It’s the Authenticity, Stupid!
The title of this column is an obvious lift from James Carville’s famous line about the 1992 election: “It’s the economy, stupid”. That is probably the most quoted campaign statement from TV talking heads of all time, certainly since he uttered it 25 years ago.
In this past year [or two] of politics and elections, much has been made about what is going on with national elections. The pundits have looked at what has happened largely through the lens of traditional political thinking. The rise of populism and nationalism. The global elite class leaving the eviscerated middle class and lower classes behind in the rush to embrace globalism. Well, okay, that is certainly true to some degree. But these lenses of traditional political thinking do not fully explain the realities of what has and is happening.
The winning candidates have much greater authenticity than the losers. It is authenticity that is winning. First the United States.
Bernie Sanders had perhaps the highest authenticity quotient of anyone running for president. He was everyone’s cranky, lefty grandpa. He was the uncle at the holiday table that railed about topics and didn’t care what people thought. He was most definitely not a slick, packaged focus grouped politician. He broke all the stereotypes of what political pundits stated were essential to win. Which is why he was such a surprise to them. Had the DNC not had its thumb on the scale, he might well have won the nomination and the presidency. Yes, because of his policies but also his authenticity.
Hillary Clinton was widely perceived as a candidate who waited for the results of the focus groups, who asked everyone what she should say and stand for. Who seemed to put forth a sense of entitlement that is was ‘her turn’ She had little or no authenticity. People who knew her personally kept saying that the “real” Hillary was much more human that the candidate Hillary. We largely saw the inauthentic Hillary.
Trump was perceived as an authentic business man. We now know how inauthentic his populist message was but we have months of his presidency for evidence. In the early Republican debates, he was the authentic celebrity. All the other Republican candidates came off as card carrying Republican politicians that spoke the same bullet points of party policy. No believability or authenticity
At the start of the recent British election, it was generally thought that Jeremy Corbin didn’t stand a chance, that he was too leftist for even members of his party to tolerate. It was widely expected he would lose badly to Prime Minister Teresa May. The election results showed otherwise. The unkempt, scraggly bearded lefty was the British Bernie Sanders. All reports were that May’s campaign style was cold and robotic.
It is worthy to note that both Sanders and Corbin rode a wave of millennial enthusiasm and turn-out that was unexpected. The young don’t remember politics of the last century, when discussions were based on left/right or liberal/conservative. What do those terms mean today anyway?
Now we look at France. The first stunning outcome was that the two parties that have traded control of the French government for the last 50 years didn’t even make the second run-off round! Out with the old and tired politicians! The two candidates who made the run-off election were the clear nationalistic Marie Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron, who didn’t even have any party backing him. He is a young, charismatic business man who was authentic as a non-politician just as Le Pen was an unabashed, authentic nationalist.
In Italy the leading party of the opposition, the Five Star Movement is led by Beppe Grillo. He is always described as a former comedian, usually in semi-derisive tones by the press. As in, how ridiculous a thought that a former comedian[reality star] could win a national election. Evidently Grillo has a charisma and authenticity according to the media.
Canada of course voted overwhelmingly for Justin Trudeau and his Liberal Party. He is clearly the single most charismatic elected official in recent years. He is youthful, real, direct and seems to be fully open and honest. Authentic.
So now, we have to think about why this clear attraction to authenticity for tens of millions of voters is occurring and will it continue.
This observer thinks that in this the Transformation Decade, we have and are witnessing the collapse of legacy thinking that I wrote about in this column and in my book ”Entering the Shift Age” on 2012. 20th century ideas are giving way to 21st century thought. Democracies have become gridlocked and dysfunctional. The new forms of Democracies and political parties are in the early stages of formation but are not yet clear. In this void between the old, last century thinking about political democracies and the yet to form replacement thinking and structures of this century, the voters look for authenticity, knowing that anything less may not be trustworthy relative to future facing leadership.
The other factor may well be that in this ever more technological world in which we live, where getting an actual human to talk to on the phone brings joy, we crave humanity from our leaders. No longer will resumes, party talking points, and packaged politicians matter the way they did in decades gone by.
It’s the authenticity, stupid!