All about us: a global era of narcissism?

Discussion in 'Politics, Religion, Social Issues' started by LizKat, Jul 3, 2016.

  1. LizKat macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #1
    When I read the commentary piece cited below in The Sydney Morning Herald on the recent and nearly-hung Australian elections, I felt like I had fast-forwarded into the post-election period of the 2016 general election in the USA… or maybe landed in the post Leave “victory” debacle in the UK. Maybe we’re entering a global period of disenchantment with the self-absorbed power-playing antics of our assorted major political parties.


    Excerpt:

    Australian voters gave a record share of the vote to the minor parties and independents on Saturday, including Derryn Hinch and Pauline Hanson. Because the people are disgusted with the big parties.

    The reason the outcome is so close is that the people are equally revolted by both.

    Why? Because the people want their politicians to be problem-solvers.

    Instead, both parties have lost themselves in an all-consuming narcissism.

    Where the country wants problems solved, both major parties deliver only parlour games. And that's the reason that this election seems not to have fixed the dismal decade, but extended it.
    I'm not sure how we extricate ourselves from the grasp of machine politics that are nominally about the platforms their voting base desires, but in fact are about winning election, period, no matter whatever the "party line" ends up having to sound like. It certainly seems we in the USA are not alone in wondering how to get our political parties to respect the intent of voters when the election is done and we rightly expect the results to be translated into government policy that moves a nation -- and the world-- forward.

    Our polarization translates into paralysis, apparently, which in turn supports the status quo. I've argued in the past that we end up voting against our self-interest too often, when we subscribe wholesale to either party's hyperbolic campaign language. More and more now I think that neither major party proposes policy that is actually in the interests of the average voter. Their policy statements are dressed up to appeal to their respective bases, but their objective is just to retain or gain power to manage incremental shifts in the status quo.

    Yet to vote third party, at least in the USA, generally amounts in the end only to guarantee the victory of whichever major party we dislike more. As we see in other countries now, even having the framework of formal coalitions for governance doesn't seem to make for a satisfactory outcome.

    How do we get politicians to work together to define problems and find solutions instead of kicking cans down the road while playing us all for our votes just to stay in office, or land in office?
     
  2. aaronvan Suspended

    aaronvan

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    #2
    I hear many people using that excuse. That way of thinking guarantees third parties have no chance.

    Folks in PSRI say Hillary is awful but Trump is worse or Trump sucks but anyone but Hillary. I suspect all but one or two of us would vote for the D or the R no matter who was running.
     
  3. LizKat thread starter macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #3
    Don't look at me, I'm voting for Jill Stein this year. I'm done with the Democrats' machine antics with respect to selection of Presidential candidates, and I left Republican presidents in the dust before I was old enough to vote.

    OK so I'm taking advantage of life in a blue state. I admit if I sensed there was some wild swing to Trump in New York State's polls in the waning days of the general campaign, I might take a deep breath and vote for Clinton.

    Even so my question would persist. How do we get the pols to focus on getting some actual work done for the country?

    They get elected and then spend their days in being lobbied by corporations with far more money than the average voter, and in trying to raise funds for their next campaign. The legislation they turn out is riddled with loopholes, e.g., the story in Politico today, The lobbying reform that enriched Congress. It doesn't matter what your party is, when you read that story it's pretty frustrating to realize what obstacles ordinary people are up against trying to get actual "representative" government.
     
  4. aaronvan Suspended

    aaronvan

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    #4
    I'm going to flip a coin and vote either Johnson or Stein.

    Frankly, I don't think there is a way to get the pols to focus on actual work. The best we can do is send new people to Washington and then remove the once their idealism is replaced by greed, power, and their the desire--above all else--to avoid a primary challenge and get reelected.

    Unfortunately, that transformation occurs well within the two-year election cycle. I'd say it's complete by the sixth month of their first term.
     
  5. Scepticalscribe, Jul 3, 2016
    Last edited: Jul 4, 2016

    Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #5
    This is a serious question from a poster I respect, and it deserves some sort of serious response.

    Personally, I think that we need to take a number of different features into account.

    From a technical point of view, winner take all electoral systems are not calibrated to represent nuance, or refined differences across the political spectrum, in a way that more proportional systems are.

    Electoral systems - such as those in the US and the UK - which punish third (and fourth parties) do not allow for the expression of fringe - or alternative views; such views then are - or, tend to be - either excluded from the system, entirely, thus, coming to feel that they have become disenfranchised, - or, they can end up feeling very alienated (and possibly radicalised, eventually ending up planning radical change from without the system).

