“Madness is rare in individuals – but in groups, parties, nations… it is the rule.” A quote from Friedrich Nietzsche’s Beyond Good and Evil, but also a poignant description of the political climate of the last few months, or decades. In the last 2 months Britain has left the European Union and Donald Trump has gained the Republican party nomination. But after the initial shock what has been most frustrating is not the results themselves but the reactions to them, on both sides of the Atlantic.
The frustration stems from both events being met with an equally embarrassing mainstream intellectual back-peddle. The pollsters who made mistakes in the run-up to these events are the same commentators who now claim to have an explanation for the phenomena. For this hubris they have become the victims of their own campaign of satire and condescension directed at anti-mainstream movements. The likes of Trump and Farage openly mocked the mainstream media and gained popularity for it.
What has been equally frustrating has been the cowardly resignations and the kowtowing of the defeated political leaders whose political miscalculations allowed for these movements to rise to prominence. No two moments will better encapsulate this idea or the last few months than David Cameron’s triumphantly hummed ditty following his resignation and Chris Christie’s tragic expression standing behind his former opponent and endorsement for President, Donald Trump.
What has already been clear is that not only were the movements far more successful than expected but that their success stemmed from their draw outside of the political mainstream. Not only were their ideas not politically correct but their campaigns were run far outside the mainstream. This speaks to an argument that it was not just a failure of the pollsters or the leaders of Britain and America but a failure of moderate political platforms. Because to argue that the movements were merely a failure of the political center-right leaves a lot unexplained. Had these campaigns run within the normal center-right political platforms they would have been obliged to self-moderate or display some of their more provocative views internally.
Nonetheless, the left has plenty of blame to share, because whilst the Brexit movement and the Trump campaign gained ascendancy, both mainstream-left political parties were attacking themselves from the inside. The DNC chairwoman’s resignation is the smoking gun that the Bernie or Bust movement needed to keep raging against the Democratic Party Machine. Whilst in the British Labour Party, leadership battles remained their focus of attention ahead of the Conservative Party who had been split in two but quickly united.
These may not be the news-clips played in 50 years’ time, it will most likely be that of Cameron and Christie, but they are equal parts a representation of a rupture with the past. There has been a rupture from the past when mainstream media and political parties could confidently influence political results.
Whatever you may think of the Brexit and Trump movements and their implications, both are political wrecking balls. The optimists among us hope they will force reform and the cynics among us believe they will go far beyond that. Either way, the future is unclear. But if we were to once again look to Nietzsche to guide us we could be certain that the past few months represent, if nothing else, a move away from the mediocrity of the mainstream.