Brexit, Trump and the Problems with Democracy

These three tweets just about sum it up.

There are plenty of pieces about Brexit and the potential fallout. This series of briefs by The Economist covers most of it; it’s not the point of this particular blog post.

The issue I’m discussing here is democracy. Specifically, the problems that lurk behind the dominant system of politics in the world today. The problems that have given rise to Trump, to Brexit, and hopefully nothing more.

Democracy is a fine system in theory. Everyone has a stake in the country they live in and belong to, and everyone gets a vote. Fair and equitable. But then, socialism and communism sound like fine systems in theory too. That’s why political systems are a spectrum, with people having different preferences for different aspects of government and politics. It’s why I’m all for social democracy, combining elements of both socialism and democracy into one flawed package.

I say flawed, because there is no one best system for everyone, for every country. The US has been trying to spread democracy in the Middle East and in South Asia, only to fail miserably. Ironically, it supported some terrible dictators in South America in the decades gone by, which paints a far less rosy picture of US ambitions and goals for the rest of the world.

But I digress.

As fine as democracy is in theory, it is fundamentally flawed because it makes the assumption that every voter is informed and will make an educated decision based on their beliefs. But as evidenced by the rise of Trump and Brexit, it’s clear that people are not very well informed about who and what they are voting for at all.

There’s no understanding of the facts, just a staunch and flawed belief in what is being fed to them by the media. Trump has consistently lied during his campaign, flip-flopping on issues and proving to be completely incompetent. Yet, because of his inflammatory rhetoric, racists and bigots flock in droves to support him, blindly ignoring his faults and all the problems with his ‘plans’ for their country. Not to mention those that believe his words about how he’s ‘self-funded’ and ‘doesn’t lie’.

And Brexit is just as bad. Those tweets show just how stupid people can be, voting to Leave and assuming that everyone else will vote to Remain, only to wake up and regret their decision. Or searching Google for the consequences of Brexit only after the votes have been cast and the decision made. They ignore the facts delivered by experts (who were roundly derided by the Leave camp; and I mean, really? You’re going to trust people who say to ignore experts because we’ve had enough of listening to experts? Experts are experts for a reason. They have studied the topic for years and years and have the technical knowledge to understand the problem far better than anyone else), and believe in the falsehoods delivered by the Leave camp without so much as a fact-check.

Everyone finds comfort in evidence that points to their beliefs being correct. Falling for lies can be so, so easy, and politicians take advantage of that ruthlessly, peddling untruths in order to gain electoral advantage. But when that ‘evidence’ has been proven wrong time and time again, it’s stupid and dangerous to ignore the truth.

So in the end, democracy is a system where the people in power lie to the people who believe they have power in order to secure their positions and do what they want. And people don’t educate themselves enough to realise when they are being lied to, whether the lie is to mask the truth or to stoke flames about how other politicians are liars.

The worst part? That the uninformed and misinformed are often the majority, and each and every one of their votes count. My dad stated seriously that nothing was going to happen to the UK after Brexit, since the UK existed long before the EU. When the actual referendum results came out, he was still dismissive of the true impact of Brexit on Singapore, despite Asian stocks falling dramatically already. It’s this sort of thinking that gets us in trouble. The world is a different place from what it used to be. It changes over time, but people can’t seem to wrap their minds around that. What worked before might not work now. With globalisation, what happens in UK will inevitably affect us in Singapore, whether the impact be big or small. And if there’s a global impact, Singapore will definitely be affected, given how we’re a small nation beholden to the fluctuations of the global economy.

So, to sum up this rambling piece: democracy is flawed because people are misguided, misinformed or uninformed and vote accordingly (or randomly, which is just as terrible if not worse). A person is smart, but people are dumb. Unfortunately, democracy is the most palatable system of governance we have. And once again, my belief is that education is the only solution.

Either that, or I’m moving to Mars.

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