    Or, they become so motivated that they capture the party moving it further away from being grounded in a centrist base, as centrists are elbowed aside and made to feel inadequate - and are often made to feel guilty because they are seen to be (or are portrayed as being) less passionately concerned about attempting to achieve political change - than those who have supplanted them.

    As an elections expert, I personally think that some sort of proportional system more accurately reflects voter choices, and tends to be fairer in how it distributes political preferences, which means that those on the extremes have a better chance of being in the system, rather than seeking to wreck it from without.

    Secondly, a system such as the US system increasingly insists on treating politics like a scorched earth war, rather than allowing for the possibility of a mutually advantageous outcome, which obviously involves compromise, where neither party to the negotiations gets their way in everything.

    Such an approach - burning bridges rather than building them - means that close to half of the population will be excluded - and will feel excluded - no matter who is in power.

    The word 'compromise' - and the ability to achieve the sort of outcome in negotiation whereby everyone comes away with something (which has been a feature of many EU negotiations - one of the reasons they can sometimes take forever) - without losing face, is a serious skill, and - to my mind - is one to be applauded, rather than derided.

    When I was 18, I thought that 'compromise' was a dirty word, - passionate idealists shouldn't 'compromise' - and it was one that I mistook for an insult; now, I have come to realise in working political systems, achieving an intelligent compromise, so that nobody loses face, and everyone can take something away from a deal, is a real skill and the basis of much of what passes for political, achievement. Sometimes, achieving some of a political programme is all that is possible; achieving some is better than none, where achieving all is impossible (and not especially desirable).

    Thirdly, the access and influence of vested interest groups could probably do with a lot more oversight. And control. While politicians are answerable to an electorate, vested interests are not accountable to anyone.

    If you create a system - reinforced by an appalling media - where compromise - even sensible compromise - is seen and described and labelled as a betrayal - then, it is inevitable that politicians, who are answerable to political parties which have been captured by motivated extremists - will feel obliged to retreat into hardline positions.

    Sense, the sort of common sense that enables the ability to recognise and allow that the other side (or sides) might not be motivated by mindless malevolence, is punished in the current political climate, rather than rewarded.

    If you want sane governance - and government informed by a public service ethos - politicians who are prepared to make common cause (on specific issues) with colleagues from other political stables, cannot - or should not have to - risk being left open to character assassination, deselection, and career suicide, if they show sense, and good judgment, rather than zeal for an ideal.

    Likewise, I fail to see why politicians must be expected to present an official version of themselves that borders on an insane and unsettling perfection in order to attain high office, and be viciously punished if they fall short of such perfection, as most humans will do some of the time.

    That does not mean we should seek out psychopaths or sociopaths to serve in government, but it does mean that people should be allowed to make mistakes - as long as the mistakes are not especially egregious - without having to face a constant public diet of humiliation and harassment from a judgemental media.

    Voters do have a sanction with political leaders; a voter can vote against, or campaign against a politician - which is more than they can do to top military leaders, or business and corporate leaders, or powerful individuals in the media.

    Many of the politicians I have met (and I have met quite a few), are idealists; the degrees of idealism - and indeed ability - not to mention competence, experience - all vary, - and vary considerably - but very few of them are horribly evil, the vast majority are not fanatics, and most wish to try to make some things a bit better.

    To insist that they achieve perfection - as humans and as political leaders - when their very election is often a reflection of the values, self image and ideals of the society they represent - is to ask too much, as is the vicious criticism that comes their way, when, as is inevitable, they fall far short of perfection.
     
  6. LizKat thread starter macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #6
    Thanks to @Scepticalscribe for a really thoughtful reply. I was particularly taken by this:

    Well our winner-take-all system has certainly caused the Tea Party faction to contest incumbents of the GOP in the House of Representatives, and drive it ever more rightward. We don't just have states that are red or blue, we have congressional districts that are red or blue... single-member representation is simply not a great way of reflecting constituency preferences.

    Dissatisfaction with governance, a gerrymandered Congressional district and a primary contest against an incumbent now often enough results in that House seat ending up represented by someone more extreme. But when he gets to Washington, he's still in a winner take all sort of government, and often made furious by any hint of cross-party cooperation between his more moderate fellow party members and the other party. Which leads to acknowledging one of your other points, that we've lost our way on the merits and manners of compromise!

    That same approach by extreme wings in the two major parties' primary presidential elections, state by state, also makes it difficult for the GOP to end up with a candidate who can win a national election: our overall demographics can't usually support an extreme right candidate in November. Our extreme left generally falls by the wayside before the Democrats' convention, although this year there's been unexpected interest in Sanders. Still, the national numbers usually end up favoring the Democratic presidential candidate in November because the GOP is increasingly unable to field a centrist.

