Whenever you hear “Power to the People,” check youry wallet. At college, I remember the silly panty raids of an earlier generation who just let off steam and did something mildly outrageous. Today's “People Power” is not as innocent.
Democracy today is not having a good run. Although citizens vote for their representatives and leaders, many feel somehow disenfranchised. The problem is almost universal, except for Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Iceland, and Finland, in which democracy is really democratic. These countries have small, homogeneous populations, mostly middle class, and they enjoy shared values. The rest of us are not so lucky.
In the United States, our candidates are no longer selected by professional political parties. Instead, self-appointed zealots on the far left and far right dominate the primary elections and have the means to bring out their followers, leaving the large middle class in the dust. Most people are too busy making a living to have the leisure to engage in this sort of politics, and yet they are increasingly unhappy with what has become of our formerly moderate political parties.
In Western Europe, small elites who have gone to the same kind of universities and share the same kind of Euro-socialist values have had a long run of ruling, and middle and working class populations trusted them. Now, in countries such as England, France, Germany, Greece, and Italy, their populations no longer share a common culture. They are faced by an inundation of Muslim and African immigrants, the best of whom just want to find work, but the worst of whom want to challenge European culture.
The elite European leadership has been clueless to the danger felt by their ordinary citizens, leaving the people frustrated and alarmed. One tone-deaf British diplomat recently mocked the rising fear of the Muslim migrants, calling them “a breath of fresh air.” As threats mount, that is not how the average European sees it.
During this election year, Americans have heard from “the people” on the right (Tea Party) and “the people” on the left (Occupy). They share a number of features, although differ in their solutions:
o Both detest government. The Right wants less of it, except to impose social and religious values on everyone. The Left wants government to take care of everything, except for terrorism, national defense, and prosecuting drug use.
o Both want to round up the “usual suspects.” The Right detests “liberals,” communists, homosexuals, uppity women, and bleeding hearts. The Left hates bankers, the military, and law enforcement. Many on both sides share the belief that the bankers are all Jews. Nasty anti-Semitic posters appear at both Left and Right demonstrations, and strangely, Occupy Oakland puts its money to pay bail in Wells Fargo right after trashing it.
o No Leadership. Both lie about leadership. The Koch brothers' money has been behind the Tea Parties, and the fine hand of the Anarchists is clearly organizing the Occupy movements. Peaceful demonstrations are being sabotaged by “groups of youths,” with firebombs, rocks, and Anarchist graffiti (seen in Oakland). “General Assemblies” do not spontaneously organized themselves nor do they have a clear agenda.
I was taught by my wise parents not to join anything remotely like a mob. When human beings mass, something kicks in that trumps prudence. Just watch people at a sports arena, and for the worst example, review the marches organized by the KKK that culminated in lynchings. Even with determinedly peaceful demonstrations, a few violent firebrands can destroy the good intentions of the peaceful. Their intent is to radicalize when the police respond.
The Far Right and Far Left should not determine the democratic outcomes of elections. We need to take back the political process through some badly needed constitutional conferences, thoughtful gatherings of people who will listen to each other with courtesy and wisdom. No more referendums that bypass legislators; no more primary elections that can be stolen by zealots; and no more savage partisanship by our representatives whom we elect to debate, collaborate, and legislate. If we can't fix this, how dare we try to sell it to the rest of the world?
Dr. Laina Farhat-Holzman is a historian, lecturer, and author of How Do You Know That? You may contact her at Lfarhat102@aol.com or www.globalthink.net.