In the United States, they called it the “enthusiasm gap.” It’s when voters who might have gone for the Democrats didn’t – because they thought they were boring.
All those polls show that almost everyone was explicitly worried about the economy. The way the Democrats approached this problem was to “get the car out of the ditch.” In other words, the economy was fine, it just needed some tweaking – it was a temporary problem, not something systemic.
What they want is to continue with a kind of solution-based politics, a “post-politics” where the “smartest” solution wins the day.
This sort of technocracy thrived when the credit markets were flying high: “What? Inequality is increasing? Let’s give everyone loans!” In this way, administrations like Clinton’s Democrats, Blair’s New Labour, and Paul Martin, when he was Finance Minister here, were able to achieve – temporarily – the liberal goals of “helping marginalized people” without engaging in any kind of systemic critique.
But now the loans are due, and someone has to pay.
Where did the rage go? After 2008, most people would agree the “system” was flawed, and yet, we were given more “solutions” that were born from, and extensions of, this system – only this time without the smiley face.
The angry among us would call bullshit.
But this inchoate anger at the system is a powerful recognition.
This passionate response comes when every solution offered comes in one flavour, where the roll-backs of austerity are always-already paired with a roll-out of the market: privatization, corporatization, structural adjustment.
When we begin with the assumption that what is good for speculative capital is good for everyone, compromise always goes in one direction.
And so the Democrats sound confused, because they won’t call bullshit.
There are plenty of people, in the United States and around the world on the left, who have their analysis ready, who are on the streets, who are actively building an alternative while they fight the imposition and continuation of these systems. But their anger, in a way, cannot even exist, cannot become intelligible within this ideology of post-politics.
The thing that mobilizes the ordinary everyday, that causes the facts and figures to harmonize is passion – it’s faith.
It’s what makes you reach out and love someone else, what makes you sacrifice for something, maybe it’s the only thing getting you out of bed in the morning.
So far in this piece, I’ve been setting up a binary – the boring technocrats versus the passionate activists. But what I really want to do is shift away from this realm of the boring, and join the fight to delineate something we can have faith in.
My uncle back in the States is pissed at the system – he wants to throw the whole gang in the ocean, et cetera, et cetera. This passion is appropriate to the enormity of the problem – crisis after crisis, with each solution simply moving the crisis around geographically, and growing into the next crisis.
The political movement that he feels is expressing this rage is the Tea Party.
Behind the technocracy is a faith in markets; behind the Tea Party is a passionate anger, and a faith – this is where the politics lie.
So, rather than ignoring that realm, regarding it like some “gateway drug” into irrational madness, we need to join in, making interventions at that level – having that discussion.
Faith is a powerful force, but as long as we cede this ground, there’s going to be that “enthusiasm gap” – which in real terms means a choice between this post-politics which gradually makes the inequality and suffering in our system permanent, or fascism, or both. We’re going to need some faith.