The Polarization lacks an ideological solution

Also published on Open Democracy and  Democracy Chronicles

The increasing political polarization, a problem of the entire western world, is based on misconceptions to which today’s politicians find themselves without an ideological solution.


During the night of the midterm elections, I switched on CNN International for the first time in a year, but no longer found a newsroom but rather something that looked like a military headquarters. Us against the president – the president against us.

In Sweden, almost all parties, media and people in general, support the Democrats. Thus it took me almost a whole day to disentangle news reports and subjective analyses, romantic reviews of Barack Obama and, not least, Trump’s self-assured victory rhetoric, before I dared to form my own opinion of ​​how the election actually turned out. The polarization is not just political, it permeates the whole of society, and, just like in war, it’s soon hard to trust anyone.

The biggest winner in the election was the polarization or division of the United States; the dislike of “the others” and the desire to tell them how wrong they are. It’s an attitude that permeates both sides, but, as most people can figure out, is a deeply destructive development, not only occurring in the United States but in the whole western world.

Many point to Donald Trump when talking about polarization, but as it had already started in the 70’s, according to Nolan McArthy Professor of Politics, one has to look deeper. Also, it isn’t caused by social media. And when trying to understand who was supporting the right-wing radicalization, it turns out that the idea that it was the poor who supported Trump isn’t correct. In the Presidential election, Trump had more support from the wealthy than Clinton did. In addition, it wasn’t people suffering from the high unemployment who voted for Trump; they tended to vote for the Democrats.

But isn’t immigration, at least, a crucial and steady indicator of all the successes of right-wing radicals around the western world? No, not even that is correct. Right-wing nationalism also occurs in countries with almost no immigration at all!

The quest for a simple explanation, for absolute numbers, obscures the view of an explanation that is to be found on a somewhat more analytically demanding level. You have to ask at least two consecutive questions if you want to understand it – which many journalists lack both the time and unpolarized attitude to do. One is that few people ask themselves why immigrants are disliked. Also, could there be a common negative experience of society that includes an economic and cultural, as well as an emotional and social, explanation for the right-wing radical support? Some researchers have actually asked these questions and received answers but these haven’t been widely reported. A new perspective of why people vote right-wing radical is:

The experience of being marginalized, not being seen, losing one’s status and ending up an outsider.

For example, it is not immigration itself which is the problem but the fear of finding oneself outside a particular social group, thus losing one’s identity, which creates the resistance to immigration. And it’s not unemployment itself that generates the most dissatisfaction but the fear of being affected by it – rich or poor. Those who really suffer from unemployment tend to vote for left-leaning parties or democrats.

Instead, it’s both a cultural and a social concern to lose one’s dignity and status. New values, new cultures, rapid societal change and a general experience of becoming a loser in this turmoil erodes people’s trust in the entire establishment.

The longing for dignity, stability and equality is so great in the United States today that people who despise the establishment, in their desperation, still resort to one of its most dominant cornerstones and its leader, to capitalism and the capitalist Donald Trump. But the trend is the same in Europe; Sweden is today among the most unequal countries in Europe and the gap between rich and poor increases at the same rate as the number of right-wing voters. The “Yellow Jacket” movement and the recent dramatic protests all over France is another voice of the marginalized..

Decades of increasing political polarization should have given politicians plenty of time for reflection and solutions. But the political establishment in the western world is de facto those who created polarization and are as trustworthy as a runaway train!

The Left’s focus on economic justice can contribute to less dissatisfaction, but not to a different experience of the societal machinery as a whole. Their open approach to immigration, cultural integration and disregard to tradition will increase polarization. And Liberalism – favouring an independent market economy, privatization and a world where human value is measured in consumer spending with no concern for the increasing gap between the poor and the wealthy – has no hope. Furthermore, with global players beyond democratic control, mistrust grows. And this climate of fear and anxiety turns people towards conservatism.

Another democratic and ideological new order is required and a wave of social/humanistic unrest is already noticeable, but we need the courage to ask the questions that actually reveal the social and cultural background to what the media reduce to “violence and protests”.

Circus Trump – A Dream come True for the Establishment

Also published on Democracy Chronicles

Are you tired of the worldwide media plague of the past few years, Donald Trump? One might think that such attention serves critical examination and sensible values. However, the secondary effect is that the debate leads people back to the old and familiar, thus blocking a critique of the current political system.

A few days ago we had a children’s party at our house. While sitting around the kitchen table, the subject of ghost stories came up and one of the nine-year-olds exclaimed: “What if Trump popped up at the window!”

The other day I was sitting on the train reading one of my favorite North American magazines which has undercurrents of anarchy, anti-consumerism and is full of great writing. But before I actually started to browse through it I thought to myself: ”Wonder how many pages before I see him”. One, two, three, four … there he was – complete with grotesque scowl. Yet another one, to add to the many thousands already published in the ordinary media. With a sigh I put the issue back in my rucksack.

