Politics should be civil but tough

The tolerance of Western culture for robust expression of diverse points of view in politics may be weakening. Ironically, the tolerance is weakest among politicians themselves.

Politicians complain of  bullying from colleagues and opposing politicians (examples here).  Yet they participate in the tough abuse as well (example here).

Politicians have always argued for more civil discourse within their fora, but they have expanded into criticism of the public for their behaviour toward politicians. The governing elite is beginning to pathologise disputes and assertive and argumentative expression among voters and those challenging their authority and roles.

They complain of harassment and abuse from constituents (examples here and here). It’s been documented in academic studies (example here).

The elite is also beginning to question the capacity of the public to handle politics.

Citizens are said to be traumatised by the most democratic activity: voting. In 2016, psychologists claimed to be shocked by rising levels of anxiety and despair following the Brexit vote. A 2017 survey found Scottish women the most stressed by the Brexit vote. Apparently the stress was still continuing two years later, particularly among “educated” citizens.

A US study has recently shown that 25% of young adults experienced levels of stress after the nation’s 2016 election that were similar to those experiencing post traumatic stress syndrome. The stress was the equivalent of witnesses to a mass shooting seven months after the event.

These claims are trumped up. Even if you take the US study at face value, 75% of the young voters were not worried by the election. But you shouldn’t take it at face value, as it was a study of tertiary psychology students only – a very selective group. I would say they are already predisposed by their interest, their self interest, and the current intellectual interests of their lecturers, to focus on stress.

I fear the governing elite are talking themselves into a state of mind, and even rules, that shut off political parties and governments from the public they should serve, and from where they get their democratic authority.

 

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