January 14, 2008

A Monger of Hope

Much talk in the current American presidency race centres around the future, which is anticipated with gloom. While a part of the electorate clenches on to Obama’s message of hope for change, American voters do not seem to look at the future in quite positive terms at all. A recent Economist poll stated that around 50% of Republican voters and around 70% of Democratic voters believe that America’s best years were behind it.

Yet this sense of endemic pessimism does not remain limited to the United States. Europe finds itself currently plagued by an identity crisis centering around the future of the EU, while in countries like the UK, the Netherlands and Poland (but not just these) populists have been able to mould this discontent handsomely into political capital. Issues of immigration suddenly seem to rally people around Christianity in opposition to the Islam, in the case of the Netherlands to newer further-from-the-centre political parties that attack the political establishment, while politicians are increasingly mistrusted. Newspaper columnist Wagendorp to the Dutch daily De Volkskrant registered severe disbelief within his circle of friends when he made the case that the world was getting better and better. They simply could not believe it.

Instead, what can be observed is on the one hand an increasingly blasé and disinterested attitude with political affairs, on the other an increasing sense of irritation with what can be called the “honesty deficit” of politicians and institutions. Where this blog reported last year on the massive scale of CIA operations outside of any form of legal systems with many a European government implicated, we now a UK and Dutch government which refuse their citizens a referendum on the new EU Treaty on the outrageously dishonest claim that it has been substantially altered. We see a US administration which until a few months ago denied the link between global warming and human activity, while many a citizen feels like a disempowered bystander.

What is also worrying is the number of instances in which politicians manage to stay on despite obvious breeches of promises or, worse, straight-forward dishonesty. Bush and Blair (“Bliar”, another message on the wall) stayed on despite a provoked war, the Dutch Labour party denies with a straight face that it ever promised a new EU Treaty referendum, Wolfowitz insisted that he walk out of the World Bank with an unsmothered name despite arbitrarily giving his girlfriend a well-paid job, and the world’s two mightiest trade blocs throw mud at each other over their agricultural protectionism and lack of commitment to environmental protectionism.

The crude and instinctive question that arrises is: who is going to break the cycle? And however much more simplistically put than may do justice to the complicated truth, this may be at the core of the Gordian knot. The problem is that however often we vote, certain policy makers won’t go away. However much we protest, politicians won’t draw their conclusions. However urgent a situation pushes itself to the forefront, institutions are too inflexible to address it in a satisfying manner.

Obama presents himself as a monger of hope. For all that it may be worth, let him and others capitalise on this hope through four old and proven methods: transparency, democracy, honesty, and the rule of law. For the moment, my view of the future remains gloomy.

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