Let’s go back a few decades, to 1989, and the great revolt against Soviet imperialism and authoritarianism. It seemed that liberal democratic capitalism had won the day, and globalization was the way of the future. Even China eventually joined the party, in their own fashion.
Then the rise of smartphones and social media spawned a new type of popular revolt, epitomized by the Arab Spring. Dictators and strongmen were deposed, and a new normal took hold. There was no shortage of opportunists to seize the gap, and create their own popular front.
You’d think that, with all this new found freedom we have as individuals, and the power to connect, speak out, expose, organize and mobilize, that we’d be more informed, and choose virtuous leaders. We’ve certainly learned how to protest! But sadly, a new crop of strongmen has learned to bend the disaffected masses to their cause.
With silly slogans like ‘Make America Great’ or ‘Get Brexit Done’, these “political sorcerers” have used their showmanship and tweet skills to gather an unreasonably loyal following – a middle-class popular army.
It’s a global phenomenon. The old-style politics of the Left and Right are no longer relevant; now it’s all about maintaining popularity, and power. Donald, Boris, Vladimir, Modi and Xi all have it down pat, and they’re not above using levers of the state like censorship and tax incentives to bolster their position. It’s all about perceptions, and what people want to believe.
But surely, I hear you ask, we’re in the age of enlightenment, empowered by the internet? Why don’t we insist on personal freedom, and defy this populist revolt? The answer is fear; we’re afraid of freedom, of being responsible for our own decisions and actions. We’d rather have a Big Daddy, a friendly grandfather, yes even a ‘benign’ dictator, to take care of us.
When will we choose scary freedom, instead of the comfortable myth of Santa?