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Politics as usual and the usual politicians

We are witnessing it take place around the world, an increasingly widespread rejection of politics as usual and the usual politicians.

It was evident in the result of the UK's Brexit referendum, which poleaxed the professional political class and confounded all of the commentators and pollsters.

It has been equally perceptible in the rise of Donald Trump as well as in Hillary Clinton's extremely close-run primary win over Bernie Sanders.

In this year's presidential race, millions of disaffected Americans embraced proxies willing to voice their accumulated rage against an antiquated political machine. In effect, they were casting votes against establishment political figures they hold responsible for their present straitened and perilous circumstances rather than for the two renegade candidates who espoused precious little in the way of practical solutions to these problems.

And it is frighteningly manifest in the emergence of grievance-fuelled nationalist and populist movements from Eastern Europe to East Asia.

Everywhere the smouldering forces of nativism, populism, protectionism, isolationism and what can only be described as a kind of aggressively recrudescent know-nothingism — one that amounts to a sweeping rejection of facts, science and reason itself if they don't cohere to a particular tunnel-visioned worldview — have been in evidence. Such visceral discontent is even now threatening to disrupt the intricate clockwork of an increasingly interconnected and interdependent world.

And this discontent, borne of equal parts anger, frustration, restlessness and rejectionism is certainly no stranger to Bermuda's shores.

For we have also witnessed it here in recent months. It has revealed itself in terms of everything from mass street demonstrations protesting immigration reforms to a slew of new poll results showing “None Of The Above” would be a more palatable electoral option for an increasing number of Bermudians than most of the present crop of legislators.

Establishment politicians who resort to the default defence of maintaining that the system not only “ain't broke” but is actually functioning very well indeed are demonstrating a remarkable tone-deafness to the public mood, even as they lengthen the odds on any near-term uptick in their approval ratings.

In Bermuda as elsewhere, what we are seeing is a revolt against a political status quo widely perceived to benefit no one but party elites, incumbent legislators and special interests. It is a status quo an increasing number of people no longer believe is viable, even as long-established social, economic and cultural norms crumble around them.

In some ways it is also a revolt against modernity, against an increasingly digitised and globalised economy that has left so many Bermudians feeling disoriented, adrift and out of pocket.

In recent years, not only have hundreds of jobs been outsourced to jurisdictions halfway across the world, but entire employment categories have actually ceased to exist in Bermuda.

Many local industries now teetering on the verge of insolvency are little more than vestigial artefacts of a vanished era. And as a concomitant of that, it should be easily understandable to even the most obtuse politician that many individual Bermudians believe the same holds true of them as well: that they, their concerns, their values and their very livelihoods are increasingly viewed as irrelevancies by the decision-makers in the new, post-recessionary Bermuda economy.

It is easy — and lazy — for Bermuda's political class to argue that those raising these concerns are driven by anger, resentment and fear, by a nostalgia for an overly romanticised past and what was inevitably going to be lost amid all of the economic, cultural and technological upheavals of recent decades.

It is also all too easy and equally lazy of them to engage in the politics of polarisation and obstructionism in the pursuit of short-term electoral advantage. This is a strategy that simply makes the system even more dysfunctional and unworkable than it already is and further alienates even the most civic-minded Bermudian from the mechanics of government.

Although the public debate in Bermuda tends to be rather staid, there have been times of late when it has appeared to owe more to the rules of cage fighting and professional wrestling than anything found in Erskine May's Parliamentary Practice. And when that's the case, when hysteria and finger-pointing and fearmongering are in the ascendant, Bermudians can be forgiven for concluding their legislators are out for themselves and their own private agendas, that divisive, self-serving and vindictive language will always drown out the commonsense variety and the devil will end up taking the hindmost — the hindmost in this context meaning decorum, the public interest and sound stewardship.

By focusing so incessantly on brinkmanship and playing down the value of compromise, moderation and negotiation, is it any wonder so many Bermudians now dearly wish another entire category of local employment would vanish — that of the professional politician?

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Published October 05, 2016 at 9:00 am (Updated October 05, 2016 at 2:58 am)

Politics as usual and the usual politicians

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