The Economist Intelligence Unit today releases its 2015 Democracy Index, ranking countries on a range of criteria including political participation, pluralism, civil liberties and political culture.
One of the central conclusions of the EIU’s analysis is that “in many democracies, political elites worry about their inability to relate to the electorate and fear the challenge that populist parties pose".
One only has to look to the continent to see the truth in this. Across France, Spain, Greece, Portugal and – increasingly – Eastern Europe, anti-establishment sentiment is rallying around politicians and parties that aren’t afraid to speak directly to the fears (and prejudices) of the electorate.
While we have got used to the sight of anti-austerity or anti-immigration parties in Europe, nobody really saw it coming in the most famous democracy of them all: the United States of America. And yet to what else can Donald Trump’s apparent successes be attributed, other than a shameless and blatant appeal to populism?
It’s true, political insurgencies don’t win many victories through nuance, but the extent to which Trump has built his support on anger, half-truths and prejudices is quite breathtaking. Whether voters love what he says or just the fact that he has the balls to say it is not entirely clear, but what is clear is that he’s not afraid to take an angry public by the hand and lead them toward a land of total make believe.
Just this week, he told a rally of 11,000 cheering supporters that if elected President he would “get Apple to start building their damn computers and things in this country instead of in other countries".
In normal times, under normal conditions, a candidate for high office would be expected to spell out exactly how they intended to manipulate the rules of global market economics, how they would order a private company to follow a political agenda and what the consequences of such a blunt, protectionist and irrational move might mean for consumers.
But these are not normal times. This is the age of the populist, where truth matters less than sentiment and where sanity is shouted down by the roar of a credulous crowd. The EIU ranks America 20th. If it slips one more place it will be in the league of “flawed democracies". Frankly, it’s teetering on the edge.