Populismo, demagogia e democracia

Pierre Manent, “Populist Demagogy and the Fanaticism of the Center”:

As a term, “populism” is indisputably marked with discredit and denunciation. The populist orientation is often said to have a “passionate,” “extreme,” or “irresponsible” manner and tone. But its content, too, is never credited with the characteristics of reason, moderation, and responsibility. The term “populism” denotes an orientation, a political opinion, or certain orientations or political opinions, which are discredited and denounced. What opinions, what orientations? They can vary widely, and it is possible to distinguish them according to their basic political polarity, a populism of the Left or extreme Left, and a populism of the Right or extreme Right. It is important, however, to understand that the common substantive of populism tends to prevail over these opposing qualifiers of Left and Right. Even if this effect is not desired, it at least follows from the use of the term. Jean-Luc Mélenchon is thus effectively placed in the same boat as Marine Le Pen, which displeases him greatly. (Here, despite the axiological neutrality that ought to rule political science, I cannot help but sympathize with Jean-Luc Mélenchon.) By classifying these two political leaders under the same heading, this grouping effectively clouds the political landscape to the point of rendering it incomprehensible.

We encounter, then, the following difficulty. How is it possible that a notion which seems to have become indispensable for the understanding of political debate tends rather to make it confused and indecipherable? Does this notion indicate the new reality of those who are thus labeled, or is it not rather a product of the new political intention of those who use it? If the notion of populism can cover political orientations as distant as those of Jean-Luc Mélenchon and Marine Le Pen—if it thus has the power to prevail over the opposition between the Left and the Right, and even between the extreme Left and the extreme Right—it is because powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape no longer around the opposition between the Right and the Left but between populism and . . . what? We do not know yet, but since “populism” is pejorative and implies discredit, we will say “respectable” and “accredited” politics.

These powerful forces intend to reconstruct the political landscape around the opposition between populism, which we can still describe as Right or Left, and respectable politics, which can still retain its versions of Right and Left. When I speak of the intention of these powerful forces, I do not refer to any sinister plot to give new names to things that have not changed, or to any plot to deceive good citizens. The situation has doubtless already changed enough so that the effort to pit “populism” against “respectable politics” is not merely possible in theory, but already has real purchase. The ability of the Right/Left polarity to organize and describe political life is now likely much weakened.

We can, however, already remark on the difference between how the Right/Left polarity and the populist/respectable polarity see political life. The Right/Left polarity attributes an equal legitimacy to both poles. Even if each of these halves claims full political legitimacy and doubts the legitimacy and occasionally even the simple morality of its opposing half, the system itself is based on the equal legitimacy of the two halves or the two poles, with an uncertainty or a gray zone represented by the extremes (extreme Right or extreme Left), whose democratic legitimacy is always suspect. The new mode is characterized by the unequal legitimacy of the two poles or the two halves: populism as such is tendentiously illegitimate, while “respectable” politics is tendentiously the only legitimate politics.

It seems to me that we have not sufficiently noted to what extent this new mode is actually new. The distinctive feature that the democratic and liberal order used to have as its foundation was the equal legitimacy of the majority and its opposition. The new order now imposing itself more and more upon us rests on the contrast between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions. The point deserves to be examined further, but it already seems clear that with this transformation, we have started to pass from an order built on confrontation between equally legitimate opinions to an order relying on confrontation between legitimate opinions and illegitimate opinions, between political orthodoxy and heresy. If this were true, then we would be in the process of departing from democracy as it has thus far been known.

O poder prejudica o cérebro

Jerry Useem, “Power Causes Brain Damage”:

Lord David Owen—a British neurologist turned parliamentarian who served as the foreign secretary before becoming a baron—recounts both Howe’s story and Clementine Churchill’s in his 2008 book, In Sickness and in Power, an inquiry into the various maladies that had affected the performance of British prime ministers and American presidents since 1900. While some suffered from strokes (Woodrow Wilson), substance abuse (Anthony Eden), or possibly bipolar disorder (Lyndon B. Johnson, Theodore Roosevelt), at least four others acquired a disorder that the medical literature doesn’t recognize but, Owen argues, should.

“Hubris syndrome,” as he and a co-author, Jonathan Davidson, defined it in a 2009 article published in Brain, “is a disorder of the possession of power, particularly power which has been associated with overwhelming success, held for a period of years and with minimal constraint on the leader.” Its 14 clinical features include: manifest contempt for others, loss of contact with reality, restless or reckless actions, and displays of incompetence. In May, the Royal Society of Medicine co-hosted a conference of the Daedalus Trust—an organization that Owen founded for the study and prevention of hubris.

I asked Owen, who admits to a healthy predisposition to hubris himself, whether anything helps keep him tethered to reality, something that other truly powerful figures might emulate. He shared a few strategies: thinking back on hubris-dispelling episodes from his past; watching documentaries about ordinary people; making a habit of reading constituents’ letters.

