July 25, 2016

Vancouver (i) Oligarchic Punditry

"The rulers and the ruled are increasingly out of touch with each other."
                                                         Rex Murphy, July 23, National Post

This is the topic sentence of an opinion piece, quoted above it as a cut line, by Rex Murphy on Rob Ford, Brexit and the current surge of popularity for the baroque, elitist politics of Donald Trump, and how flummoxed all these phenomena have left the opining class. I disagree with the thrust of Rex's argument on many levels, but what distresses and offends me deeply about it is that it describes politics in Canada, Great Britain and the United States as if nothing could be more natural than to think of democracy in language that suavely assumes it isn't, nor should be, anything but a mask over an innately oligarchic system. It's obvious enough what tendencies, decades a-building, in social and commercial life have thrown so much weight on the side of a rarefied elite whose ascendancy is not at all intellectual, rather plutocratic, but have we really gone so far down that road that the ultimate seat of power in a democracy can be casually dismissed as 'the ruled' even by pundits claiming to write out of the deepest sympathy for the vastly ignored, inarticulate mass? The short answer, of course, is yes, and if we want to restore the political health of our democracies, we'll need something more than a reflexive contempt for the idea of citizenship as an active, engaged intelligence which guides public policy from the ground up in an effective democracy. Murphy's right in thinking the elite media and policy makers in our government are out of touch with the thought of common people (compare the far from favourable view in polls of the U.S. populace with the jingoistic norm of commentary in the press when it came to both wars in Iraq and the ancillary one in Afghanistan), but he's quite mistaken if he thinks the shabbily-masked elitism of the late Rob Ford and the newly coined candidate Trump is any kind of real articulation of the popular will. There is so little articulation of that in mainstream media that it's left to fictional tv series and the political analysis of comedians like John Oliver, Samantha Bee, Trevor Noah, Rick Mercer, Cathy Jones, Mary Walsh to give us any sense of it.  Meantime it's possible for pundits to gratulate themselves for evoking with sympathy the buried aspirations of people they refer to with blunt affection as 'the ruled'. Aux armes, citoyens.