Is Western democracy in crisis?

Which direction Donald Trump will take the US remains unclear after his election victory. Commentators see his success and that of other populists as the consequence of neoliberal developments and the left's weakness.

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Delo (SI) /

Resignation spreading across Europe

Many Eastern Europeans are increasingly feeling the negative effects of neoliberalism, Delo believes:

“A good 25 years after the fall of the Iron Curtain, a growing number of people - not just in the former East Bloc - are deeply disappointed in the West. Many - again not just in Eastern Europe - feel like second-class Europeans. The standards that were held high for decades - democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights - have lost their meaning. They've been trodden underfoot by brutal neoliberalism and its political elites, corruption, and the drop in living standards for much of the population. Yesterday's enthusiasm for Europe is no longer to be observed even in the member states that are still doing well. Resignation rules the day and provides an ideal breeding ground for nationalist tendencies.”

Der Spiegel (DE) /

Left ignores social issues

Social democrats in particular must ask themselves a few important questions after Trump's election victory, Der Spiegel comments:

“They must ask why the people whose advocates they claim to be have gone over to the right. Trump's biggest support came from those with little education. Many of his voters are losers of the economic developments, or at least believe they are. This trend is gaining ground not only in the US but also in France, England and the German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania. ... Even in Germany many people who feel forgotten or even betrayed by the political left, whether as a result of [ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder's reform plan] Agenda 2010, bank bailouts with taxpayers' money, or the apathetic way of dealing with the fact that social background increasingly determines one's prospects in life. Because the left has long neglected social issues, a growing number of voters are now trying their luck with the right.”

hvg (HU) /

Facts no longer matter

The campaigns for the vote on the Brexit, the refugee referendum in Hungary and the presidential electionin the US were all manifestations of the so-called post-factual era, political scientist Dániel Mikecz explains in hvg:

“A presidential candidate who wins on the strength of lies, a vote on exiting the EU that wasn't made without any proper planning and a referendum [in Hungary] in which it was completely unclear what people were voting on. These events mark a surreal change in Western public opinion. … In all three cases the uncertainty of the voters was a crucial factor. The results show that above all those who voted for Trump and the Brexit have a low educational level. In both referendums economic and statistical facts were completely ignored. Unlike emotions, facts clearly matter less and less for public opinion.”

Dagens Nyheter (SE) /

Strengthen democracy in your own circles

Enough of all the moaning after Trump's election, Dagens Nyheter writes:

“If you're sick of all the superficial attacks against politicians, stop complaining and start getting involved in a party. If the hatred and threats on the Internet depress you, do something about it and support those who stand for something different. Share, comment and like their posts. If lots of people do this it will make an impact and convey a truer image of what most Swedes stand for. … What populist propaganda describes as a small power elite out of touch with reality is in fact the majority of Swedish citizens. … We must wholeheartedly reject the rhetoric [of the populists], campaign for fundamental values and offer policies that make Sweden stronger.”

Al-Hayat (SA) /

What Trump and the IS have in common

Columnist Hazem al-Amin finds parallels between Trump's election win and the huge appeal the IS has for thousands of young Muslim men and women in Al-Hayat, a Saudi paper based in London:

“No doubt it's almost impossible to find similarities. Nevertheless I will attempt to establish a thought-bridge between the two. Both phenomena are accompanied by something like an inner collapse. A consensus that held society together is overridden. ... The American candidate's contempt for and humiliation of women became a strength. ... In the case of the IS, the low status of women propagated by the terrorist organisation has not prevented Western women from joining, either alone or accompanied by their husbands. ... Unprecedented and hitherto socially prohibited things became possible: the bestiality of the IS and its supporters on the one hand, and the desire among Trump's supporters to give free rein to suppressed views on the other.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Nationalists can't seal themselves off

The ideologies of Trump and his European emulators puts them in a dilemma, Večernji list points out:

“The problem of populists who so sovereignly reject globalisation is that they have to talk with each other if and when they come to power. Because the world was never as connected as it is today. The idea of a nationalist international is inherently contradictory. ... The global system makes it very difficult to achieve international objectives without US leadership. Obama once pointed out that no global conference could address current problems - let alone reach and implement decisions - without US participation. So the US's new focus on itself - according to Trump's slogan to make America great again - seems unviable. Because it would create a vacuum on the international stage that could all too easily lead to chaos.”

