Politicians are our defence against mob rule

'There is no such thing as the will of the people, only many varied wills and these wills have to live with each other.'


WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 12: U.S. President Donald Trump turns to reporters as he exits the White House to walk toward Marine One on the South Lawn on January 12, 2021 in Washington, DC. Following last week's deadly pro-Trump riot at the U.S. Capitol, President Trump is making his first public appearance with a trip to the town of Alamo, Texas to view the construction of the wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

January 15, 2021 10:01

In politics when something bad happens, there is usually a suspect idea somewhere in the vicinity. On the day that the President of the United States incited a mob, who then invaded Congress seeking to stop the transition of power, there were at least two.

And I don’t include in that number the various bizarre conspiracy theories about paedophiles and the illuminati and so forth. I’m talking about two solid mainstream ideas that normal, everyday people are attracted to. Including Jews.

The first of these ideas is that what countries need are leaders with business experience, executives who can get things done, people of action from outside the political establishment. All the politicians do is rabbit on. And they don’t come from the “real” world.

Get rid of the incompetents and get a doer not a talker.

The second is that there is a sort of national will of the people, a view held by “ordinary” people, who have “real jobs” and live in the “real world”. And that this view can be divined and championed. When the Brexit referendum ended in victory for Leave, Nigel Farage described it as a victory for “real people”.

Both of these false notions have been realised in the presidency of Donald Trump and last week we saw what they lead to.

Some Jews were attracted to Mr Trump because, as a man of action and an outsider, he put the concerns of the foreign policy establishment to one side and acted on Jerusalem and aiding peace deals between Israel and its neighbours. There was also, for some, the attraction that he annoyed “woke” people. Perhaps, ahem, excessively, but nonetheless he annoyed them.

Yet I believe this remained a minority view and the anti-Congress insurrection showed why.

If you and your followers believe — indeed regard as central — that you represent the national will then it follows that you can’t lose an election. Not fairly. Only by cheating could anyone beat a candidate that represents the national will, because if such a candidate lost it would mean they did not represent the national will. Which we know they do.

This is the logic that leads to the rock solid certainty that so many of Mr Trump’s supporters have, that the election has been stolen.

The fact that there is no evidence of such fraud is irrelevant, as is the failure of any court to find in Mr Trump’s favour. His supporters cling on to half digested internet rumours instead.

This flight from reality in itself is dangerous. Next week, Granta will be publishing a book, The Fatherland and the Jews, of two pamphlets written by my grandfather, Alfred Wiener warning of the rise of antisemitism in Germany and how it could lead to violence. Remarkably they were written in 1919 and 1924.

Core to his argument is the way that fantastic conspiracy theories and prejudices may be the preserve of fringe groups at the beginning but soon enter the mainstream.

What enables this flight from reality is a much more respectable view, indeed almost a common place one, that there is something rotten about politics and politicians.

That they lie and are cut off from the real world and constitute an elite and need to be swept away. Not some of them, some of the time.

But swept away how? And in favour of what?

The mob that stormed the Capitol, that is what sweeping looks like.

The man with the Camp Auschwitz T-shirt, he’s what replaces the politicians.

Donald Trump has the self-certainty and represents the business type everyone has always been going on about. And he despises political norms, the swamp he promises to drain.

But those political norms are what protect liberty. The verbose politicians and their stupid arguments about nothing are the protection against despotism.

There is no such thing as the will of the people, only many varied wills and these wills have to live with each other.

Politicians make that happen by debating and compromising and even, yes, finding ways of fudging things and spinning arguments.

This may look ignoble but it is not ignoble.

It is, as my Mum would say, good for the Jews.


Daniel Finkelstein is associate editor of The Times.


January 15, 2021 10:01

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