Societal Intelligence is a concept we believe in. By definition, the ordinary people of every society are less capable, less intelligent. less rich & less powerful than the elite of society. But there are times when the ordinary people of a society find themselves at a crossroad – whether to accept continuance of the current elite establishment or to choose an outsider to change the current leadership. Such choices test the societal intelligence of people, their collective mindset & behavior. Often the fate of that nation depends on that societal intelligence, the collective intelligence of the ordinary electorate of that society. Two recent elections demonstrate this vividly.
This week’s visit by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a stunning success. He was warmly welcomed by President Obama to the White House and invited to address a joint session of the Congress by Speaker Ryan. Under his leadership, India is today the fastest growing economy in the world. The acceptance & power of India will only grow in the next several years. This recognition has made Modi’s India a desired partner for almost all decent countries in the world, with the possible exception of China. That fact, in itself, is a positive determinant in the trajectory of US-India relationship.
How different was it a mere 2-3 years ago? Going into the May 2014 election, Narendra Modi was a virtual pariah internationally & among the Indian elite. The Obama Administration had refused to give him a visa to enter America. Europe was very cool to him and the Muslim countries were deeply opposed to him. The Indian elite hated him. The Indian TV media were excoriated him constantly. Modi was called virtually every name in the hate book – bigot, fascist, Hitler. Modi was also derided as ignorant, uneducated and unqualified.
His opponent was the epitome of establishment, Mrs. Sonia Gandhi. She led the Congress Party & its powerful nationwide political machine. Sonia was the wife of a previous Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi, a revered previous Prime Minister of India. The demographics were on Sonia’s side. The sizable Muslim vote was all hers and the vote of the lower strata of Indian society had always gone to Congress, famed for its populist platform & governance.
Remember the election was just after a period in which rape was associated with India. Beginning with the horrific rape-murder of a young woman in Delhi, the treatment of women became the topic of debate in India. Draconian anti-men laws were passed by India’s government under the direction of Sonia Gandhi. More women vote than men in India and treatment of women was expected to be a major boost for Sonia’s party.
The leadership of Modi’s own party was dead set against him. They had come to accept their minority role during the past ten years and had actually profited from that. They had created an ideological right-left divide that gave them safe constituencies & a share of the power. The election of Narendra Modi, they were afraid, would destroy the status quo and actually make them extinct. They tried to oppose Modi’s nomination as the prime ministerial candidate of their party, the BJP. When that failed, they planned to subvert his election and, if that failed, choose a more acceptable choice after a close election. They didn’t care that the entire base of the party would revolt. They felt they could manage that revolt and Modi was far worse than any revolt, anyway.
Narendra Modi called for a change in governance and promised to bring “better day” or prosperity for all the people of India. He asked voters to judge him by what he had accomplished in his native state of Gujarat. It was an electorate desperate for better times. They had heard slogans for the past ten years but seen little change. Their incomes had not improved against the ravages of inflation and their job situation was getting worse. It was probably the most pivotal Indian election of the past few decades. The choice of the Indian electorate would determine the fate of India for the near future.
India’s voters demonstrated their collective intelligence and elected Narendra Modi in May 2014. India is now a totally different country & economy. We all saw that this reflected in America’s welcome to Prime Minister Modi this week.
2. October 2014
Is there a land more gifted with natural resources than Brazil? A few years ago, Secretary of State Colin Powell called Brazil an “agricultural superpower“. It was the first letter of the BRIC set of nations, a country of the future with China. In recognition, the 2016 Olympics were awarded to Brazil in October 2009, during the first year of the Obama Administration.
President Dilma Rousseff was the toast of the world. An economist by profession and the Chief of Staff of the previous President Lula de Silva, Rousseff had all the experience, background and the support of her party’s political machine to win the election in October 2014. And she had the support of leaders around the world.
It was a close election, the closest election in Brazil since 1989. Her opponent was a center right candidate Aecio Neves. In the end, the Brazilian electorate voted for the safe choice, the continuation of the party in power despite their unhappiness. After all, a left of center party, a party of workers, is a better choice than a center right choice, right?
What a pivotal election that was? Just look at Brazil today. Less than two years after her election, Dilma Rousseff was impeached and thrown out of office. Brazil is in a state of virtual disaster. The World Bank expects its economy to contract by 4% this year. The entire governing elite has been discredited & the working class of Brazil are mired in jobless poverty. It will be a long long road back for Brazil to merely get back to the economic levels of 2009.
3. November 2016 – U.S. Presidential Election
Now the American electorate faces a choice – status quo vs. change. After all, you can’t get more elite establishment than Hillary Clinton. Wife of a previous President, Secretary of State of the current President, her march to the Democrat nomination has been planned & orchestrated. The entire Obama machine is being marshaled to elect her. The African Americans are overwhelmingly for her, the Hispanics are for her in force and she is running hard to dominate the women’s vote.
Against her is a solitary businessman named Donald Trump, a man his own party elite are against. The fact that Trump won his nomination fairly and that he was the overwhelming choice of the Republican base has meant nothing to the elite establishment of the Republican party.
Trump is being called every name in the hate book, not just by Democrats but even by powerbrokers in the party that nominated him – bigot, racist, fascist, Hitler. Despite a track record of success, Trump is called uneducated & unqualified to be President. Foreign leaders are rattled by him, the people are told. They would all choose Hillary, the voters are told.
Despite all that, Donald Trump is virtually even with Hillary Clinton in polls today. What gives? The chart below:
Hillary Clinton is the epitome of today’s policies & practices. She represents today’s leadership. She is the status quo candidate, the seemingly safe choice. Donald Trump represents change, a promise for better days ahead for America and the American people who have been left behind. It is an unsettling choice.
Like the Indian electorate in May 2014 and the Brazilian electorate in October 2014, the American electorate has virtually the same choice – an experienced woman leader, a wife or protege of a powerful popular male leader, the epitome of today’s establishment vs. a stand-alone man who promises to bring change for all, especially for those who were left behind by the current establishment.
It is a major test for American voters. Whom will they choose? One thing is for certain – the choice they make will determine the fate of America for the next several years just as the choices made by Indians & Brazilians changed the fate of India and Brazil for much better and much worse respectively.
Send your feedback to [email protected] Or @MacroViewpoints on Twitter.