El País (ES) /

Democracy can't be oversimplified

A comprehensive reform in political culture is needed to counter the post-truth politics of the likes of Trump, writes philosopher Daniel Innerarity in El País:

“The best decisions are not made on the basis of disinformation (Brexit) or a debate shaped by the distortion of reality (Trump). Nor is the level of democracy high when the people act like passive consumers whose immediate needs are met and who are not put in a position of responsibility. … The inclusion of society in government must consist of more than merely participation in elections or expressing preferences in online discussions. … We need to work towards a more complex and nuanced political culture. When societies are polarized by simplified opposing positions this doesn't produce high quality democratic processes. How can we promote a culture in which complicated facts are not systematically punished with disinterest and rejection? Why do values like objectivity and responsibility matter so little in politics? Only a complex democracy is a complete democracy.”

The Washington Post (US) /

The liberals' nightmare has come true

Liberals in the US are in for four unbearable years, political cartoonist Tom Toles writes in the Washington Post:

“You could say that this is the outcome most perfectly designed to destroy and demoralize liberalism in the United States as far as the eye can see. So there you have it, this is what is known as the Worst-Case Scenario for liberals, and destined to last a minimum of four long years. And how does it feel? Worse even than you think. I have seen more than a few adults in tears, repeatedly. So if schadenfreude was what you hoped for, this is your chance to absolutely revel. The country is now yours to govern.”

Új Szó (Slowakei) (SK) /

Trump the culmination of an ongoing trend

The rise of populists in the West can no longer be overlooked as 2016 draws to a close, Új Szó warns:

“A rapprochement between the EU and Ukraine was rejected by the Dutch in a referendum. In fact the vote was aimed at the European Union: the Eurosceptics were merely testing their clout and mobilising potential. Then came the Brexit, which produced a veritable earthquake in the EU. ... And while the Hungarian referendum was not valid, 98 percent of those who voted sided with the populist agitation of Viktor Orbán's government against refugees and immigrants. ... Trump's triumph is the latest victory for demagogy and populism - for now.”

NRC Handelsblad (NL) /

Only one country is still holding out

After Donald Trump's victory Germany is the last remaining moral role model for the Western world, journalist Joris Luyendijk observes in NRC Handelsblad:

“Three cheers for the German elites. It's not that there aren't any fortune seekers, charlatans, troublemakers spreading conspiracy theories or neo-Nazis in German politics. On the contrary. … But the German elites of the post-war era are still successfully preventing charismatic Sirens, cynics and racist demagogues from taking the limelight. … German politicians are team players who are guided by their sense of responsibility. For decades Anglo-Saxon commentators and journalists have mocked this policy of consensus, calling it boring and grey. Now we know what the alternatives are. Those who treat democracy as if it were part of the entertainment industry end up with Trump and Brexit. This is the big lesson of 2016.”

Corriere della Sera (IT) /

Paying for the established parties' ignorance

The established parties of the West put social cohesion on the line and shouldn't be surprised at the results, rails historian Galli della Loggia in Corriere della Sera:

“Both the social democrats and the conservatives not only failed to comprehend the gravity of the situation until it was too late, but also didn't know how to react once they finally did grasp it during the 2008 financial crisis. … Instead of seeking new sources of motivation and new way to live together in the crisis, both the right and the left effectively promoted the disintegration of social cohesion. In most cases they took sides with the 'big guys' and abandoned the less culturally advanced, the older generations, the geographic peripheries and the poorer sections of the population. They gave the rights of the emancipated individual priority over the identity of the man on the street. … And in the process they forgot that when elections come around it just so happens to be the man on the street who can form the majority.”

The Times (GB) /

Trump's opponents are the true fanatics

Preaching the decline of the West after Trump's election is typical of the left, columnist Melanie Phillips writes in The Times:

“Trump’s victory, it is claimed, will promote hatred, racial violence and an end to democracy. Yet the people being hated and racially attacked are Trump supporters. ... The left’s agenda is not to oppose bigotry or ignorance. It is to gain power and control. For decades, liberals have stamped upon all opposition to the left’s revolutionary attempt to remake society in its own image. The Brexit/Trump uprising is the first time they have been defeated. The left falsely represent themselves as centrists, and true centrists as extremists. What’s going on now is the people’s counter-revolution: an attempt to move politics back to the true centre of cultural gravity.”