As an ex-journalist with many contacts about the planet, my email inbox, Telegram, Whatsapp and Signal feeds fill up with some pretty abstruse stuff.
This week, it has been mainly about an American right-wing journalist, Tucker Carlson, rocking up in Moscow to chat with Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. For a world that despises Putin, it was an outrageous betrayal of airtime to a dictator who hates democracy, capitalism, freedom of the press, and the fundamental underpinnings of Western society and has invaded the country next door to uphold his position.
At the same time, some of my feeds noted that there was no way to get any sense of what Russia was on about from the mainstream press anywhere in the Western world. The ‘Good’ versus ‘Bad’ dialectic is eveywhere.
The comment that stuck out was from a European Parliament member and former Belgian Prime Minister, Guy Verhoffstadt. He observed:
‘This is how democracies die’
As I sat and cogitated on the observation, I couldn’t help but wonder about the health of the European project. In the last decade, it has suffered:
- Scorched earth, haircut avoiding, market hypocrisy taking Greece back generations.
- Brexit of 2016.
- The energy-based competitive position of the continent’s largest economy blown to smithereens in Germany in the 2020s.
- The Spanish housing market implosion of 2009.
- The Irish housing market implosion of 2010.
- The Gilets Jaunes protests in France of 2018 and beyond.
- The current Swedish Immigration crisis.
- Repeated refugee crises affecting Italy.
And all of that is before getting to the European response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. This has seen millions of Ukrainians arrive in Europe as legitimate refugees. Commitments of huge sums of money to the financial support of Ukraine. And the banning of Ukrainian grain exports in Europe.
For the European economy, that has meant the imposition of sanctions on Russian energy, meaning the loss of its key source of cheap energy.
But the real issues blighting life in Europe are not that dissimilar to those affecting North America or Australia. At their very core, they revolve around:
- heavily indebted populations,
- experiencing economic precariousness an d the risk of increased unemployment,
- housing costs have skyrocketed,
- food and energy costs have mounted,
- while competition for employment has been affected by large scale immigration, suppressing income growth
- government responses to service provision have become more parsimonious and, at the same time, are now more crowded.
Life itself, in Europe and beyond, has become much tougher. And it is the generational responses to these issues that are the malaise affecting democracies, and particularly those of the developed world.
One of the things the Carlson trip to become Putin’s press secretary has underlined is just how pawned the mainstream media has become across much of the developed world. It has become reminiscent of the Soviet Press that Putin would have grown up with.
The revenues hoovered up by social media and Google, Facebook, or Twitter (or the rest) were the revenues that once sustained smaller, more critical, more specialised media outlets worldwide.
Larger mainstream media has become less focused on news and more infotainment and selling preconceived notions to their subscribers in an attempt to build or retain credibility with the social media giants – hence the endless reviews of restaurants, gyms, movies, or travel destinations, as well as the enduring detailed nuance of popular sport.
That detail goes missing in the coverage of policy and politics, where the same mainstream media are bound by advertising revenues to be very careful with coverage of economic interests.
The narratives about the core issues that form living standards are censored to the point of uselessness.
If our own democratically elected politicians keep upholding a ‘no go’ zone for our intellects, backed by our bureaucrats, corporate leaders, university chiefs and media purveyors, then why wouldn’t we have at least a mild interest in someone lifting the lid on a ‘no go’ zone of peripheral interest to most of us?
Democracies die when they boil down to a vote between crazed or senile octogenarians or over policy differences, which won’t change the lived experience for the many while enriching the unquestionable few.
Political systems, bureaucracies and media unable to give expression and context to lived experience and better futures are where democracies die.