for are shaped by a few committed and passionate people. Think about all the times you have voted. What was the hottest issue that made you decide who to vote for? Who came up with it?

The anti-establishment leaders from Donald Trump to Boris Johnson, former mayor of London and even our own leaders in Kenya know voters are swayed by a few emotional issues. The hot button issues are surprising. How can immigration be a hot issue in US, a country made of immigrants?

Affluent and poor

How can it be a hot issue in UK, when Britons once colonised a quarter of the world? Such issues appeal to our emotions and are vote getters. To be sincere, the new anti-establishment leaders have noted that voters are easy to sway. Any serious political analyst aided by a few psychologists and socialists can map out the issues that matter to the general population. You can even create new ones to suit you.

The twin sister of democracy is capitalism. Without a countervailing force, capitalism swung to the extreme after the end of the cold war and the death of communism. It created an underclass of angry men and women who feel excluded from the heart of the economy. The trickle down economy, where tax breaks for big businesses would benefit other societal members did not work as envisaged.

The gap between the affluent and poor seem to have widened. There is evidence of that everywhere. In Kenya, there are more pedestrians than car owners, yet there are no pavements for them to walk or ride. No wonder they bear the blunt of fatal accidents. It is no wonder that most of the voters driving anti-establishment are in the periphery of the global economy. They include blue collar workers, not well educated, poor and those with dimmed career prospects.

Globalisation was to be the new conveyor belt to prosperity; it delivered prosperity to only a few. Vast majority feel excluded from the global trade and commerce. How many Kenyans own a passport? This exclusion is fanning the embers of anti-establishment. Disillusioned, the voters are looking for solace in well tested mental spaces from tribes to religion, and extremism. How do you explain the surge in tribal consciousness despite Internet and the globalisation? Have you noted the virulent tribal talks online and in political rallies?

Some argue persuasively the sins of the past are now haunting the world. The conflicts in the Middle East have origins in the secret Picos-Sykes agreement of 1916 which partitioned the Middle East like Africa in 1885. Anti-establishments are adept in exploiting this history to further their interests and stir our emotions. LGBTQ are more acceptable and same sex marriage a reality.

Where do we go from here? The anger against establishment will force them to reform. The world has been there before, even through wars. Through creativity and our propensity to change and ensure self preservation, we have created a better world. May be this anti-establishment will usher in a better world; more just, more equitable and hopefully a happier one and devoid of utopianism.

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