Changing nature of politics: Trust your head not your heart

WE are approaching a number of crossroads and whichever route we, or others, choose the consequences will be profound. 

That those routes will be, as often as not, chosen through a highly emotional process, rather than rational consideration, must be a concern for anyone who values, honest, calm reflection informed by decency, humanity and the kind of morality that stands between us and our darkest instincts.

Just yesterday the UN recorded that at the end of last year a record 65.3m people had been forced from their home because of conflict, poverty or climate-change-driven drought — or all three. The UNHCR warned that this situation will escalate but that if we don’t do much more than we are doing the potential for tragedy is enormous. We can do a Donald Trump or a UKIP and talk about building walls or imposing immigration quotas — both a kind of cold-hearted looking away — or we can do the humane, decent thing and work out a way of offering refuge in a way that does not undermine our way of life. We can do that which we must hope would be done for us were we in such desperate need.

Later this week millions of people in Britain will vote on whether or not they wish to stay in the EU. A vote to leave will set events in train that we cannot imagine reliably but we can say that such a vote will have a negative impact on Ireland. The debate, if that is what it can be called, around the issue is highly emotional and seems largely driven by that stiff British self-confidence many of their friends see as unjustified, anachronistic hubris. Much of the “Leave” campaign seems to long for another, less complicated time, one described wonderfully by AA Gill as “peak Blighty”. Even though we have, over recent months, indulged our own nostalgia it is unsettling that such important things seem set to be resolved by a red-white-and-blue heart longing for toppled castles and an atlas once dominated by red rather than calculating, connected grey matter at ease in the 21st century.

The same politics-as-a-shouting-match characterisation can be used to describe Donald Trump’s march on the White House. His supporters seem indifferent, if not proud, that their extravagantly coiffured demagogue can make words mean whatever he wants them to mean, that he, the post- factual candidate, is not in any way constrained by truth or fact. That Trump uses this disconnect to advance bigotry, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, religious discrimination makes him, and his supporters even more dangerous.

Unfortunately, this politics by decibels is not unknown here either. The campaign against the water charges became disproportionately hostile. Even if it was a symptom rather than a cause, one that will be revisited sooner or later, the anti-charges campaign’s Pyrrhic victory has damaged our already tottering political process. Despite yesterday’s assurances on refuse charges it is hard not to see how those happy to protest at any imposition will not repeat the tactics used to delay water charges. Any attempt to change abortion laws will undoubtedly provoke more fury than light too.

The signposts ahead say “debate and concensus” or “shouting and stasis” — and that’s no real choice at all.


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