I’d like to start today with something we have probably all encountered in our lives and which seems to be particularly relevant in today’s political climate. Whether we have seen it after debates or on television, disrespect in politics is something we are all used too.
It is not very frequent to notice on social networks or all over the web what has always existed: caricatures and mockeries of our political figures. This is part of our right as free citizens to express any disagreement or discontent about our politicians. But it seems that the political sphere has developed something different, something which almost only belongs to itself and that has reached a high(er) point in previous years. That is the increase in disrespect in politics.
How many of us have never insulted a politician in our lives, or simply considered him or her unfit for the job?
So what does this show, what does it reveal about the opinion we have on our politicians? I think the answer is pretty straightforward…that we do not hold them in very high esteem. And there seems to be many reasons for this. Are they not all corrupt? All obsessed about power and all different from us, the people, the true citizen?
It seems that as soon as someone reaches the political sphere, the notion of respect, which seems to be shouted everywhere, notion so vital we are told, to the well being of democracy, just disappears. Is it not ironic that we respect our parents and our bosses but we show contempt for our politicians?
And what is more surprising is that these men and women are often very successful persons who, if they didn’t do politics, would be treated quite differently. As much as one can not be a supporter of Mitt Romney or Barack Obama, they both attended Harvard (Law and Business Schools, and no, they didn’t get there because of daddy, money or quotas) and as much as you can disagree or agree with them, they are treated very differently than other successful people from Harvard. No one hates or insults T.S Eliot, Emerson or Bill Gates, even if you’re not a big fan.
So why is this? Why do we let ourselves change so much when it comes to these men and women? Is there something so different about politics?
The answer lies perhaps in the question. There is something different, something far away, distant in politics, and this distance is the precise reason for our sudden ‘license to disrespect’. The lack of immediate consequences (or consequences at all) from any insult or mockery is one of the characteristics of democratic politics, which makes us able to do this without feeling a need to justify it. A recent paper by Philip Fernbach of the London School of Business argues that regarding complex policies, the people who tend to hold extreme views tend not to have thought a lot about it. Similarly, we tend to show less respect to the politicians we know or understand the less.
If politicians were given the credit of their merit and of their success, maybe the political sphere would be something less violent and disrespectful than the one we know. Maybe, ideas would be placed first and persons second and perhaps the people would be more informed about their country than about the details of their political personalities.
But then it is politics themselves that become the question. Should politicians try to make ideas and policies accessible to everyone and thus avoid oversimplifying complex and technical issues? Or should they try to get their ideas voted even if that means changing them to fit the people? But this leads us to another debate, what makes a politician successful? Getting legislation voted or making society a better place?
Image by endiaferon