    Thus the disappointed right works even harder to thwart the policies of the opposition's White House occupant and the gridlock tends to continue.

    No one wins this way, really. Not to mention we become the laughingstock of the world (and the bane of financial markets) with capers like threatening to default on our obligations when we can't find consensus on a budget.

    I wonder if the US could ever move to consider multi-member districts in the House of Representatives, and so on to proportional selection of the members.
     
  7. Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #7
    There were issues I didn't touch on - namely, genuine reasons for feeling alienated (the old working class, especially white working class males feeling that the world has changed uncomfortably), but, if the political system cannot accommodate or recognise these problems - and allow them a legitimate voice - or,means of expression - as with other alienated groups, they can become so radicalised that they seek to wreck, rather than reform, the system.

    And, there is the media, which has certainly served, in both the UK and the US, to make the political environment more toxic - far more than is necessary.

    Re the US, I have spoken with (and worked abroad with) US elections experts, and there are problems in the US system that other western countries don't have, the sum total of which - it can be argued - may lead to the effective disenfranchisement of significant numbers of people.

    However, the increasing polarisation of politics, and the increasing intolerance of the language in which much political debate takes place, debases politics and makes discussion - and that much maligned word again - compromise in the interests of achieving legislative change - much more difficult.

    In an increasingly polarised world, I have noticed a striking difference between what some political people - politicians, elected representatives - say in public, - because they have to, because they have been briefed that the goldfish attention span of a modern audience is said not to be able to understand nuance but can only handle screaming headlines - and that to express a moderate position will lead to a tsunami of abuse and vicious vitriol on Twitter and radio and TV talk shows, so that this is - or becomes - the story, not the original policy - and the sane and sensible views they will very often give private voice to when you meet with them privately.

    Which means also, that not only - to my mind - is a world where negotiation, and compromise is possible ought to be encouraged, but an environment where political leaders can speak the truth - or, at least some of it - rather than being excoriated for doing so - ought, also to be encouraged.
     
  8. Plutonius macrumors 603

    Plutonius

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    #8
    @Scepticalscribe, I can only base this on the US political system but you can't get any compromise if their is no discussion. The president should be talking with congressional leaders at least once / week and congress more then once / year :(. I'm not sure it's as bad in the UK.
    --- Post Merged, Jul 3, 2016 ---
    @Scepticalscribe, Do most western countries require photo id when voting ? Not too long ago, most elections in the US. did not have the requirement that people proved their identity before voting.
     
  9. vrDrew macrumors 65816

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    #9
    From a pure cost-benefit standpoint, "First past the post" electoral systems are inherently less optimal than proportional-type ones. The interests of minority groups inevitably get lost in the shuffle.

    It would require a massive reorganization of our electoral process including, in the United States, a re-writing of sections of our Constitution to enact a proportional system. Count me skeptical of that happening anytime soon.

    That said, I think that a lot of the problems we have in present-day US and British politics have less to do with a flawed electoral system; and more to do with a pervasive cynicism brought about by a polarized information system than anything else. And this fractured information system is having damaging effects not just on our politics, but our culture as well. (More about this later.)

    I personally reject the notion, widely expressed, that all politicians are inherently corrupt; and that only by voting in lockstep for our "own" (theoretically slightly less corrupt) candidates can we avoid the cataclysm unleashed by the other party.

    There was an excellent article in this weekend's New York Times on President Obama's night-time hours:

    Reading that article, I was struck by the contrast between President Obama, and Lyndon Johnson, another towering Democratic President. The difference is not so much one of personality but in the tools available to Presidents of an earlier era. Johnson was able to cajole and persuade a truly bi-partisan collection of lawmakers to pass truly monumental legislation: The Civil Rights Act, the Voting Act, Medicare and Medicaid.

    Why, and how, could Johnson do this? Answer: Pork barrel projects. The President could assure Congressman ABC or Senator XYZ that in exchange for his vote, there'd be an Army base or a post office; a highway or a research lab for his constituency.

    We've thrown most of that aside. We've traded a little bit of corruption for a heaping wagon-load of partisanship and inertia. And in such a world, the only way to achieve anything in American politics is to totally vanquish the other side - take control of not just the Presidency; Congress; and a Supermajority of the Senate. And make sure that at least five of the sitting Supreme Court were appointed by Presidents "on your team."

    We traded one form of "corruption" (pork barrel projects) for another (unlimited campaign spending, and the need to raise untold millions in campaign contributions.) We didn't get better politics (or politicians) as a result. We got gridlock and bitter partisanship.

    We got a bad deal.
     
