I’ve been beating this drum for some time. But every now and then the evidence of followers controlling the action – ordinary people leading the charge – is so compelling that attention must be paid.
Three recent cases in point.
First, in one of the biggest shake-ups in British politics in years, far leftist Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party. In keeping with the surge in support for left of center movements in other European countries such as Greece and Spain, Corbyn defied expectations and upended the establishment. How did he do it? By changing the rules (who could vote and who not). By enlisting grassroots activists. By making heavy use of social-media. By inflaming the widespread anger at economic austerity and social inequality. And by lashing all these to the young and restless.
Second, tens of thousands of Middle Eastern migrants, especially from Syria, have literally forced themselves into, onto, Europe. In the old days such masses of outsiders would’ve simply have been shot or thrown into prison for so flagrantly violating existing borders, for so flagrantly defying orders, and for so flagrantly ignoring the rule of law. Now, though, the authorities are constrained by what they can do. The culture has changed and the technology has changed. And so while even the Germans, not to speak of others such as the Hungarians and Croatians, are finally trying to figure out how to slow or even stop the human tide, generally they have felt constrained from using all but the most limited means of force. This is Europe early in the 21st century – not Europe in the mid-20th.
Third is what happened in Guatemala, where what took place was either a revolution or a political upheaval – depending on how you look at it. In response to mass protests – incited by outrage at a corruption scandal – the president was forced to resign and the longstanding system of cronyism is under attack. Again, people had the capacity to protest because the culture had changed – the powerless could conceive of rising up against the powerful – and the technology had changed. A Facebook page, Justice Now, is being used as clearinghouse for conversations and instigator of political actions. As one prominent businessman put it, social media is “the new actor in the country’s political life.” Under any circumstance would this be remarkable. But in Guatemala the more so, because Guatemalans have historically been much more politically resigned than politically engaged.
Americans should not then be surprised either by the likes of Donald Trump, or for that matter Bernie Sanders. While it’s not clear how any of this will ultimately turn out, what is clear is that the US is not the only place on the planet where people are fed up.