Deepening democracy

I'm starting a new project on 1 October with Richard Axelby (SOAS), and Meheret Ayenew (Forum for Social Studies, Addis Ababa), Ruth Fox (Hansard Society, London), Niraja Gopal Jayal (JNU, New Delhi), Cristina Leston-Bandeira (University of Leeds), Mandy Sadan (SOAS), and Myat Thet Thitsar (Enlightened Myanmar Research Foundation) funded by a £2m grant from the Arts and Humanities Research Council. The title is: Deepening democracy in extremely politically fragile countries: networking for historical, cultural and arts research on Parliaments and people.

How good are politicians at shape-shifting?

Donald Trump’s lies, compiled by the New York Times a few days ago, are interesting not so much for what they reveal about him, but what they reveal about his audience. Anthropologists Martin and Frause-Jensen point out that he seems to get support despite or even because he doesn’t try to hide or duck the lies, faux pas and contradictions.  Perhaps this is the core of his appeal? Like a classic trickster, he embodies contradictions in a way that appeals to those struggling with the same oppositions themselves. He once said he hoped the housing market would collapse, which it did with 5 million people losing their homes, and shrugged that off as business. But he wrote proudly about how he bullied a bank manager not to foreclose the mortgage of a widow. It is a familiar pattern. People frequently make themselves feel good by sponsoring the education of one African child but shrug about the poverty across most of the world, seeing it as beyond their control. People do tend to lie, so perhaps they forgive Trump’s mis-speaking – as he pretends it is – because they can imagine themselves doing the same. At least he is not a robot spouting the scripts of his mandarins.


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