And when I attempt to gauge the temperature of the political debate, visiting traditional as well as alternative and progressive news sites regardless of whether in my own country or the United States; there he is. Day after day, same old thing.

Even when I’m sitting in the audience among progressive activists, within less than a few minutes his name is whispered.

How long is this going to last? This is one of the worst political psychosis I’ve experienced; a political traffic jam that just won’t clear.

And everyone is contributing: politicians, film directors, activists, intellectuals and, not least, the news media. According to surveys, he is the president who, during his first year, has had by far the most attention. And, also according to surveys, he is the president most disliked by the media for 25 years. Moreover, there is an unusually large amount of focus directed on him as a person. He has transformed news media into something that more resembles celebrity gossip. They point their fingers, their jaws drop in shocked amazement, they speculate as well as persistently cite facts that will support their self-image as innocent victims of this monster. He shouts back, they respond and boo. This hate-love drama becomes apparent to those who stand outside the ring and see the two opponents, each wearing a clown’s red nose, chasing each other round and round in their media/political circus act.

Some people probably think that this is some kind of speech in defense of Trump. But in this report, I have no wish particularly to condone Trump and his policies – I will neither support nor despise them. Here he is neutral, if anyone still remembers what political objectivity is. Yes, I understand the outrage; his contempt for women, disdain of ethnic groups, climate denial, opportunism, rudeness, the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel – but nevertheless: there are more important things in the world than his views on these issues.

For example, that the western world is experiencing social decline, or the increase in public apathy and indifference to today’s democracy. You who still choose not to prioritize subjects such as the decay of civilizations in favor of the man with the blonde forelock, just consider that Trump would never have been elected if people hadn’t been so indifferent to the old society.

Are you also aware that in your Trump-mania, you are now standing side by side with the most destructive forces? Those who also do not want him as he creates imbalance in their conservative “ecosystem”, a growing western caste system, where ever fewer people are being given ever more. Those who neglect human dignity and democratic participation. When you look contemptuously at those who voted for the monster and vilify them with rhetorical conservative catchwords as ‘populists’, you are supporting not only political technocrats and corporate capitalists but also lobbyists and globalists. They stand right behind, thanking you for your attention or, more accurately, lack of attention.

Thriving in this political darkness are weeds such as, for example, David Letterman’s interview with Barack Obama after his departure; a self- righteous, democratic feel-good interview that came across as passé as Hollywood’s touched up presidential portraits. Or the well-meaning Morgan Freeman in his series “The story of us”, where he admiringly interviews Bill Clinton about the excellence with which democracy is pursued in the “free world”. I mean, exactly who is free here? You can’t move a metre without being beholden to someone else. You are an economic piece of Lego in a model that you never asked for or had any influence over.

Do you protest against Trump because you want to turn the clock back or because you want to create something new?

The point is that it is not the political figureheads who determine the system in the United States or anywhere else but an unwritten agreement between economic, political and media interests; a culture maintained by an establishment. The president or government are appointed by the system, they don’t change the system. They can create political and economic turbulence around the world, but they never change the status quo, they act within the framework that loses credibility day by day. Meanwhile, the progressive social innovators, system critics and social pioneers have been at the circus. They have been there for a few years now, watching the same performance over and over again: “Trump the Chump”. Enclosed in a political tent without oxygen – yet another silly political pantomime at which we are expected to boo or applaud. A dream that has come true for The Establishment.

The contempt for the radicals

Also published on Democracy Chronicles

In the New York Times article “What’s Wrong With Radicalism” (December 11) columnist David Brooks generalize about radicals. And actually, if one thoroughly consider his exact conclusions even though it’s nicely put together,  it carries a patronizing tone. Having all radical political voices of today bundled into an unserious package should be met.  


If you have a radical view of societal change today, you belong to a mob of factually misguided, gullible, irresponsible, malicious loudmouths who create unrest.

That is the conclusion of New York Times columnist David Brooks’ analysis in his article “What’s Wrong With Radicalism”. An easy and ingratiating read for the diminishing host of readers who are still convinced that the cause of increasing populism, the mistrust of the establishment, and a new political landscape across the western world is only an unusual virus; namely this radical, malignant and infectious mob. But it will soon pass; the well-established politicians, economists and opinion leaders are the obvious shepherds and healers.

There is something religious about this. Or at least a strong sense of escapism. Thoughts veer towards the Titanic and the orchestra that played for the 1st class passengers until the end. Well-dressed, cultured and wealthy people, mostly men, who share an illusory culture that just has to remain.

To me – politically engaged in an activist movement consisting of 70000 members with concrete economic, social alternatives to the current order, in pursuit of genuine democracy and transparency – and others who left the sinking ship long ago; columnists such as Brooks seem like a dying race, with neither political argument nor vision. In the United States as well as in Europe, wise and innovative people and activists work to create a different and worthwhile social structure that can put an end to people’s increasing distaste for those in power and politics.