  10. LizKat thread starter macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #10
    They need to band together and publicly excoriate the 15-second-soundbite mode of media coverage of ideas.

    I mean I know you are right , and I have felt for decades that Americans are afraid that thinking out loud about political subjects will mean their gravestones' epitaphs will be readymade by nightfall:

    "Here lies John Smith, who said down the pub on 3 July 2016 that guaranteed basic income might make sense as job displacement continues to be problematic."

    Oh, wow. Ol' John said that?

    Yeah. So what. He was thinking about it over a couple beers, that's all. No crime (is it?).

    But this is why people often shy away from thinking about, never mind discussing, unfamiliar political issues or different ideas now. They see the example of some elected offiicial or candidate for office making an offhand public remark and being pilloried for days in the press and on social media. It's hardly an encouragement of public debate of issues.

    We must ask, we should ask the media who benefits from this behavior, this nurturing of soundbite culture? If we think about it, the answer to that is actually no one. But I don't know how we go about unraveling it.

    I wrote some letter to the editor of a newspaper last summer I think it was, and the headline they stuck over the piece did not actually summarize my opinion, let's just say. Still I was pleased they had printed it. But all over the nearby villages I was asked about the damn thing, and in 90% of the cases when I remarked "That is not what I wrote in the letter, did you read the letter or just the headline?" the answer was "well... i saw the headline and then your name at the bottom of the thing."

    Well, yes. That's us today. We see the headline and the picture or name of whoever it is who's purported to say (or does say in a clip) this or that, and that's what sticks in the mind. Who's at fault, the media? The quoted person? The viewer or reader? I don't know. I fault the media, usually. I'm maybe half-right! :D

    I don't know how we get back to eliciting actual unvarnished answers from politicians at this point, or how we learn again to hear what they say as their opinion at a point in time on a given day, to be privy to their current thinking. It's a necessary part of making public discourse valuable again. Maybe we have to start by asking the media to ask politicians themselves how they think we can have conversations about policy, instead of shouting matches about how can someone dare suggest any idea about anything anymore.

    Maybe if we put groups of five politicians (from assorted levels of government) on an hour long PBS show once a week for a year, and let them hash it out -- not an issue but how to discuss any issue nowadays! -- with a moderator, we might make some progress. I say PBS because no commercial enterprise would go for it, at least not unless it took off on PBS!
     
  11. Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #11
    No, it is not, because the system, context, and separation of powers are quite different.

    Anyway, @Plutonius, I am not sure whether @LizKat - who started this thread - wishes to have a discussion focussing solely on the US system, or, on possible political failings and problems more generally.

    Anyway, I merely threw out some thoughts, which I think worthy of some contemplation.

    However, the UK and Europe do not have quite this degree of political polarisation. This is partly to do with the fact that most of them have some form of proportional electoral system (even the UK has - for specific elections in specific regions, in Northern Ireland, for example, where it was - and is - imperative that both communities are represented).

    Likewise, unlike the US, - with the partial exception of France, which is classed as a 'semi-Presidential' system, most of Europe have political systems which are considered to be parliamentary democracies, rather than the 'Presidential' systems of the American continent (Canada excepted).

    Re negotiation, the EU could not have survived until today without endless negotiation (they are famous for their all night meetings), endless incremental compromise, a preference for unanimity (the price of which is time), or, failing that, compromises and qualified majority voting, or, failing that, negotiated opt-outs in certain areas.

    I suppose it really depends on what is sought in a political system.

    For those on the fringes - often even when they get into government - it is sometimes more important to be proved right, than to try to effect and implement policy, skills which require compromise.

    Sometimes, the politics of protest and the politics of governing require not just different skills, but a different mindset. Mid you, if that mindset is about wrecking what the others are trying to do, yes, well, then, the challenges of trying to govern intelligently can be difficult.

    While the pristine purity of perfection (including the purity of flawless ideals) are usually incompatible with serving (effectively) government, it can be valuable to remember why you wanted to enter politics, and identify where change can come about. Of course, that often requires network and coalition building skills, as well.

    Accusing those willing to talk of 'selling out' rarely achieves anything other than endless stalemate, or gridlock.
     
  12. LizKat thread starter macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #12
    No kidding. And the "little bit of corruption" of those earmarks at least used to show up in the voters' districts somehow. Now instead of such pork barrel trading we have the spectacle of big money quietly buying much more generalized benefits: deregulation that industry finds an inconvenient obstacle to profit, for instance. It may be pitched to us as beneficial, like "stopping the overreach of federal government" but it has hidden costs that hit workers and other ordinary voters, not industry owners. Stuff like skimped inspection of foods, or the creeping back of workplace safety violations over time as USDA or OSHA budgets get cut.