But I surmised that the greatest check on Owen’s hubris today might stem from his recent research endeavors. Businesses, he complained to me, had shown next to no appetite for research on hubris. Business schools were not much better. The undercurrent of frustration in his voice attested to a certain powerlessness. Whatever the salutary effect on Owen, it suggests that a malady seen too commonly in boardrooms and executive suites is unlikely to soon find a cure.

O impacto do Brexit em África

Carlos Lopes, “Africa’s Stake in Brexit”:

By far the most significant impact of a “hard Brexit” for Africa would be felt in the financial services sector. In negotiating the UK’s exit from the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May’s government will be seeking to ensure that the City of London retains its place as Europe’s premier financial center. But even if May fails, London-based financial institutions could simply pull up stakes and decamp to continental Europe. Africa, however, could suffer as a result.

For example, the strengthening of the African banking sector in recent years – including the expansion of cross-border banking activities – has been made possible in part by innovative fintech (financial technology) products developed in London. Cutting-edge finance solutions used to modernize institutions like Standard Bank, Africa’s largest bank, depend on the expertise housed at UK-based institutions. If Brexit weakens London’s role as a financial center, the collateral damage for Africa would be measured in diminished investor confidence, gaps in banking services, and interrupted networks and processes. The financial innovation engine, in other words, could grind to a halt.

A weaker UK financial-services sector could also lead to a dearth of talent with knowledge of African markets. That could hurt UK-African trade more broadly. Unfortunately, Britain may be more important for Africa’s future in this regard than vice versa. With less than 5% of Britain’s trade deficit tied to Africa, the continent is not likely to be near the top of the UK government’s current preoccupations.

Diplomatic ties could be damaged, too, if a more inward-looking UK closes its doors to African travelers and students seeking to enroll in British universities. In short, the historical, political, and economic ties strengthened over decades could fray as UK-EU negotiations move forward.

But the risk Brexit poses to Africa should not be overstated. For one thing, trade isn’t the backbone it once was in the relationship. Only a small number of African countries are vying for access to the UK market, whereas many are looking to conduct more trade with one another.

Africa is learning to stand on its own in other ways, too. Since 2000, total annual aid to Africa has averaged $50 billion, while tax revenue during the same period grew from $163 billion to an astonishing $550 billion. The increase in FDI inflows, access to sovereign debt, and sharp expansion of migrant remittances have all contributed to a shift in the revenue base away from commodities. And African leaders are today busy establishing new alliances with their neighbors, improving business environments, and collaborating on industrialization projects.

Quando o partidarismo se sobrepõe ao interesse nacional

Jamelle Bouie, “Who Needs Rule of Law?”:

Just one of our two parties is interested in checking this president’s abuse. The other, the Republican Party, is indifferent, content to tolerate Trump’s misconduct as long as it doesn’t interrupt or interfere with its political agenda. What defined Thursday’s hearing, in fact, was the degree to which Republicans downplayed obvious examples of bad—potentially illegal—behavior and sought to exonerate Trump rather than grapple with Comey’s damning allegations about the president. Sen. James Risch of Idaho, for example, pressed Comey on his claim that President Trump had asked the then–FBI director to drop the investigation into Flynn, suggesting that—because Trump didn’t give a direct order—we ought to ignore the clear subtext of the president’s statement. Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma described Trump’s actions on behalf of Flynn as a “light touch.” Other Republican committee members, like Sens. John Cornyn of Texas and John McCain of Arizona, steered the conversation toward the FBI’s investigation of Hillary Clinton’s private email server. Still others, like Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, defended Trump’s actions, blasting leaks to the press as efforts to undermine his administration.

Republican committee members were aided in all of this by the official organs of the GOP, which treated the hearings as a distraction—a partisan frivolity driven by Democrats and the press. “Director Comey’s opening statement confirms he told President Trump three times that he was not under investigation,” said a statement from the Republican National Committee that recommended a strategy of deflection. The RNC additionally argued that “Director Comey lost confidence of both sides of the aisle, and the president was justified in firing him.” House Speaker Paul Ryan, commenting on the procedures, defended Trump’s potentially illegal behavior as the mistakes of a novice. “He’s just new to this, and probably wasn’t steeped in long-running protocols,” he said.

(…).

James Comey’s sworn Senate testimony, both written and spoken, is evidence of one political crisis: A president with little regard for rule of law who sees no problem in bringing his influence and authority to bear on federal investigations. The Republican reaction—the effort to protect Trump and discredit Comey—is evidence of another: a crisis of ultra-partisanship, where the nation’s governing party has opted against oversight and accountability, abdicating its role in our system of checks and balances and allowing that president free rein, as long as he signs its legislation and nominates its judges.

Americans face two major crises, each feeding into the other. Republicans aren’t bound to partisan loyalty. They can choose country over party, rule of law over ideology. But they won’t, and the rest of us will pay for it.