Dr. Brian Klaas – Has 2016 seen liberal democracy’s progress stall?



On the 29th of November 2016, Dr. Brian Klaas, who enthusiastically moderated our Corporate Showcase Event in November, featured on Newsnight, BBC. Following the death of Fidel Castro, the channel debated on whether democracy has been taken for granted with the focus on the analysis of Brexit and Trump election.

“Brian believes that the idea of democracy losing some faith is definitely true…”

Castro’s death saw a public grieving in Cuba and the population was clearly not inclined to political or social change. The reporter recalled the brutality of Castro’s ideologies, especially in the 1970s when ideologically deviant, intellectuals, artists and bisexual people were imprisoned or sent for re-education.

The presenter commenced the debate by imagining Cuba’s future if this happening had occurred in the 90’s: the prediction of Cuba’s future would be straightforward. Cuba, like the majority of the world at the time (including Russia, Central Europe and South Africa), would edge towards a more liberal economy and democracy. However, he believes that “Somehow in 2016 it seems far less clear cut”. The trend now seems to be for the strong leader that “get things done”, from Russia to Philippines and even in the last bastion of liberal values like Western Europe.

Brian believes that the idea of democracy losing some faith is definitely true and the US presidential election looked like an advertisement against democracy rather than for it. Timothy Snyder, Professor of History at Yale University, supported Brian and expressed his concern over the young generations tending to lose sense of what it will imply to lack democracy and the risk of strong characters with charismatic voguish shaping the minds of the audience in this way. The EU referendum leading to Brexit saw this concern come true. Anne Applebaum, a 2003 Pulitzer Prize Winner, concluded that people are fed up of the system as it is and that there is now a shift in the way people process information: accelerated by technology, people are looking for simpler and easier ways to do things.

Timothy expressed his view on how America is heading towards a similar situation that can be seen in Russia, characterized by extreme inequality. There is no need to over-dramatize this claim: Hilary Clinton, who represents a technocrat with a lot of policy proposals rather than the populists won 2 million more votes than Donald Trump. Americans were eventually drawn to Donald Trump, in part by the argument that he, as a billionaire, could protect them from the other billionaires. The recipe of Trump and the populists to success is to declare that problems come from the external world outside of the states. Brian expressed his anger on the establishment over inequality. He stands firm with a view that the anti-establishment movements in the UK and the US now have to govern. When the population is faced with the reality of those promises being impossible to be made, we will see a swing back towards the technocrats.

While Anne believes that the EU referendum for Brexit and the election of Trump showed weakness in the Western institutions, Brian voiced his panic on the current situations and accentuated the need to reinvigorate the narrative of democracy, why it matters. He strongly believes that we need to dispel the myth that all authoritarian governments can be as successful as Singapore.
What do you think? Is democracy failing our world today or ought we accept that authoritarian states are popular for a reason in today’s age?

You can find the clip on: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b084fn07/newsnight-29112016

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