The Panama papers, paradise leaks, persuasive and dishonest presidents, surveillance, a small autocratic clique of people in the financial industry who are allowed to own most of the world´s resources, media companies controlling millions of people’s digital lives, increasing numbers of people suffering from mental disorders, and globalization that has removed power so far away from people’s everyday lives that no one cares anymore, are some aspects of our reality. Perhaps Brooks considers this fake news and behind the denial is, of course, the insight that this miserable state is not caused by “political fools”; it has been created by all the common democratic and undemocratic forces that have, for so long ruled the western world. Most of the passengers aboard this sinking ship are now trying to protest, knowing that we have crashed into an iceberg – and knowing who steered us into it. But in one of the sloping salons you will find people like Brooks. Clad in evening dress, puffing on a cigar, still in the process of ordering the best available cognac, in conversation with a small clique of opinion leaders who live in the past.

It may be that in this time of doom some of the passengers are screaming, are raging and shoving at each other and that every little pronouncement is not always true, but still, in comparison with Brooks, they stand on firm ground in the understanding that our society no longer primarily serves its citizens.

Liberation or Protectionism

Also published on Dissident Voice and Democracy Chronicles

The Western world has slowly been forced to realize that the old cornerstones of society are no longer a given. Liberal market economy, representative democracy and the shift of influence away from citizens up to a global and unreachable level makes for a drop in confidence.

The new political currents have led the rulers of the West to react with alarm. Finally, there has begun to be an understanding that the left-right-scale no longer applies. It has been replaced by a people-elite scale or a close-large scale. But instead the debate is dominated by the fear of populism. News reporters and political analysts now travel across Europe in droves, from election to election, country to country, in pursuit of a single election result that may indicate a break in the trend and a return to the old ways.

In fear of the new politically radical currents, whether they have traces of right, left, liberal, green or anarchy, what is perhaps the West’s greatest cause for pride, the tolerance of minorities, has been curtailed. Radical political ideas are under constant attack from a middle layer of politicians and the powers that be.
People’s longing for something new remains.

This was already noticeable 5-6 years ago with the North African uprising, the protest movements around the Mediterranean Sea and the Occupy Movement and the “1% of the population ruling over 99%”. The two western political “people’s outrages”, Brexit and the election of Donald Trump as president, are thus a natural consequence of years of a growing fatigue in the political status quo in favor of the more popular and cohesive.

In Spain, a referendum on independence is due in September. In Scotland, a new application for one has been submitted and in California, signatures are being collected to create a referendum on independence. In Europe, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the EU as a sphere of power. In all these examples, calls are made for independence, nationalism and/or regional rule. But the trends are rarely discussed in the same debate. Self-government in the form of a protectionist nation state seems to be something completely different from a struggle for independence, even though there is merely a difference of degree in the aspiration for self-rule and control.

It is a longing for liberation from the big and incomprehensible beyond human contact that is the motivating common denominator. In a smaller context, this can be noticed when social services such as schools, healthcare or different types of service facilities are concentrated into central municipalities in the name of efficiency and economics. Or when jobs disappear or are moved elsewhere and people are forced to break up from their loved ones and their neighborhood culture. A development that few politicians want to touch and which is beyond people’s influence.

The western growth machine creates communities with millions of “non-people”, unemployed youth or senior citizens who lack social significance. At the same time, a clique of financially well-off’s just grows stronger. Solutions seem to be lacking within the current political and social western framework.

The longing for a real society; for justice and community, seems impossible to stop in these times of break-ups, individualization and lack of human dignity.

The new perception of in what direction society is heading, has created new alliances of political movements as, for example, the European DIEM25 which works for a democratized and transparent EU. DIEM25 and the new French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as the radical American Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, reflect rather well the current state of affairs, both in Europe and the US; either new radical political currents beyond the classical political choices, or, as in the case of Macron, a longing to move away from the old at the same time as there is a wish to be anchored in the old. A political three-way-forecast à la 2017. But the biggest political change is not about who is elected but rather about the distrust of the eligible. Both Macron and Donald Trump are both politically skilled businessmen who have perceived a new radical need for change, unlike the classic politicians and their eternal promises of change which are no longer considered credible. The political change from left versus right to small scale versus large scale, regardless of which political icon that represents it, was completely unthinkable just 3-4 years ago.

The direction of regionalization and “the small-scale” causes fears; both among those who are afraid of an increasing intolerance to minorities as well as among liberal market forces and globalists. Those who want to restore participation, proximity and popularity see liberation.

Is it then possible to regionalize our societies without losing a tolerance for others? The answer should be obvious. Intolerance is not created by diversity; it is created by economic injustice and the lack of influence, involvement, belonging, respect plus the absence of a sense of community. People who are satisfied and feel visible do not look for someone to blame.