Democracy in overdrive: time for a break from the ballots

Will this endless cycle of consultative decision-making ever end? In the league table of fevers, ‘election’ sits a lot closer to ‘scarlet’ than ‘Saturday night’, yet we appear to have found ourselves trapped on an election merry-go-round spinning out of control.

We’ve gone straight from the US primaries into our own general election, Northern Ireland Assembly elections, followed by Brexit, the actual US election, the French election, now a Fine Gael contest and the UK general election.

Our franchise hasn’t just been exercised, it’s been undergoing a series of ultra-marathons and is currently Googling upcoming triathlons.

The second Leo takes control of Fine Gael the countdown will begin to another general election. Fianna Fáil will collapse the government as soon as the national interest dictates – National Interest being the name of a polling company charting their optimum moment for being returned to power.

The frequency of elections is beginning to test us all. Even Mícheál Lahane is staring into his Nealon’s Guide and dreaming of a military intervention.

Arranging a coup in Ireland would present a lot of logistic challenges, however. The soldiers are too deaf to hear the orders, and even if they did the Gardaí would be too busy issuing the tanks with penalty points to join in. According to the latest Garda statistics, they have already foiled 348,941 coups over the last 12 months.

It’s no surprise we’re all a little fatigued with elections given what our cousins across the Atlantic put us through. Even before the result was declared, last year’s US election felt as though it had been running for most of our lifetimes.

It takes two years to elect a person on a four year term. That means that for 50 per cent of a President’s term they are kissing babies in Ohio and reassuring people in North Carolina of their constitutional right to marry their assault rifles. It must be exhausting spending two years criss-crossing America’s vast plains trying to figure out which bland platitude will result in the most miniature flags being waved. It’s no wonder they often mistakenly invade the wrong country.

The thoroughness of the process makes the actual result even more remarkable. For two years the American electorate engage in a forensic examination of their candidates, after which they put the future of the planet in the hands of a man who you wouldn’t trust to keep a Bonsai tree alive.

America’s obsession with elections would be fine if they kept it to themselves, but it severely impacts on the rest of our television schedules. Every two years, our media insist on giving us minute-by-minute updates about what are essentially local selection conventions.

We spend two years in every four – that’s 50 per cent of our entire lives – debating the intentions of voters in Iowa. Not even voters in Iowa put as much thought into it.

Our obsession with their local selection conventions is, disappointingly, not returned. CNN barely mentioned the drama surrounding the most recent Fine Gael Sligo-Leitrim contest. People across America failed in their droves to get out of bed at 3am to see whether John Perry had been added to the ticket.

The two year courting process may have been necessary at a time when candidates would ride on horseback across the country to generate support amongst an electorate whose primary concern was not being relieved of their scalp by the indigenous population. In the era of social media and rolling news coverage, the system could be refined to save us all at least 18 months of monotonous torture. Instead of a two year cycle of campaigning, American elections should be called by Enda Kenny giving candidates until midnight to print their manifestos and secure $400 million in oil and tobacco funding.

Democracy’s habit of constantly flirting with the electorate without ever fully satisfying them has inevitably put the relationship under strain. People don’t necessarily want to split up with democracy but they are interested in spending time with other systems of government. After two years of looking at the batting eyelids of Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush, is it any wonder American voters chose to go to dinner with autocracy?

American and UK voters have highlighted people’s discontent at being asked their opinion every few years only for nothing to ever change. Voters want to believe in something. It doesn’t particularly matter what it is, whether it makes any sense or whether it has a fairly good chance of ending in the apocalypse, they just want something to grab onto. It’s a risky strategy. We should be careful about putting our futures into the hands of anyone who believes anything too passionately. After all, history is just a list of times people believed in something too much and persuaded the rest of us to stand in a field shooting each other.

It looked for a time that French voters were contemplating sending us back to the trenches. The French election was a little like an amusement ride: we climbed on board terrified about what was about to happen, only to end up smiling and laughing, if a little concerned about what labour laws had been broken.

Still, the feeling abounds that we’ve celebrated the result too much. Marine Le Pen may have been defeated but the 34 per cent she secured was almost double the tally her father received in 2002. On these projections, by mid-century 140 per cent of French people will be far-right maniacs.

The election of Emmanuel Macron was a huge relief to everybody, especially everybody who isn’t French. He is part of a new generation of sophisticated, articulate and photogenic young leaders. When Emmanuel met Justin Trudeau even Nigel Farrage’s heart started pounding, or at least it would have were it not made from a curious mixture of stone, nationalist myth and Speckled Hen.

When Leo joins the ranks of world leaders, he could fit quite easily into Emmanuel and Justin’s photoshoots. The trio could pass, if not for a boyband, certainly a boyband reunion. Maybe that’s how they’ll finance national debt reductions.

While they are honing their dance routines, there are plenty of other elections out there for anyone suffering withdrawal symptoms.

Between June and December, thirteen elections will be held across Europe. At least nineteen others will be held further afield, and that’s not even counting Brazil where, owing to a cross-party commitment to get impeached on corruption charges within minutes of assuming office, voters are scheduled to go to the polls every second Thursday until at least 2025.

Of course, it won’t be long until our own lampposts are once again grinning with slogans about fiscal space. At least under Leo’s reign elections will have a novelty factor. Polls will open at 3am to reward the nation’s early risers. Given that polling stations will be located exclusively within the M50, this will be spun as an olive branch to the rural electorate.

There is a way to avoid this, of course. We have the opportunity to jump off this merry-go-round once and for all.

As well as a likely general election next year, 2018 will also see a Presidential election in Ireland. Michael D. should move swiftly to cancel both votes and, like the west of Ireland Erdogan we all want him to be, seize ultimate power. Who would object if El Presidente and the central command of Aosdána surrounded Dáil Éireann to rule over us with an iron fist and a copy of Soundings?

That would get my Number One.

Published in The Times, June 6, 2017.

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