Recent events in Brazil illustrate well the notion of the volatile nature of the perception and practice of politics in the contemporary world. The political events around the resignation of Dilma Rousseff, the first woman in the president’s palace in Brazil and an easily recognizable face of the Brazilian “pragmatic leftists,” in power since 2002, have led to a confused and completely inadequate reaction in the Western mainstream media.
This begs the question are mainstream media only an objective observer and chronicler of political events and processes or are they a subjective participant? Given the falling subscriptions of mainstream newspapers and calls within the European Union to have journalism declared a public good, it seems that mass media are part of the political problem, rather than its solution.
Inside the pages of The New York Times, one can read that Mrs. Rousseff “lifted millions of Brazilians up from extreme poverty into the middle class” and that her rule “led to massive corruption and unemployment.” One can read that 49 senators out of 60 that voted Mrs. Rousseff out of power – that all 49 of them were investigated on accusations of corruption.
But two lines down the text one can read that Rousseff was still arrogant and wrong not to treat this congress with respect and nicety, which that legislature deserved. Which legislature? The one where 49 senators out of 81 are suspected of being corrupt? But this seemingly one small and isolated incident is part of a much wider and interconnected series of political processes and trends.
DECLINE AND CONFUSION
There are numerous analysts, academics and others that are struggling to fathom the course and nature of these mismatching statements. The problem is, however, that confusion around Rousseff’s resignation is typical for contemporary politics. It is like the world of politics has been turned on its head!
Why is this situation the case? The author suggests, at least in part, it is the result of the manner in which we view and measure politics in order to analyse and make sense of it. The political environment is a market place of ideas and relationships.
People choose the idea that resonates with them and form a political relationship with the person or organization that offers it. Politics is the process of priming and mobilizing people through the projection and communication of various ideas and realities.
It so happened that in the case of Latin America, the United States traditionally supports political and economic elite, whom hold right-wing and conservative values, relationships are created with pro-Western dictators. But at the same time the US politicians want to look like “progressive” people, who abhor racism and generally wish some kind of democracy for their southern neighbours.
Hence many moans in the American press about the fact that there were no viable minority races, few women and many Evangelical Christians (and not the generally less affluent Catholics) among Mrs. Rousseff’s detractors. This would project the illusion as if Brazil would be better off, if Rousseff had been ousted, instead of white males, by some analogue of Condoleezza Rice or a Catholic double of Madeleine Albright. The problems are of course, much deeper and not all domestic in origin.
Well, the press always reflected the interests of its owners and the prejudices of its readers, so one might be tempted to say that there is nothing special about the present flood of hypocrisy in the Western media. Latin America, since the 1830’s with the arrival of the geopolitical concept of the Monroe Doctrine was laid claim to as the continental zone of privileged interests for the United States.
This is seemingly at odds with a country born recently from the 1776 War of Independence from Great Britain and professing anti-Imperial values. It was not until other geopolitical interests occupied the United States, namely the Global War On Terrorism from 2001, when Latin American countries were able to briefly pivot away from the orbit of US control and influence. Relationships and cooperation were quickly established with countries such as China, Iran and Russia. These countries were politically symbolic as geopolitical competitors to the US.
One of the organisations born from this period was BRICS. However, with changing geopolitical priorities, US attention returned to the region and soon discovered the loss of influence in the region. The result has been a return of political activism that has affected the governments of those countries deemed as straying too far, such as in Argentina and Brazil.
But was the media really that bad in the more “ideological” times? Whether it was Socialism, Fascism or Democracy, the constituency decided on the basis and perception of which particular political offering matched their wants and needs.
This was an act of political faith on their part, one that was not always rewarded with the desired expectations that they held. The power and reach of the perception and deception carried by mass media may be more intense and wide ranging, but this is still not something that is novel or new to mankind.
Audiences are mobilised and primed according to opposing sets of values and norms, which strike at the right place and time for maximum effect. What happens after the actual goal is achieved, is in some senses, rather superfluous. A recent case in point is the recent the ICTY declared that Milosevic was not responsible for war crimes committed during the 1992-95 Bosnian war. Yet in 1999 he was Europe’s new ‘Hitler’ and the way for a ‘humanitarian war’ was open.
RIGHT VERSUS LEFT
Traditionally, politics has been viewed and measured through and by a political scale that rated people and parties according to a left-right scale. However, in the current political climate this scale is inadequate as it does not and cannot account for the events and processes that are currently underway – BREXIT, the Dutch Referendum and Donald Trump to mention but a few instances.
