A valuable lesson from US election
The rise of Donald Trump, a New York City-based property billionaire and celebrity, has left the world aghast. People around the world keep asking this same question: “How did the country hailed as the beacon of democracy and freedom end up with a presidential nominee like Donald Trump with such an out-of-the ordinary and narcissistic profile?”
But this is actually not an exclusive case. Whether or not Trump will win the election, the emergence of Trump as a presidential nominee is a result of ongoing social and cultural anxiety in the US, something that is also happening in other parts of the world. The recent victory of the Brexit camp in the UK and the increasing popularity of populist politics are other good examples. What is unique about this phenomenon is that it is taking place in many developed countries with years of political stability.
Around the world, people complain that politics has become an exclusive domain, reserved to only a small group of elites. While democracy, the world’s most embraced political system, may promise an equal opportunity to everyone to actively participate in the system of the government — to elect and to be elected that is — often the reality is a much different situation. Using democracy as a tool to legitimize their power, oftentimes the old political establishment and the incumbents work hand in hand to ensure the system remains complex so that it is difficult for average people to enter the political arena.
A similar condition is also occurring in Indonesia, where our political hemisphere is excessively controlled by the political parties, consistently blocking political access for independent candidates and neglecting the ongoing expansion of political dynasties throughout the country.
The “It’s the economy, stupid!” phrase, popularized during the US 1992 presidential campaign, perfectly summarizes how important economic welfare is in the eyes of the voters.
While capitalism, which if it was human would be one of democracy’s best friends, may have reduced poverty around the world, it is now blamed by many as the cause of today’s global economic sluggishness and, most importantly, the widening gap between the rich and the poor.
It is easy to be misled, but the economic gap is not just a textbook theory, it is really happening. A recent report from Oxfam, an antipoverty organization, revealed that the richest 1 percent are wealthier than the rest of the world’s population combined. The same report also pointed out how the 62 richest people, a short list which includes Bill Gates, Warren Buffet and the likes, have the same amount of wealth as the poorest 3.5 billion people.
Early this year the Indonesian government announced that the nation’s Gini ratio improved by 0.01 to 0.4. As with many other emerging countries with a large population, wealth distribution poses a serious challenge for Indonesia. There are around 28 million people, or around 10 percent of Indonesia’s total population, who live under the poverty line, according to the latest data from the Central Statistics Agency (BPS).
Economist Joseph Stiglitz, a former winner of the Nobel Prize for economics, is among the few experts who consistently complain about the malfunctioning of today’s capitalism-driven global economic
Among other things, he blames government policies that are created based on the “trickle-down” economic mind-set, a long-time held economic argument that believes giving economic privileges, such as tax breaks to big corporations, investors and the wealthy entrepreneurs will help stimulate economic growth and eventually will benefit all members of the society. The global 2008 financial crisis proved that wrong.
And it is the close ties between politicians and businesspeople that have exacerbated the anxiety of people around the world. Many in the US, for instance, will not forget and forgive their government’s decision to hand out a US$700 billion bailout to help ailing banks who were entangled in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis. Around the world, it is no public secret that deep-pocketed corporations heavily use the help of lobbyists to influence lawmakers and governments to pass laws and regulations that correspond to their business interests.
The information technology boom has made exchanging information become so easy, knowing no borders and no limits. Any trend happening in one country can be easily mirrored by people in other countries. It will not be a surprise if extreme changes in the political landscapes of the US or in Europe initiate something similar in many other parts of the world.
In Indonesia we actually already had our anti-political-establishment moment in 2014, when Joko “Jokowi” Widodo won the presidential election. Little known in the national political landscape, Jokowi suddenly emerged as a political heavyweight when he was elected governor of Jakarta two years earlier. When he contested, with his down-to-earth communication skills and his trademark impromptu visits to meet ordinary people, he was pictured by the people as the antithesis of old, boring politicians, which the people were getting tired of.
As our country is approaching next year’s simultaneous elections for regional heads, the cases in the US and other countries should become a reminder to our politicians and government officials that they must abandon old, political tricks, full of lies and deception.
Also, note that public demands are dynamic, as well as the challenges people face. To make themselves relevant, politicians and governments must be able to produce good policies that will improve people’s lives in concrete ways.
And remember, today’s voters are smart and they are equipped with much more advanced communication tools that previous generations. When they have had enough, be assured that they will punish you.
Tasa Nugraha Barley
The writer holds a master of business administration (MBA) in business and finance from Strayer University, Washington, DC.
Source : The Jakarta Post