Unpredictable is the new normal
As 2017 draws to a close, what will remain are the ideological chasms that have developed in democracies that will only deepen since leaders appear to no longer believe that there is much benefit in building bridgescolumns Updated: Dec 22, 2017 17:59 IST
This December has proven a fitting finale to a year of political tumult. Or, in other words, a continuation of 2016.
This was the month when the Bharatiya Janata Party’s bastion in Gujarat was shaken but not stunned like the Republican Party’s southern stronghold in the state of Alabama. These two elections may well have bookended a year in politics that has been incredibly volatile – from the early year arrival of Donald Trump at the White House to the Uttar Pradesh upsurge.
In either case, however, despite the reams of commentary, often conflicting, the dial may not have moved significantly. In Gujarat, the BJP reclaimed power though the opposition can claim a moral victory, which works more for morale than shifts the reality. While losing the Alabama Senate seat, the Republican majority in that chamber of the United States Congress gets slimmer but is still sufficient for the passage of major legislation like tax reforms.
The big difference is another sort of verdict on personalities: That Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s popularity is weathering storms that may have sunk others, while American President Donald Trump’s disapproval ratings are historic. But in neither case does trajectory make for a trend. As recent events have continually evidenced, there will be plenty of variables at play, including conniptions and coalitions in the near future that could give emerging narratives another spin. It’s nice to recall that just 10 months earlier, the Modi-led BJP was considered invincible and just over a year back, Trump was seen as an unwinnable candidate.
Elections, and voters, have a habit of rejecting projections, and these, often provocative in framing, have become a pretty perilous exercise. But that’s hardly surprising. In these times where Instagram and Snapchat help drive the conversation, attention spans last just as long as that of an infant attracted to the next shiny object. Opinions have to be formulated, even if their form is fluid, so they can trend on social media and get shared across WhatsApp groups. These have mostly been based on partisan bias as we have arrived at a place of political division where the person at the centre is now the dissenter.
That’s a reason why exit polls and pre-election surveys are turning into a numbers game without much percentage given how often they have deviated from the results norm in recent times. They are now more part of the package of entertainment that electoral politics appears to be evolving into, even if the thrills are more in the nature of a blood sport than those suited to armchair analysis.
What will remain the norm is that the ideological chasms that have developed in democracies will deepen since leaders no longer believe there is much benefit in building bridges and their backers, amplified by social media, will push back against attempts to span the divide. This emergent extreme tendency simply points to further electoral confusion ahead of us. The unpredictable is now the usual.
Anirudh Bhattacharyya is a Toronto-based commentator on American affairs
The views expressed are personal