OPINION | Rise of the Partisans by Imre Bártfai

OPINION | Rise of the Partisans by Imre Bártfai

By Imre Bartfai 

People seem to be fed up with the game of big politics. (Since long..)They are tired of the rules, tired of the endless political positioning, maneuvering, and the carefully planned craft of the professionals. Many people think that politics became a theater, or a show not unlike those, which are organized to support the performances of superstars. This show –so do people increasingly believe-is made by heartless and cynical professionals to feed the clueless masses. Spin doctors carefully shape the public image of candidates, who speak as poll results dictate. They need to impress the ideological hard-cores, but also the public in the middle, the everyman, who has little interest in rigid ideologies, more in everyday problems. The game ends when someone slips out of character, and fails to impress people, mostly emotionally. You can be a fierce party-warrior, showing no mercy, asking for none too, but eventually winning an election requires big rhetoric, many compromises, and a suave style.

This is what we will see in the upcoming election of the United States. Partisanship is on the rise. [1]Currently, the candidate, who leads the polls among republicans, is a maverick billionaire, who speaks and acts unlike any of his running associates. Donald Trump is person who lives in defiance of the established rules of American politics, by transgressing borders openly and viciously. He attacked first John McCain, a Vietnam-veteran, in a country which is very proud of its army, and its own patriotic support of the veterans. Next he described the Mexican government as a clever schemer, who sends its bad people to the U.S. and get rid of them. After a little while Trump broke another taboo, by suggesting that Megyn Kelly put up hard questions for him on the republican primetime debate because she had her period then.[2] Gender-based attacks and other incursions against political correctness is his main attraction, and despite the expectations of most pundits, he is profiting from this behavior, instead of suffering because of it. He is leading the polls, so it looks like that he has a winning strategy. By the way, when he denied to swear that he will not run against the final nominee of the Republican party as an independent candidate, he presented a tongue-in-cheek behavior, by saying that intends to win, but of course, not as an independent.[3] That was an unprecedented reaction. By this mischievous behavior Trump not only breaks the rules but does it in a tempting way. He essentially sends the message to the public that he is funny, brave, and a man of principles, so much, that he will not play the ‘political correctness and gentleman-game’. Not only that, but also that he is a maverick, who spits on the rules of the well-set politicians.

Some argued, that Trump’s success lies in him being the role model of “alpha male fantasy”[4] but I think that too left-wing partisanship and the culture of everyday outrage and (sometimes) absurd political correctness contributes clearly to his success. Scarcely a day goes by without some civil organization or internet group expressing extreme outrage or deadly grief over some symbolic issue which they claim to hurt them, from computer games to football team names and such. Many people are tired of this now. This outrage culture has little to do with real problems. Also the easiness with which Trump defies expectations is the mark of the rugged individual, the hero of most pop-culture films. His ride may be short, some say, but the phenomenon will not go away easily.

As for the opposite side of American politics a new style is rising too. Bernie Sanders, the underdog of Democrats has far greater accomplishments than most people foresaw.[5] Sanders has a long history of staunch progressivism behind his back, and a grass roots organization to lean on. He belongs –unlike the Clintons-to the hard-core leftwing Democrats. When Sanders uses a progressive, New-Deal-type rhetoric he is as credible as one can be: he has been doing this like forever. Hillary Clinton on the other hand is a member of a dynasty, someone, who gets all the Wall Street-support, and the sympathy of business and social elites. Her name is synonymous with wealth and social status. However, lately already Sanders got under attack from the radical left-wing. The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement and fellow radicals like to characterize him as just another establishment politician, who even voted in favor of war many times. [6] (As if choosing war would be a crime independent of context…) It turns out that Bernie Sanders is not a real partisan, and that’s why radical people shun him.  Recently a ‘Black Lives Matter’ activist interrupted Bernie Sanders in a rather rude manner, because she judged his understanding of the root causes of black-white inequality inadequate.[7] An Occupy-member even wrote an open letter to outraged Sanders-supporters in a tone which befits a true political partisan, full with entitlement and rage, but lacking sober judgment.[8] This behavior is rather common on the radical left side: this is the tone of ‘revolutionary’ blogs and YouTube diatribes.

Radicals never change. They think that the political game and its rules can be swept aside easily, provided, one has the will to act. They denounce compromise, petty deals, traditional civility and careful approach. They fight to see utopy today. They fight to the bitter end or to the bitter end of others. Many of them – Tea Party adherents or radical anti-capitalists-don’t even feel the need of big theories and profound research. That would only delay the coming of utopy, and besides, they want action, not words. One might think that they bring fresh air into this stuffy and dry establishment-politics. But setting aside careful analysis and decade’s old experience is never the good seed for a rich political harvest. Before you could change the rules you must learn them. Time has to be taken for that, debate and compromises are necessary. This makes politics to seem often dull and petty. The ancient Persians once described Greek democracy as market-style haggling and lying on the forum. That is right, this is democracy: a loud and messy (and often dishonest) market.

But we all prefer this market to the ‘honesty’ of Red Khmer killing fields.

One thing is sure: American politics (but in the future Western politics too) is changing, because of the pressing underlying issues: internal and external threats and cultural changes. One must master the waves though, and not let them to carry him away, as Walter Lippmann pointed out:

"When Roosevelt formed the Progressive Party on a platform of social reform he crystallized a deep unrest, brought it out of the cellars of resentment into the agora of political discussion. He performed the real task of a leader--a task which has essentially two dimensions. By becoming part of the dynamics of unrest he gathered a power of effectiveness: by formulating a program for insurgency he translated it into terms of public service… Without a favorable culture political schemes are a mere imposition. They will not work without a people to work them.” [9]

Partisans deny that very culture in politics which is essential to achieve the desire of progress, to change people’s lives.


[1] http://www.nationaljournal.com/politics/hard-core-hardheaded-hateful-partisans-are-crowding-out-our-politics-20140612
[2] http://edition.cnn.com/2015/08/08/politics/donald-trump-cnn-megyn-kelly-comment/
[3] http://time.com/3988276/republican-debate-primetime-transcript-full-text/
[4] http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9c9f3c44-41a2-11e5-b98b-87c7270955cf.html#axzz3iumtnRds
[5] http://www.businessinsider.com/poll-bernie-sanders-hillary-clinton-new-hampshire-2015-8
[6] http://www.mintpressnews.com/bernie-sanders-voting-record-antithetical-to-his-purported-anti-war-stance/208066/
[7] http://www.vox.com/2015/8/11/9127653/bernie-sanders-black-lives-matter. „Sanders was a civil rights activist in the 1960s. But as a politician, he's typically seen racial inequality as a symptom and economic inequality as the disease.”
[8] https://www.popularresistance.org/an-open-letter-to-bernie-sanders-supporters/
[9] Walter Lippmann: Preface to Politics, Chapter IX.
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