The reality of political change
They say everything happens in a cycle.
Life has a way of repeating itself. And while many successfully argue that the only constant in life is change, change in politics usually ends up coming full cycle back to what was originally intended to be changed.
In the world of politics, there seems to be no possibility of ever finding the right and lasting solution to the issues
of leadership and philosophy that reap success regardless of circumstances.
It seems at regular junctures in our history, anti-establishment movements step in and step up to challenge the so-called status quo of the political elite. An anti-establishment view or belief is defined as one which stands in opposition to the conventional social, political, and economic principles of a society.
The term was first used in the modern sense in 1958, by the British magazine New Statesman to refer to its political and social agenda. In the past, it was easy to see why anti-establishment movements had an appeal. They had clear and distinct reasons to be anti-establishment.
For example, the fight against colonialism in many parts of the world brought about movements of change and independence. The racist policies of the ‘establishment’ in several western countries also gave rise to movements and persons like Reverend Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and many others who fought for equality and justice.
In our own Caribbean context, we saw the fight against slavery, economic injustice and ultimately against British colonial rule giving rise to political parties that won Independence and carried the new nation-states into the 21st century.
Today, we once more are witnessing a rise in anti-establishment fervour. But the lines are blurred. What really are politicians and groups who claim anti-establishment agendas propagating? A Pew Research Centre survey found four major factors driving anti-establishment sentiment throughout much of Europe: economic anxieties, security fears, cultural unease and a lack of confidence in political institutions.
The last factor is particularly interesting as the survey points out that Europeans aren’t sure that establishment political institutions can help address the challenges facing the various nations. In several countries, traditional political parties are losing support while anti-establishment parties are gaining strength.
The Presidential campaign in the US last year is a prime example of an “anti-establishment” message being swallowed wholeheartedly by a significant number of voters. Donald Trump was anything but politically correct.
He spoke against all the established norms of Washington even to the ire of his own Republican party. He won the election and became President of the United States of America. Yet even before he was installed, the writing appeared on the wall that Trump would be no less establishment than his predecessors were.
In a piece carried by Washington Post, Paul Wadman, a senior writer at the American Prospect, wrote: “The greatest trick Donald Trump pulled was convincing voters he’d be “anti-establishment.” Well, maybe not the greatest trick. But in a campaign full of cons, it has to rank close to the top.
“This was near the heart of Trump’s appeal to the disaffected and disempowered: ‘Send me to Washington, and that “establishment” you’ve been hearing so much about, we’ll blow it up, send it packing, punch it right in the face, and when it’s over, the government will finally be working for you again.’
“And the people who voted for Trump bought it. After all, he’s no politician, right? He’s an outsider, a glass-breaker, a guy who can cut out the bull and get things done. Right? But the idea that he would do this was based on a profound misunderstanding of what the establishment actually is, and who Donald Trump is…
“Now to be clear, the fact that in some ways — hiring lobbyists, cutting taxes for the wealthy, gutting regulations — Trump is going to be little different from any other Republican president doesn’t mean that he isn’t uniquely dangerous. He’s reckless, impulsive, vindictive, hateful, and authoritarian, and his presidency is going to be somewhere between disastrous and cataclysmic, likely in ways we can’t even imagine yet.
“But one thing it will not be is a threat to the establishment, or the system, or whatever you want to call it. The wealthy and powerful will have more wealth and power when he’s done, not less. There’s a lot that Trump will upend, but if you’re a little guy who thinks Trump was going to upend things on your behalf or in order to serve your interests, guess what: you got suckered.”
Animal Farm by George Orwell was one of my favourite reads while doing English Literature at Foundation School. How that story so much reflects present day realities in so many instances in politics is frightening.
Revolutions bring about profound and radical changes, usually and supposedly for the betterment of the people. Yet, as Orwell so wisely wrote in the last chapter of this book, what eventually emerged was no different than what was the cause of the rebellion in the first place.
Bringing this discussion home, we find a significant outcry against established policies and politics. I suspect that very similar to the findings in Europe, Barbadians aren’t sure that the established political parties can help address the challenges facing the nation.
How widespread is this feeling is unknown, but the fact that discussion is taking place means the sentiments exist. Furthermore, the rise of several new parties all seeking to vie for political positions come the next elections reflect a growing desire to change business as usual.
Nothing new has been attempted in the past, but with limited success and no sustainability. The two main political parties in Barbados have proven their abilities to govern and to be sustainable in political life. Life is rapidly changing and so are attitudes. What worked for these parties in the past may very well be a thing of the past.
Newer parties cannot simply mimic these two giants in the political arena of Barbados. Nor can they simply cry foul at the two established parties. They must be fresh, different and offer a clearly articulated vision of a Barbados that will be successfully managed. There must be a clear philosophy that drives them. I don’t think that has emerged as yet.
Similarly, the established parties cannot rest on their laurels. They must reinvent themselves and come better. Better prepared and better equipped. What is their new philosophy that helps them meet the challenges of the present and future and will resonate with voters?
Politics cannot merely be slogans dished out at election time and after that, five years of nothing that does not truly empower the citizen. This attitude is what has brought us here. A malaise and a disinterest in anything political. It opens the door to the likes of Donald Trump and catchy slogans, but nothing of true substance.
Every citizen must be seen, made to feel and treated as a shareholder and stakeholder in the State, not only at elections but at all times. Our younger generation is looking for change. What that change is, they may not even be too clear on.
It must be a change that will ultimately be positive for Barbados. It cannot be change for the sake of change as that will make no difference in the long term and as the saying goes “we will all be back to square one”.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace. Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)