Both the Dutch referendum and BREXIT were the culmination of a backlash against what has been seen by some as an excessive and unaccountable EU bureaucracy, than an anti-Ukrainian stance in the Dutch case.
In the case of Dilma, she was formally punished not for enriching herself (which she apparently didn’t). She was punished for trying to make Brazil’s budget look better than it was.
And this is a rather typical capitalist and oligarchic practice, one need only look at the common practice of padding the numbers by numerous governments, especially in the run up to elections. But the oligarchs did not forgive Mrs. Rousseff something that they gladly forgive themselves. So, the left and right scale is indeed quickly losing its ability of measuring modern politics.
ESTABLISHMENT VERSUS ANTI-ESTABLISHMENT
There is a need for a new way of looking at and analysing what is happening in the political market place and why it is happening. As such, there is a need to move away from seeing and measuring politics according to a left-right dichotomy. In its current form it has moved to a dichotomy and scale of establishment versus anti-establishment.
Few people agree on who was right and who was wrong in the impeachment saga, but most would agree that it was clearly an example of the OLD establishment (the Brazilian senate) going against the NEW establishment. From an anti-establishment point of view, there is something deeply unfair in the fact that 61 senator undid the decision of 54 MILLION Brazilian voters, who cast their bulletins for Dilma – twice.
The will of the people was clearly ignored in Dilma Rousseff’s case. This is a game of projected perception, but there are many different actors and interests in the same information space vying for attention and influence. The world currently is at a point, where there is no common understanding of information or knowledge, the information space has gradually become more fragmented. This is in part owed to the development of information communication technology, but even more importantly, to the increasing fragmentation of political opinion.
Why did these 54 million voters fail to protect their vote? Currently, there is an increasing level of political cynicism and alienation of large segments of voters, such as the working class, from mainstream (read establishment) politics. This is even more right about the countries of the European Union than about Brazil.
This is the culmination and the result of the public not having their perceived wants and needs met. There is a growing feeling of having their interests and needs ignored, such as can be witnessed in the growing reaction to the mass migration being experienced in Europe and the United States.
It seems as though their voice is not being heard or listened to by the mainstream political establishment, such as Merkel pledging to stick to her controversial migration policy in face of increasing resentment and alarm in the German public.
COUNTERACTION FOLLOWS ACTION
So, is there little hope? I would not say so. A noticeable shift is occurring in the political market and environment, which is akin to a political version of laws of physics. For each and every action, there is an equal, but opposite reaction.
More people and groups are feeling disenfranchised from mainstream politics and are increasing looking to alternative political offerings. The natural response in an interactive political market place is for politics to evolve and create an offering to appeal to and satisfy the anti-political establishment demand.
Political debate and discussion is becoming much more descriptive than analytical currently. This is used to dumb down the reality in to a subjectively understandable reality as desired by the messenger. These debates and discussions are not intended as a means with which to accurately detail what is happening, but to prime and mobilise publics towards different political causes.
In Europe, much of the anti-establishment sentiment, the one which feeds leftist forces in Latin America, much of that sentiment is expressing itself in the movement of “Russia lovers” or “Putin apologists.” This phenomenon is still awaiting its accurate explanation. Much of sympathy to Mr. Putin may evolve not so much from his actual personage as from crude demonization to which Russia and its president are subjected in the Western media.
Besides, the “demonized” Putin’s image created by Western media has some of the qualities, which the European politicians are lacking: the Western media’s “Putin” stands for traditional values, which are seen as being in opposition to mainstream politics’ rigid adherence to liberal and multi-cultural values in times of an unprecedented crisis brought about by Western-led regime in North Africa and the Middle East.
Those on the left side of the political spectrum also like or admire Putin, not for his traditional values, but for his opposition to US global hegemony. The two ends of the old political spectrum supporting the same person, because of his perceived anti-mainstream political establishment stance.
As a consequence there is a new level of negative politics that is based on emotionally charged perceptions. This is situated within the context of a crisis, a process or event where publics are primed and mobilised through competing sets of norms and values. Information flows and perception are keys to the eventual outcome of this crisis.
Those that are able somehow to manage or control that information and perception are much better placed to emerge as winners in the political environment as they are able to restrict their opponent’s brand potential, his operational choices and strategy. Having said this though, the information space in the political environment is a highly volatile zone, today’s winner may well be tomorrow’s loser.
So, Dilma Rousseff was probably right when she quoted the Russian poet Vladimir Mayakovsky soon after her ousting. The muddy waters of history really do not give us a reason to be too happy or too sad. We just never know what tomorrow’s discontent of the currently deceived “mainstream” voters’ and media audience will bring us.