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researcher senior at programs of study Islámicos e Historia de Oriente Medio. Institute for Culture and Society University of Navarra
The events that took place a few days ago on Capitol Hill unquestionably show how a democratically elected president can end up being autocratic and, therefore, a danger to democracy. Especially when social networks, media platforms and his own party colleagues are not able to contain his most careless and provocative statements.
Unfortunately, this praxis goes back a long way in contemporary Western history. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini gained political power through elections in 1932 and 1924 respectively, although these elections were characterized by violent actions, assassinations and lack of transparency. Media pressure, the cultural poverty of citizens, economic crises and the combined arrogance of words and actions can admirably manipulate the population, particularly in those places where fear and the prospect of social preservation strongly predominate.
The assault on the Capitol not only symbolizes the extent to which part of the American population prefers a candidate that, to mention one of the most basic aspects of public life, is not even capable of adequately managing such basic aspects as health -it is worth remembering the large number of deaths resulting from its nefarious management pandemic-. This favoritism is related to the preference of a part of the population for a white leader, racist, class tall, armed and feignedly religious.
This narrative polarizes a nation that has many unresolved historical problems, from the colonization of the frontier to the civil war of 1861-1865. What is most troubling, however, is that if this last case has surprised us, other even more serious events taking place in Western democracies go unnoticed and unnoticed.
On December 7, 2020, French President Macron conferred the Legion d'Honneur, the highest French honorary decoration, on Egypt's General and President al-Sisi. It was undoubtedly a disconcerting action of absolute gravity, which has yet had very few consequences. The president of a democratic country, the head of state of the nation where the most important rhetoric on proto-democratic values abounds in the West, handed over the most significant civilian and military degree scroll to a coup general and manager of the absolute homicidal resurgence in the North African country.
Suffice it to mention the case of the Italian doctorate student Giulio Regeni (28 years old), killed after days of torture in 2016, as well as that of Patrick Zaki, an Egyptian student at the University of Bologna, who has been in jail without trial and without evidence for more than a year. These are the most internationally known examples of Cairo's delusional state of security and autocracy.
The Democracy Index of the weekly The Economist, as well as The Freedom House, insist on using indicators of democracy that look at the internal politics of the world's countries: electoral process and pluralism, civil liberties, government functioning, political participation and political culture. But they do not consider the economic factor that democratic countries promote through multinational companies that have institutional headquarters there. Oil, arms, agricultural and service companies... that act guided by their own foreign policy and have the support and political backing of all the governments of the country to which they belong.
The crisis of contemporary democracy makes sense in light of this collusion between weak politicians and the neoliberal market, regardless of the rhetoric they use about democracy. Autocratic leaders like the presidents of Russia, China, Turkey and Egypt find it all too easy to boast that the best thing for a democracy is the rule of the strongest man. Ten years after the Arab Spring and thirty years after the Third Wave of the democratic world after the Cold War (Samuel P. Huntington), the global trend is a retreat from issue of democracies. Moreover, most of the time, unlike in the 1990s, internal insurrections against autocratic governments do not end well and the consequences for the population are worse than the previous status . In Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Syria there are ongoing civil wars; in Algeria, Venezuela, Lebanon, Nigeria, Mali etc. it is impossible to channel the status towards a more stable and less autocratic one.
The problem is clearly related to two factors that, in reality, respond to the same thing. On the one hand, regardless of whether the local population aspires to confront autocratic power, if there is no real support from democratic countries, all these insurgencies can hardly succeed. The Arab Springs have made it very clear that peoples fighting for change soon find their motivations hijacked by political ideologies and religious fundamentalisms that have nothing to do with the initial purpose to liberate a country. In the same way, autocrats and their clans, who are never interested in achieving the welfare of the nation, are capable of resisting until they are assassinated or saved by the chieftain president of the day.
At the same time, the political intervention of democracies is directly hindered by the same companies that want to maximize their profits as quickly as possible through the reconstruction of countries, as well as to provide weapons to the new national army in the confrontation with rebels or terrorists.
In a book by David Held published in 1995, "Democracy and the Global Order", it was established in a historical phase different from the current one that the democratic world after the Cold War needed to evolve towards a cosmopolitan world in which supranational decisions could be taken at the regional level (North America, South America, Europe, the Middle East, etc.). It is a rather utopian image if we look at the current context, where autocracies, sovereignism and the return to a policy of national propaganda have been the flags that Donald Trump has raised, forgetting that he is the president of a complex country with many minorities.
In the end, the European Union itself, which has hastily incorporated Eastern European countries in order to have a "little China" at home in its Economics , now finds itself unable to take new federal steps where different identitarian and nationalist narratives are pursued without identity.
Regardless of regionalist narratives pushed by local sovereign visions, religious conservatism in both the United States and Europe, Han China and the Sunni Wahhabi world harbor very different realities. The world needs to be as black and white as possible, more progressive or conservative, in an attempt to continue the clash of new narratives on the same plane as during the Cold War, one against the other, in a new global dimension. "All through a process of simplification of any argument, with the capacity to convince the majority of people who have pre-established ideas. Ideas that are not the result of years of study, reading and acquired skills, but that arise from reading a few things on the network" (narrative).
Through this procedure, democracies are quite endangered and, to remedy the chaos, "a stronger, more autocratic, more powerful politician is needed who wants to bring his country back to the glories of its past" (another narrative). The case of Brexit is illustrative about this topic, as well as the neo-Gaullist rhetoric of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement or President Macron, political figures elected in democratic elections but responsible for favoring neo-nationalist and racist decisions.
This brief digression addresses a very complex multiple problem that may be the cause of democratic crises much more serious than the current ones.
It is a problem of truthful information. It is necessary to curb the absolute licentiousness of telling falsehoods in the media and the network.
It is a problem of moralizing the global neoliberal Economics , passing through guaranteeing the labor rights of those who right now are poor new slaves in different democratic and non-democratic countries, who work to feed the circle of mass consumerism of superfluous goods.
It is a political problem and a problem of the leaders of democratic countries, unable to control those national companies (public or private) that legally or illegally take advantage of poverty, wars, lack of national control in other regions of the world, maximizing profits that are then diverted to tax havens or translated into excessive financial speculation.
It is a problem of Education. If universities do not have the capacity to research and develop ideas, principles and values in the Humanities and for the future of humanity, we will feed the lack of critical analysis and a growing and much more transcendent malaise than the current one, where autocratic politicians are still seen as the only solution.