in recent years popularity of personalities like Donald Trump, Senator Sanders or Rodrigo Duterte in Philippines has been sharply rising. These people seem to have caught on the wave of discontent and are riding it towards radical changes. The one thing that all populist leaders have in common, never mind the political orientation, is the claim that there is something horribly wrong with the system and it needs to be changed. This trend is, however, present not only among populists, but also among young politicians as well.
I dare to claim just the opposite. I believe that the fundamental problem does not lie within the democratic processes as they are today, but within our conception of what these processes are and should be. Citizens of all countries are upset when their legislative body i.e. congress or parliament is in gridlock and important laws and reforms are hard to pass. That seems intuitive and naturally so many are calling for a change. I am risking sounding crazy here, but I say let’s embrace the gridlock.
The concept of democracy first emerged in Ancient Greece and it was slightly different than what it is today. At that time it roughly meant all the male citizens of a city getting together, discussing and passing decisions directly. Funnily enough, some of the Greek philosophers hated the idea, since they didn’t consider general population smart and educated enough. Even then it was difficult to make decisions when people with different opinions clashed. The democracy as we know it today is based on representation. People that you elect are meant to represent your opinions and pass regulations that are in your interest. What naturally happens is when the society is greatly divided, the representation will be divided too and that’s when gridlock comes to play. The problem of gridlock is then rooted in the society and voters themselves, not in some kind of faulty system. I would go even further and say that gridlock is actually a sign that the system is working as it should.
Now, how do we solve the problem ? How do we embrace the gridlock as a natural thing and actually get things done ?
There are two solutions. One is represented by people like Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte who claim the only remedy is to make radical changes to the system. Surely it sounds very appealing, but let me draw an analogy here between these populists and another well-known populist. Adolf Hitler. Germany in the 30s was very poor and its republic struggled with many issues. Adolf Hitler claimed the system was dysfunctional and the first thing he did when in power was changing it. The rest is history. This was just one of many examples. When a politician embarks on the quest of changing the system in order to make it smoother, faster and more efficient what it really means is creating a dictatorship. Dictatorships are generally very efficient. The problems is that dictatorships rarely have goals benefiting the people. I think that the world of 2016 should finally learn from all the instances of this happening in history.
The second possible solution is emergence of a uniting strong leader that is capable of compromise. Such leader can make the system work even in greatly polarised society and pass laws that we need without radical changes. It will not be smooth sailing. When things are too easy it means there is something wrong with our democracy. The possibility of all of human kind being on the same page is probably just as high as the possibility of falling in love with your mother-in-law.
Let’s embrace the gridlock and find new generations of great leaders instead of great dictators. Leaders like Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, JFK, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela or Angela Merkel. These leaders were and are powerful within the democratic process and sometimes were forced out by the very system they strived to create or tweak and that is the way it should be. Our democracy is only as strong as our own ability to compromise. Let’s not consider gridlock as a fault and weakness, but as a sign that it is time to find common ground instead of making wild claims and radical changes.