The US Elections always managed to capture and hold my attention. I recall the moment in 2008, when John McCain conceded defeat. It was at around 8.30 in the evening and I was still at work. On CBC radio, a host was holding forth on the various strata of American society who might have been responsible for electing Barack Obama.
One commentator believed that Obama won because he got the support of one particular section of the voting public, a demographic that he called the what-the-hell voter – Oh, what the hell, let’s vote for this new guy. He can’t be much worse.
The what-the-hell voter is more often the citizen of an affluent western nation. In spite of being a part of the human race that is blessed by affluence, where a supermarket has as many aisles selling pet food as there are for humans, the what-the-hell voter still loves to crib. Third world nations too have a similar demographic but that is known as the what’s the use voter – Oh, what’s the use, nothing is going to change anyway. The what’s-the-use voter usually doesn’t bother to vote.
In places like Canada, Sweden and some other affluent European nations, there is a genuine underlying sense of well-being in the populace. There is a certain amount of pride in civic duty and it is generally understood that your tax dollars will not be completely wasted. In Canada for instance, most of the medical services are free and world-class in quality, paid for by tax dollars. For kids up to the age of 18 and seniors beyond 65, almost everything is totally free. Personal income taxes are high but so is the level of services that the government provides. Last year, my income tax alone was double what my average annual income would be today, had I stayed back in India. I am of course okay with that.
And yet, in spite of the quality of life that citizens of affluent western nations enjoy, the what-the-hell voter is a burgeoning constituency.
In the US, a 2014 PEW poll has thrown up distressing figures of public trust in the US Government. Today the distrust stands at 76%, an appallingly high level of disenchantment. This is a breeding ground for the what-the-hell voter.
The American what-the-hell voter usually comes in two flavors – The what-the-hell Republican Party voter and the what-the-hell Democratic Party voter.
The what-the-hell Republican voter is typically a not very well-informed, often minimally educated individual, most often a white guy, who believes that the government owes him and that he in turn owes the nation nothing. He is generally dissatisfied but unable or unwilling to break out and make something of his life, placing the blame for his being a loser on the government. He careens through the streets with like-minded bums, half-drunk, in beat-up pick-up trucks. He usually sees people of other ethnicities as threats that are ‘taking over the country’. He loves to play with guns and look macho. In the American mid-south-west you’ll find this guy lounging around bars and street corners with an AR-15 fully automatic assault rifle slung over his shoulder and a holstered .357 Magnum around his waist.
All that the Republican what-the-hell voter wants as the next American President is a new face, a new somebody, an outsider who is white, right-wing, anti-immigration and saying all the things he wants to hear, making all the right noises, thumbing his nose on network TV at the guys whom the what-the-hell voter himself would love to thumb his nose at but doesn’t have the voice or the reach.
The Republican what-the-hell voter is the one who is going to look at the row of names on the ballot for the Republican Primary and sigh,’ what the hell, let’s give this new guy a try, he don’t give a shit for nobody’ and he will vote for a clown named Donald Trump in the Republican primary.
The Democrat what-the-hell voter is pretty much the same, except that he could also be a ‘person of color’. He is alarmed at the widening income disparity, the declining power of the trade unions, the unrelenting depravity of racism and the strangle-hold of the dynasties like the lying, cheating Clintons and the big business stooge Bushes. Ho vows not to support a Paul-2, Clinton-2 or Bush-3. He wants a straight-talking new face who will tax the rich and help redistribute wealth by creating a system of governance that resembles Sweden and Canada. The latest Democratic Primary poll numbers seem to show that the Democrat what-the-hell voter believes he has found that new face – the Senator from Vermont, Bernie Sanders, the first socialist ever to be elected to the US Senate.
Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders bear no resemblance whatsoever, in spite of having what-the-hell voters as their main constituency. But they have both struck a chord, Trump deliberately and Sanders inadvertently, in a way similar to the connection that Arvind Kejriwal and his Aam Admi Party established with the electorate in the Indian capital, New Delhi, 2013, or Mohammad Morsi in Egypt, 2011 or even Mir Hussein Mousavi in Iran 2009.
They all failed of course. Kejriwal, elected but a victim of his own autocracy and teetering on the brink, Morsi – sentenced to die and Mousavi – under indefinite house arrest. The establishment doesn’t give a rat’s ass about the what-the-hell voter. The only time that the establishment acted on change was when there was no what-the-hell voter – Mikhail Gorbachev and Deng Xiao Ping.
Bernie Sanders and Trump have one thing in common – their own parties would love to see the other win the primary, ie: the GOP would love it if Bernie Sanders won the nomination and the Dems will be thrilled if Donald Trump made it. In both cases they believe they will win in such an eventuality.
What is disturbing is not that there are what-the-hell voters in the west. There always have been, all over the developed world. The what-the-hell voter is not a new phenomenon, but the new element in the electoral mosaic of a developed nation is that the what-the-hell voter demographic appears to be expanding into even the educated middle-class of every ethnicity.
Well-informed and moderately well-off folks in America and Europe are beginning to think like a what-the-hell voter, even though they have the capacity to evaluate a candidate’s ‘body language’ vis-a-vis their nation’s needs.
I would put the blame for the blossoming of the what-the-hell vote banks on a highly partisan western media that has failed miserably in it’s primary task – to inform and educate. The western media holds the public in very low esteem. For political coverage, it offers shallow, trite analyses, cheap gossip and sleaze, with a condescending assumption that that’s all that their readers want or are able to handle.
Huffington Post has put it quite succinctly – ‘…the media does so little to help us weed out the scoundrels, the scum, the mendacious swine, the spineless panderers, the opportunistic sociopaths and the bought-and-paid-for. If the media were doing their jobs, those people wouldn’t be able to even register themselves to run as candidates. The sad truth is that, the media is largely in the business of turning politics into soap opera….’ Hear, hear.
The last time when the what-the-hell vote bank exploded, it was in Germany 1933, when the German people voted into power a murderous racist thug with manic eyes and a stupid mustache.
America 2016 – the what-the-hell voter may well elect a narcissistic goon with stupid hair into the White House.