    In losing the pork-trading, we lose the tradition in House and Senate of across-aisle banter that makes it possible to have more across-aisle sponsorship of legislation. It's pretty bad when a party can routinely threaten to withhold campaign funding from House members for doing something like co-sponsoring legislation of the other party. It's even worse when external forces like the NRA can do that.

    The issue of our politics deteriorating to such a binary state that the goal must be "totally vanquishing the other side" --thus effectively erasing the whole idea of checks and balances in our government-- was bound to loom large in 2016, considering the age of some of our Supreme Court justices and then the sudden death of Scalia.

    It's thus pretty weird to see the Republicans throwing away their first chance in a long time at a trifecta of House, Senate, White House and thus a chance to define the Supreme Court for decades. The dream of "totally vanquishing" the opposition!

    Yet the Republicans have become so beholden to the extreme right of their party that they now seem unable to field a candidate who can actually win national office, even when the opposition puts up a candidate who has high unfavorables. In fact, in apparently choosing Trump, they may have chosen a candidate with reverse coattails for down-ballot races. They must be asking themselves how this could be happening.
     
  13. Plutonius macrumors 603

    Plutonius

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    #13
    Apologies then. The US. system is the only one I'm familiar with so all my comments would have to be based on what I see here. I'll step away from the conversation and let you continue.

    As an aside, isn't @LizKat also from the US ? I'm sure, unlike me, she has a better knowledge of politics outside the US.
     
  14. Scepticalscribe Contributor

    Scepticalscribe

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    #14


    In theory, yes. Well, you are strongly advised to bring some form of valid ID that is acceptable - what this is varies form country to country - citizens in most of Europe have State issued ID cards, which are used, or considered acceptable for this purpose, the UK and Ireland don't have State issued ID cards.

    Thus, passports, driving licences, Social security cards (i.e, if you are a pensioner), verified university ID cards (if you ar a student), have all been considered acceptable at different times.

    I tend to bring my passport, and only once in my entire life have I been asked to show ID.


    No, my apologies,- I wasn't trying to silence you, @Plutonius.

    My only concern was that the thread might devolve into a discussion of the shortcomings of the US system; I have no problem with that - especially if that is what @LizKat is interested in, - but 1) I fear that it might awaken those who prefer to adopt a screaming tone in such discussions, which would kind of defeat the point of the discussion (or, worse, serve to reinforce it), and 2) it might limit the possible discussion from exploring other countries, systems ideas.

    But, please, feel free.
     
  15. LizKat thread starter macrumors 68040

    LizKat

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    #15
    I am from the States, yes. I'm interested in other countries' forms of democratic government, increasingly so since seeing that they also increasingly struggle with close elections and polarized voter opinion. I don't claim to know a lot about politics outside the USA. I do generally tend to read a lot of newspapers from outside the USA, but not every day, especially at this time of year. I've made an exception on that score recently, seeing that the EU referendum went opposite to what I had expected.

    So as to the question of the intent of the thread: I did not mean it to be only about USA politics. When I read the Australian election results were so close as possibly to hang the Parliament, and in light of how close the EU referendum was, and in light of how gridlocked the US has become, I thought to make a thread inquiring why we (any of us in any of these countries or in the rest of the EU as well, really) are experiencing such polarization and these very narrow margins of victory at the polls.

    In truth I had wondered if it was because shifts in governance of democracies seems only to happen near the center now, pretty much globally, no matter the labels the winning party puts on its legislation in different countries. I could easily be wrong about that. It still seems curious that the voters often divide so evenly.

    Even in their populist rejection of the center by US voters during this primary season, look at the left and right: they both have had enthusiastic efforts to move their parties to their respective extremes. Yet the Dems fairly quickly closed to end up in a two way division and the Republicans to a three-way one. Is that just machine politics tuned to finding or crowning a favorite as soon as possible?

    Now in the US, with presumed nominees "settled" pre-convention in both cases (unless something dramatic occurs), we're looking at a race that some pollsters consider quite close. If the Presidential race really does end up close in November, I'd think maybe this year the Congressional contestants were who had the coattails and not the usual other way around.

    Again, as @Scepticalscribe noted, having proportional representation would sort out more of what the voters are really about, and give them more of a voice in governance short of their having to resort to collective rump caucus tactics in the USA's current one-member district structure in the House. It could break up some of the gridlock!
     
  16. Plutonius macrumors 603

    Plutonius

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    #16
    No need to apologize and I didn't believe you would ever try to silence anyone. I really only know of US. politics so I will stay out of this thread so it doesn't get derailed.
     

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