Democratic societies are increasingly feeling the challenge of a rising wave of civil discontent with many traditional politicians. They are turning to populist upstart politicians who promise an anti-establishment agenda to bring about a disciplined crime-free or immigration-free new society.
These opportunistic politicians around the world are using the genuine anger of those left behind economically and politically as a surfing wave to autocratic rule. They make outlandish promises, bully their way to prominence, and grab media attention with outrageous comments and threats. They can persuade, with bombastic rhetoric, a large portion of the electorate to trust and elect them. They claim to be the Messiah who will wipe away all the tears and hardships of the disadvantaged and the marginalized.
They have a valid list of people’s complaints with which to challenge the traditional elite and established governments of the rich. The social inequality, the ever-widening gap between the few rich and the many poor, is fertile ground to make them populist.
Democracy is losing the trust and support of populations as economic disparities and injustices grow and remain unaddressed. Increasingly, bureaucratic corruption makes their lives a burden and miserable. They welcome and support any false messiah.
In the United States, the rise of Donald Trump is an indication of this distrust of the establishment by millions of Americans. They despair that a true independent democratic government can be elected without the funding of the billionaires of the business class. They want a government that brings prosperity with fairness. They are desperate and blinded by false hope, support an uncouth bullying billionaire businessman.
There are other democratically elected leaders who promised paradise but practice autocratic authoritarian rule intolerant of any criticism and opposition. In Hungary, Poland and Turkey, the elected leaders rule by repressing and controlling the media, judiciary and the civil society that stands for the rule of law and human rights.
More political parties are rising in Austria and Germany that are extreme in their policies, are anti-immigration, nationalist and tend to deny the fundamental freedoms of a democracy based on the freedoms and values that are the bedrock of any true democracy.
We can say they are pseudo-democracies led by false messiahs who exclude minorities, refuse to recognize the freedom of religion and equality and dignity of the human person. They get elected because of the voter’s anxiety, troubles, and isolation from the political dialogue, being voiceless and disparaged. The established governments have plenty to answer for.
The electorate rally behind the demagogy of a rising politician based on ignorance of his or her true character, intentions and secret agendas once in power. Like all politicians, their promises of change and a corrupt free new society are the stepping-stones to power. They may grip the imagination and ignite hope in the voters but the promises are soon ignored when they take over the power of the president or prime minister.
When they abuse power and the educated and disillusioned population awakens to reality, it is sometimes too late to get them out of power. In Africa, many rulers defy or manipulate the democratic process to stay in power for up to thirty or more years.
The election of a left of center reformist government with a social justice and equality agenda, can indeed partially succeed in reducing poverty and creating a stronger economy but for how long? Eventually corruption and mismanagement of the economy, as happened in Brazil, open the door for the entry to power of corrupt elite billionaires.
They are perhaps the most dangerous to democracy since they legislate to deregulate the banking sector, promote liberal capitalism, unfettered free trade. They create monopolies and buy out the media so as to shape the news and establish their political power. These ruling elite allow exploitation and multinational companies to maximize profits without social sharing.
With the growth of secular values where society is increasingly a selfish and self-centered one and is becoming addicted to the pleasure principle, the role of the church as teacher of values and morals has been disregarded.
Perhaps this is due to the authoritarian and dominating interference that church leaders had in imposing unnecessary burdens and restrictions on the believers. They too were autocratic, which is now rejected, and secular interests dominate.
Church leaders are failing to promote and live out in a relevant way the values of religion that are based on human dignity, compassion, and justice, equality and universal human rights. So we have society striving for a true democracy but they get a pseudo-democracy, which has few of these basic values. By invigorating and committing themselves to these values, an honest capable leader could emerge with a following that can bring a more equal society.
There is hope for a real vigorous model of democracy in the world where everyone’s voice is listened to and heard. Where openness and trust is based on reflection, reason and knowledge. With these values at the heart of a movement, a society committed to fearless non-violence, social justice and genuine participation could indeed come about.