Strongman politics seems to be gaining ground in various parts of the world. We see this, for example, in the rise of Donald Trump in the United States, Austria’s flirtation with a renewed Nazi agenda and the election of Rodrigo Duterte to the presidency of the Philippines.
It appears that the Baby Boomer generation is responding to our new era of extremist attacks and increasingly liberalised society by rushing back into the waiting arms of conservatism, that bastion of gun-toting, straight talking he-men who embody our fantasies of being able to change things with sheer force and will.
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that anymore, and the Cold War tradition of flexing military might to coerce cooperation only hurts countries more than they help. More can be achieved through diplomacy.
More importantly, cultural imperialism is no longer acceptable or condoned by the youth.
Strongarm tactics may well represent the last gasp of the baby boomers, and may be their their most harmful contribution to the world thus far. From the ravages of neoliberalism on economies worldwide to what can be characterised as a wilful attempt to create an underclass subservient to the boomer generation through the pricing out of young people in city centres worldwide, there is much that will need to be fixed by the next generation that comes into power.
As conservatives use public dissent to propel their messages into the mainstream, it becomes all the more important that the youth reject their grand promises of a “return to past glory”, which has been a noticeable theme in all these demagogues who are seeking power.
This is not a takedown of the entire boomer generation, but there is a train of thought that suggests the climate they grew up in created a need to come from a position of strength at all times lest your enemies think of you as weak.
Certainly, the cultural values of the boomers and the millennials are miles apart. Millennials were taught – by the boomers themselves – that the world is limitless and you can be who you want to be. But when the Cold War mentality of the boomers kicks in, millennials are faced with a dichotomy between what they are being shown and what they have been taught.
We’re fortunate enough in Malaysia that the last hardliner, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, appears to be softening up his image in preparation for the next general election, but we cannot deny that strongman rhetoric still has its appeal. Or else, people like Jamal Yunos and Ali Tinju would not have the following they command.
Zahid himself did gain his fair share of admirers for his previously near-constant threatening of the press. And it was once common to see kerises raised at the Umno annual general assembly. Thankfully, we haven’t seen such threatening gestures for a few years now. One supposes we can thank our lucky stars for the Internet and the fact that the sum of all human knowledge is literally at our fingertips.
Nonetheless, it is still up to the public to decide the agenda that comes into power, and that means it has become even more important to vote than ever before. Conservative political figures have always found it easy to fire up a disenchanted electorate. They are the ones who drive numbers to the ballot box. A moderate candidate rarely has this appeal due to the constant need to clarify his stance to contrast with the big, bombastic ideas of the conservatives.
The liberals are even worse at firing people up. It wasn’t till Bernie Sanders that American politicians realised how boring and unexciting their policy stances are because, as Sanders has put it, you can’t ask for a half loaf because you’ll get crumbs. Ask for the full loaf and let the people decide if they want that full loaf. Either way, it would still be more than crumbs.