Will the populist wind shake Spain?

The mistake is thinking that people are logical.

Oliver Thansan
Oliver Thansan
03 June 2023 Saturday 16:38
111 Reads
Will the populist wind shake Spain?

The mistake is thinking that people are logical. In the important things in life, like love, it is not. Nor in politics, particularly when it comes to voting, a circumstance in which emotion competes with facts, and emotion usually wins.

I think of the success of populism. I am thinking of electoral behavior in countries as varied as Turkey, England, Mexico, South Africa, Russia and the United States. I think, a little, in Spain.

In Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdogan has just obtained the majority necessary to extend his presidential term. And that, thanks to his management, the economy is doing poorly, with inflation above 40%; that he abuses the judicial apparatus to criminalize the opposition and control the media; that an earthquake in February, in which 50,000 people died, exposed a system of corruption in which cronyism weighs more than efficiency in the construction of homes.

Voting for Erdogan meant persisting in a government that was more dictatorial than democratic, more corrupt than competent. The Turkish people gave their verdict. It was already nine years; there are five more.

Mexico and South Africa are not as authoritarian, although they are working on it, but in terms of corruption they surpass Turkey, while in citizen insecurity they are in another league. But there is President Andrés Manuel López Obrador, light years behind the opposition in the polls, and there is the African National Congress, eternalized as the ruling party long, long after Mandela's dream turned into a nightmare.

Russia: let's not go into details. Let's just say that, as everything indicates, a clear majority of Russians think Putin is a great guy.

England: not only do they vote for the collective suicide of Brexit, but three years later, on the eve of economic collapse, they elect by absolute majority the party that promised them paradise if they left the European Union.

And since we are with “mature democracies”, how about the United States? Donald Trump is not only the firm favorite to be chosen as the Republican Party's presidential candidate in the 2024 election, but there is a growing feeling that he could win it. As The Economist said this week: “You have to take seriously the possibility that the next president of the United States will be someone who divides the West and delights Vladimir Putin; that he accepts the results of the elections only if he wins them; that he calls the thugs who stormed the Capitol on January 6, 2021 martyrs… that he is the subject of multiple investigations for violating criminal law, in addition to having a history of sexual assault… ”.

Putin is in another league, of course. But the others – Erdogan, López Obrador, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and Boris Johnson – are pillars of rectitude, decency and democracy compared to Trump. The amazing thing, in the most literal sense of the word, is that Trump's tens of millions of devotees see no reason to question him.

The facts show that during his presidency, Trump did not come close to fulfilling his star electoral promise to build a wall along the border with Mexico and that, on the other hand, the only political idea he managed to make a reality was a juicy reduction in taxes for 250,000 billionaires, including himself, but very few of his followers, most of them low-income. But it's the same. Faith moves mountains.

So why does faith trump logic? Why do facts count for so little in the political decisions so many people make? Why do so many supposedly thinking beings identify with such tyrants or clowns or charlatans?

Because belonging to a team is important. Because they see in the leader a father figure who offers them hope and protection in a confused and hostile world, an avenging general who shares the same enemies and the same hatreds and resentments as they do. Because being part of the big daddy's team gives them a sense of relevance and identity that allows them to forget the terrible truth that they are not –we are not– more than a grain of dust in the infinite cosmos.

This is what populism offers, which is not little. With the possible exception of eternal life, it is the same thing that the great religions offer in exchange for faith: an irresistible package of belonging, hope, refuge and order in chaos. The lesson is clear: the aspiring political leadership who sticks to earthly facts competes in elections at the same disadvantage as a runner with a broken ankle in a marathon.

Such is, to a certain extent, the case of Pedro Sánchez. The data indicated that he did not deserve such a stick in the elections last weekend. “Hearing what the opposition says to Sánchez – an American friend who lives in Madrid told me this week – one could imagine that we were in Afghanistan.”

As other foreign observers have pointed out, with some perplexity in light of the election results, Spain has the lowest inflation rate in Europe, record minimum wages and pensions, the crisis of the Catalan independence movement has been brought under control and, thanks in large part to to the figure of Sánchez, it is not remembered when Spain enjoyed so much international prestige. But the logic of these events has been of no use to the PSOE in the face of the visceral fury that Sánchez arouses within the country, in the face of the broken ankle that his government alliance has meant with the also visceral enemy that United Podemos represents for so many Spaniards. .

That being said, we're not that bad. Voting against Sánchez was not an act totally without reason, as it was to vote in favor of Brexit or Erdogan. Electoral decisions in Spain cannot be compared meaninglessly with those in Turkey, Mexico, South Africa, England and the US We continue to be, relatively speaking, serious people here, democratic people. The losers will not challenge the result of the upcoming general election. But beware. Maybe one of these days they will. Dangerous winds blow across the seas and oceans. Or, as the Trumpians from Vox might say, there are moors on the coast.