Monday, 22 July 2019 09:06 GMT

A Grassroots Antidote to Populism

(MENAFN - Daily Outlook Afghanistan) The politicalparties that once dominated Western democracies have been shaken to the core.Many have suffered electoral debacles, not least in France, Italy, Greece, theUnited Kingdom, and elsewhere. Others have changed so radically that only theirname remains the same. The Republican Party of US President Donald Trump haslittle in common with that of former President Ronald Reagan.
These developmentsare similar across the West. Leaders of the once-dominant parties oscillatebetween denial and despair, while populists siphon off their traditionalsupporters. Some refuse to see any legitimate reason for their defeat,dismissing their opponents' supporters as 'deplorables, as Hillary Clinton didshortly before losing to Trump in 2016; others are too petrified by thepopulist surge to mount a counteroffensive.
But neither denialnor complacency will break the political impasse. Progressives must rebuild,and that starts with diagnosing the traditional parties' shortcomings. Part ofthe problem is that traditional parties failed to recognize the real issues ofthe age. Still fighting on old ideological battlefields, they turned a blindeye to declining social mobility, mounting environmental crises, risinggeographic inequality, tensions over multiculturalism, and other issues thatactually matter to voters. Decades ago, they were the vanguard. Today, they arealone in the woods, wondering where everyone went.
The social sciencesmay hold an answer as to why the mainstream lost its way. The gap between theirobjective analysis of reality and government policies has become a chasm. Inmost Western countries, for example, economists have long known about thegrowing divide in terms of incomes and other indicators between some affluentcities – which benefit from globalization – and the rest of the country. Yetnot until French President Emmanuel Macron's administration did a nationalleader enact tax cuts on the basis of where one lives. As a result, 1% ofFrance's GDP is now being redistributed first to the poorest parts of thecountry.
Traditional partiescould also learn something from listening to voters directly, rather than onlythrough the filters of media and pollsters. Back in 2016, Macron's movement, EnMarche !, started with the largest door-to-door listening tour in France'shistory. What voters told canvassers then became the foundation of Macron'spresidential campaign.
For example, morethan a year before revelations of Harvey Weinstein's alleged sexual predations,'La Grande Marche had gathered innumerable testimonies from women aboutharassment, and Macron issued a pledge to fight the problem if elected. At thetime, Macron's stance made him the butt of opponents' jokes; the laughter soonfaded with the onset of the #MeToo era.
Still, an accurate understandingof society is not enough. Traditional parties also suffer from poororganization. They have long believed that modern politics should be organizedaround elections, with activists showing up periodically to hand out leafletsand cheer on the candidates. This was not cynicism, so much as a symptom of anapproach that treats democracy as a marketplace comprising government providersand citizen consumers. In this view, seizing and holding power is a party'ssole raison d'être. It is little wonder that citizens and even party membersfeel ignored between elections.
Despite theseweaknesses, established parties had a number of advantages that forestalledtheir collapse. In recent years, they have had a technological edge overless-established opponents, and they were the only political actors withorganized constituencies that could mobilize people for elections, organizeprotests, and start petitions.
But this model is nolonger sustainable. Citizens nowadays refuse to be mere consumers of public policies.With rising levels of education have come new demands for empowerment. Voterswant to be treated as political actors in their own right, not as pawns insomeone else's game.
Moreover,governments themselves are no longer the sole providers of policies. This isone of the hard lessons we learned during two years working alongside Macron atthe Élysée Palace. The leading policy challenges today – climate change,religious extremism, digital disruption, gender equality – do not admit ofsolutions only by national governments. Such challenges demand deep culturalchanges, and, in most cases, action at the sub- and supra-national levels.
Finally, technologyhas lowered entry barriers to political participation, such that traditionalparties can no longer count on an incumbent advantage and entrenched supportnetworks. When you have mastered Google, Twitter, and Facebook, you don't needa century-old party machine.
Political movementsmust be rebuilt accordingly. The focus should be on specific actions, not justelections. A party's formal management structure should serve as theadministrative 'back office; the front office should be staffed by the peopleon the ground. At La République En Marche !, we refer to these as local citizenprojects. They can include anything from after-class reading courses andmigrant integration programs to cooperative vegetable gardens and digitaltraining sessions for senior citizens. In each case, the point is to offersolutions tailored to local problems, thereby strengthening communities. Suchprojects should now be regarded as essential complements to public policies.
In the future, aparty's ability to offer rewarding avenues for political and communityengagement will be essential to its attractiveness. And by demonstratingprogressivism in action on a daily basis, parties will have already laid thegroundwork for success when election day arrives.
When voters refuseto hear what you have to say, shouting louder is not the answer. This is thehard lesson traditional parties learned. Only by demonstrating a commitment toimproving lives, rather than simply winning elections, can you convince peopleto come to your side. Reconnecting with voters' concerns thus goes hand-in-handwith adapting party organizations. For a winning alternative to populism, weneed grassroots progressivism.


A Grassroots Antidote to Populism

  Most popular stories  

Day | Week | Month