Hur återfå väljarnas förtroende?

The above headline is actually the headline of an article in Hbl of Lö 19.10.2013, p.22. In the article, Päivi Lipponen and Kim Strandberg are pointing to the fact that in the western world the general trust in politicians is low although the citizens are actually interested in politics, which is, in their words, “en av de största paradoxerna i de flesta västerländska demokratier”.

One could of course become pretty nasty from the very beginning, typ “if people are interested in politics, and consequently look closely what politicians are doing, why the hell should they develop any trust in politicians?” But let’s try to be more analytical and constructive. After all, SOMEBODY should try to contribute some constructive aspects. What the authors are serving in the way of proposals gives anyway a pretty, pretty helpless (thus, useless) impression.

Thus, why do people not trust politicians? One reason may well be that politicians easily give the impression of being nonstraight, i.e. of always hiding what they really mean or think. This is presumably the consequence of the conditions under which political careers are taking place. Demand no.1: Never ever let yourself be caught at an opinion which could displease your superiors or be seen by them as hindering their intentions! – This goes presumably not yet quite as far as US-American standards of “being positive and cooperative” (which in practice will translate into “be willing and able to display at any time spontaneous enthusiasm about whatever may occur to your superior’s mind”), but it will anyway demand long thinking before one can come up with a clear answer to a simple question – the hesitation then leaving room for suspicions. In contrast to this just one example: The most-trusted political person in Germany is former chancellor Helmut Schmidt (meanwhile over 90 years old); early in his career he was infamous for his very straight ways of expressing himself (from that his nickname “Schmidt Schnauze”); great public recognition he gained by, during a severe flooding of Hamburg, doing something quite illegal, namely asking the army for help (which the army then did, actually being of great help); and also later he had a tendency to speak out clearly. He still does so.

Of course, Helmut Schmidt is of the war generation. When asked which decisions had been the most difficult during his life, he mentioned the decision how many of the men in his anti-aircraft battery he should send to transport the wounded ones to the field hospital and how many to keep back in the battery to do the fighting. He also mentioned the occasion when, at the time when the RAF (also known as the Baader-Meinhoff Group) was kidnapping and killing members of the German “elite”, he agreed with his wife that none of them would give in to demands of the group if the other one of them were kept as a hostage by the RAF. Such are life-and-death decisions, compared to which the decisions of routine political life appear as minor. Which may encourage a politician to be rather outspoken about political matters.

Of course one will not wish that our politicians would have to undergo war just to become better at their job. But anyway it should be clear that our present system will easily produce “courtiers”, not people who are willing or able to energetically tackle an urgent problem. – In fact it may constitute some of the appeal of extreme rightist political groups that they at least dare to come out with things which are obviously “politically incorrect”, but are in fact accepted or believed by many in secret. While the established politicians tend to think that they always should be politically correct (even if they are unable to give reasons for the politically correct opinion – which may in many cases just be an attempt to flatter a certain group of the population) …

And what to do then? Perhaps this: (1) Develop a battery of tests which make clear how fit (or the opposite) a candidate is for a political (or military, or juridical) office. Apply these tests already to pupils at school and encourage fitting ones to try politics (otherwise the tests might just weed out all of the courtiers and not leave any politicians at all in place – and who would then take care of the business?). (2) Cultivate public disputes which are supervised by intelligent and critical discussion leaders (who weed out all demagogical tricks) – so that both the politicians and the audience can learn what good reasoning is. Further (3) tame the media by (a) imposing on them a demand for a clear declaration of content, tendency and quality (to be defined and formulated by an independent institution) and (b) teaching the related psychology (with examples) already at school. – This will all sound rather futuristic. On the other hand we have just experienced in USA how a society (and/or its political class) can misdevelop if one lets private-owned media just do as their owners like (e.g. in matters of brainwash).

The recommendations formulated by Lipponen & Strandberg will anyway not be of much help. They suggest something like the opening up of electronic channels of communication which would make it possible for the citizens to participate better. But that will presumably just result in more citizens coming up with demands and suggestions – and the then following experience of seeing these demands and suggestions being disregarded in the name of (free-market) economy, foreign-political considerations (never displease the USA, they might not let us into NATO) or the (never even openly mentioned) likings and dislikes of the keskiviikkokerho. I.e. and altogether, the impression that politicians just do as THEY like and feed the public with pretences instead of solid reasons will just go on.

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