The call for change! First Brexit and now Trump. If you doubted it before, you have to believe it now: people are fed up and demanding change! Both results, however, illustrate the problem with protest votes. They also highlight a significant structural flaw with democracy: the rigidity of the process and inability to change.
Both results reflect a yearning for the past. For Brexit this was represented by the desire to “regain sovereignty”, while Trump prevailed with the rallying cry of, “Making America great again.” Whether these represent an idealised perception of the past or not is beside the point: they are calls for real change. The attractiveness of the past is nearly always a sign of dissatisfaction with the present and, all too often, identified as resistance to change. But perhaps too much is made of people being reluctant to move out of their “comfort zone”, and “change resistance” is nothing more than a management term used to justify the inability to “sell” the need for its own vision of change.
Arguably both results prove that people are willing to change. And, as a species, humankind is naturally curious and thus progressive and up for change. The desire to go back to old ways is simply the natural choice to return to something familiar in the face of either, or both, unpleasant current circumstances and the failure to envisage a new, viable alternative. This means the current situation is, more than anything, a failure of leadership. And that is the paradox of democracy, because it makes little provision for leadership.
After all, if government (those elected) are doing the will of the people, it means the people are leaders. This is implicit in the ideal that their representatives are accountable to them and can be removed from office whenever the people are dissatisfied. This makes innovation a challenge, as any attempt to introduce new ideas requires popular support beforehand; something that most developed nations have failed to build into their democratic processes.
As a result the world moves on while our democratic systems remain largely unchanged. Perhaps inevitably, this leads to the kind of disequilibrium we are currently experiencing – where increasingly dissatisfied, disenchanted and disengaged voters feel angry, and express it in the way they vote, or even don’t bother to vote at all.
Unfortunately, this rarely turns out well. In fact, to coin a phrase, it creates situations where you, “vote in haste and repent at leisure.” You are already seeing this after both these recent cases. For example the very narrow winning margins have left those who did not vote the “right” (winning) way unable to accept the results. Thus you end up with anti-Trump protests, (totally understandable when he was elected with only 27% of the eligible vote) and legal efforts to stall Brexit and perhaps even invoke a second referendum. Voters simply do not feel the margins were a large enough mandate to merit the significant changes the results are likely to bring.
This is likely to exacerbate the polarisation already prevailing prior to voting. Yet it is difficult to separate cause and effect. The level of debate on both sides for both campaigns was disgracefully bad and gave voters very little insight or understanding of what their votes would actually mean. Rather arguments sank to the lowest level of negative claim and counter-claim, with nary a whiff of policy or constructive ideas, and – as has subsequently been demonstrated – no clear idea of how to proceed after winning.
Truly, this democratic disconnect has become a chasm. There is, therefore, a desperate need to find solutions to regenerate and restore true democracy before it disappears completely and becomes little more than a footnote in history. This demands a campaign for real change. It means taking the time to re-evaluate the whole political, social and economic order and – much as the US founding fathers did – developing a fresh system to address the historical shortcomings that have caused the current situation, and, simultaneously, provide the capability for leadership, ongoing evaluation and continuous improvement.
As Zig Ziglar said, “We cannot start over, but we can begin now and make a new beginning!” Let the campaign begin.
I urge you, please, to get hold of my book, The Democracy Delusion: How to Restore True Democracy and Stop Being Duped, and promote discussion and debate around the solutions it offers so that action is taken to address these problems, restore meaningful democracy and safeguard a better environment for future generations.