May you live in interesting times

Welcome not, to the End of History, but to the beginning of it's latest phase

US president elect Donald Trump and his incoming chief strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon.

US president elect Donald Trump and his incoming chief strategist and Senior Counselor Steve Bannon.

Do you remember the late 1990s and early 2000s, that hubris filled era of post-Communism, new Labour and Blairism, the Celtic Tiger, and the free reign of unregulated, laissez faire capitalism, in short 'The End of History', and the seeming utter triumph of the Centre-right?

Back then, you would have heard many political and business leaders including in their speeches the phrase "May you live in interesting times", followed always by "and these are interesting times" - meaning the future looks bright for neo-liberalism and the Centre-right. And that phrase, "May you live in interesting times", was always preceded by an astonishing and unrecognised declaration of ignorance by the speaker - for they always called it, "a Chinese blessing".

"May you live in interesting times" is not a blessing. It is actually an old Chinese curse. World War II was, remains, will always be interesting, but no matter how much fascination you have with the subject, you will not ever - ever - want to have lived through it. The blessing was to not have endured that catastrophe. The curse was to have been in the middle of it.

We currently live in 'interesting times' - admittedly not as bad as WWII, but this is very much a time in which to be highly concerned about the future: the election of Donald Trump, and the kind of homophobic, Islamophobic, alt.Right individuals now making their way into his cabinet; Brexit, and the utter lack of any idea or plan from the Tories as to how Britain will leave the EU; how Ireland risks being an unintended victim of Brexit and our Government's sleepwalking on this issue and fear of donning the 'Green jersey' to protect our intersets; the EU and its ideological domination by Angela Merkel's CDU; the rise of the populist Far Right, as symbolised by Marine Le Pen in France; the new Cold War with Russia; ISIS; the Syrian Civil War and its refugee crisis; and above all of this looms the very real and ever growing threat to humanity of climate change.

Syrian civil war

It may be of course that, bar climate change, what we are witnessing now is just a temporary phenomena. Trump can be voted out in four years time; Remainers in the UK are not going down without a fight - how Insider wishes the same could be said for our Government in regard to Brexit - Le Pen can be defeated; Syria could yet be solved...but I am not inclined to be optimistic.

Insider believes that what we are witnessing is the death of center-ism - at least in its current form. That rush to the political centre, the over-crowding and over-concentration by establishment politicians and parties of the same ideological ground, has led to mainstream politics entering a bubble, one where it is increasingly removed from reality, and is no longer representative or even aware of the needs of the citizens they govern.

Those voters who flocked to Trump in the rust belt states of the US could tell you that. The thousands of American socialists energised by Bernie Saunders could tell you that. Many Brexit voters in Britain, and those who have become excited about politics through Jeremy Corbyn could tell you that. But the mainstream political establishment? No, they will just tell you that this is all about ignorant voters looking for populist solutions.

The death of Center-ism is no bad thing. This is the ideology that rejoiced in and cheerled the irresponsible cheap credit culture that fuelled the 2000's economic boom; the same ideology that forced punitive austerity on the people, but protected the wealthy from the worst ravages of the crises, an ideology fuelled by the Thatcherism and Reganism of the 1980s and can neither see nor permit any alternative.

In its death throes though, something else is emerging. A political ideology of selfishness, suspicion, and fear.

Trump is a reflection of a global trend of support towards Right-wing populists, who - whatever their sincerity - know the concerns of the ordinary people, know how to articulate them, know how to tap into them, and importantly, make voters feel they are listening to them and that they understand them - this is what makes them so worrying. The deep and genuine concerns of the people - for their future, their wellbeing, their sense of self - can be twisted to suit darker, more sinister political ideologies.

Yes, there were those who voted for Trump and Brexit who are ignorant and racist. However, many also voted because they, their communities, and their areas - be it the American mid-west or the de-industrialised north of England - have been ignored for years, maybe more. They have seen unemployment, neglect, lack of investment, a decline in living standards, and no improvement to their lot. The Establishment has done nothing about it. If people are desperate, despondent, and feel ignored or rejected, they are vulnerable to more extreme messages, one that lays the blame at the door of ‘The Other’.

Pegida

The Establishment and the mainstream cannot look away from the right wing monsters - be they Trump, elements of the Brexit Leavers, the LePen movement in France, Pegida in Germany, the attitude of many EU leaders to the refugee crisis, etc, - that they have allowed to grow and that now capitalises on the desperation of many.

The Establishment will look at Trump and say ‘How terrible’. They will look at voters and consider them fools. It was the reaction here of our own commentariat to February's General Election results. Only The Irish Times' Stephen Collins recognised that Election 2016 is the start of a new era in Irish politics, one where Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael will never again dominate in the way they once did.

Instead the Establishment will wait - like they did after the economic crash of 2008 - for it all to be ‘business as usual’ again. It’s what they do. They will never ask, Why are people deserting the centre? Why is our message not resonating anymore? Where have we gone wrong that this is happening? They will not ask because the Establishment sees no problem. The system has always worked for them, so they see no reason to change it. It is why they are always baffled by all and any calls for reform.

However, for as long as they fail to ask these questions, the Trumps, Farages, and Pegidas of this world will continue to attract attention and support. Welcome not, to the End of History, but to the beginning of it's latest phase. We certainly do live in interesting times.

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