Political representation in 2021

August 08, 2021

Many years ago I wrote a piece about the current state of political affairs. In there, I argued that it is very hard to build a political majority due to the atomicity of the median voter. The Cambrian explosion of information sources brought upon by the advent of the internet has caused most voters to build a hyper-specific set of political preferences that do not fully conform with any political current. Combine this trend with the rage culture of social media and you have a voter that not only does not identify with any particular party, but who is also unwilling to let pass the discrepancies they might have with their closest allies in the name of the greater good.

Contrast this with the pre-internet era. The relative scarcity of information sources made it so that a few set of institutions controlled the majority discourse. The stricter set of cultural norms, even in liberal America, de-emphasized the individual in favour of the collective. Voters self-identified with broader ideological groups such as socialist, communist, social-democrat, libertarian and so on. In this context, it was relative easy to build a political coalition that appealed to a majority.

Does this state of affairs hold true in 2021? In my view, it does.
There’s been some interesting developments, mainly the comeback of nationalism in Europe and the rise of Trump in the USA. However, upon close inspection, these phenomenons aren’t really political coalitions as commonly understood.

Modern European nationalists seem to side with whatever issue generates more rage at the moment, instead of defending a clear bedrock of ideas. Furthermore, where you would expect to see a contra-revolution to the liberal state, these parties seem to diligently accept the status quo. Much of the same can be said of Trump who, for all his twitter rage, presided over a fairly standard republican administration that eventually ceased power after losing the election.

In conclusion, these post-modern political currents, more focused on the superficial rather than the substantive, have managed to gather some political support but only via idealogical abdication. They are, as Ross Douthat says in his excellent book, decadent institutions.

Hi there 👋, I’m Gerard, I write about thinking tools and big ideas. I also work at Shopify and publish the best I read on Twitter.

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