Complacency and decline

The problem with letting people stay in power for too long.

With most of the Western world living under democracies, it would seem that people would be represented better than ever in those democracies, but instead, we’re seeing more political disconnection between governments and people. Why?

In the United States, possibly the most overanalysed democratic system by virtue of being the most well-known, the political system has been in a spiral of deadlock and decay for many years, and a lot of it may be down to the fact that people are simply in power for too long, and not for the better.

In 1973, Joe Biden was the 6th youngest senator in US history, but 50 years in politics later, it seems like Biden has grown too comfortable in power. While experience is valuable, it seems Biden’s years of following general trends and playing the game have led to him having such a lacklustre presidency.

While this doesn’t make Biden a bad leader, it does mean he often leaves a lot of people disappointed, especially the people who voted for him. When Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, it felt almost like a betrayal that Biden had done little to protect abortion rights, and his response to two executive orders aimed at protecting some rights felt even worse as he didn’t sign an order to protect them.

While Biden can be criticised on this, it’s also important to look at the cause of abortion rights being lost, the Supreme Court. An appointment to the Supreme Court is for life, meaning that judges don’t need to retire. This has led to judges from one ideology being in power while the other ideology is in office.

And while Trump’s three nominations did tip the balance towards the Republicans in the Supreme Court, it’s important to note that George W. Bush and George H.W. Bush had nominees in the court, and the Chief Justice was even nominated by Bush jr. This has led to the court being controlled by conservatives, as moderate justices retired during the Trump presidency.

The gap was only made worse by the death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Ginsburg was 77 in 2010 when she became the oldest Justice, and many Democrats urged for her to retire so that a liberal successor could be nominated under the Obama presidency, which she refused to do, claiming that a filibuster would prevent such a successor ascending to the court, instead dying in 2020, at the tail end of the Trump presidency, with Amy Comey Barret replacing her as yet another Conservative justice.

All this really speaks to is how fundamentally flawed the Supreme Court is, as the life appointments lead to the disconnection of the Supreme Court from the people, with the decision to overturn Roe v. Wade being disapproved of by 55% to 60% of the public, as well as several major protests which are still ongoing.

In 2021, the Average age of a US Senator was 64, and Senators under 40 are almost non-existent as the length of their terms grows longer and longer. While you could argue this illustrates that the leaders are trusted, this also shows the significant generational divide between the leadership and the population, leading to the US being called a Gerontocracy, or rule by the elderly, something only intensified by the last two Presidents being over 70 years old.

The cause of this is not that Americans elect old people, but more keep electing the same person until they’re old. Most of the Americans featured so far are from the Baby Boomers generation, a generation that has dominated politics in the Western world almost since coming of age, with their interests often being reflected. However, as more and more of them come into their old age, the political climate may be shifting toward the younger generations.

To focus on this as though it’s just individuals who get complacent in their own place is reductive, as it can also affect entire political parties.

The Conservative Party, to its credit, has managed to keep itself a political force by being pragmatic with its situation. In the 1950s and 1960s, it tolerated the Socialist policies of the previous Labour government in order to stay in power and enacted policies which have caused problems within the membership such as joining the EEC, the predecessor to the EU, under Edward Heath.

However, since taking power in 2010, and with several victories under their belt such as the Unionist victory in the Scottish Independence Vote and exceeding the leadership’s expectations in the results of the 2015 general election, the Conservatives seemed to have begun a decline.

Almost unavoidable when discussing the current Conservatives, Brexit has undeniably affected the Conservatives, for much worse. After years of talking about it and suffering a defeat in the European Parliamentary elections in 2014, coming third under Labour and UKIP, the 2016 Brexit referendum resulted in Britain voting to leave the EU by 51.9%, as well as giving the Conservatives a major challenge.

When David Cameron, the party’s leader, stepped down, major figures in the party who became more visible during the referendum’s prelude began trying to gain support for themselves, and going into the leadership election it seemed as though the Conservatives weren’t in the best shape possible. However, it seemed as though things would be weathered, as when Theresa May, someone relatively detached from the referendum was elected the Conservatives seemed to have picked a confident and motivated leader who had experience.

However, after being criticised for not having clear motivations or goals, the 2017 election ended with a hung parliament, as well as a deal with the DUP, a Northern Irish party. This would lead to a failure to pass the withdrawal agreement in 2019 that May had proposed due to divisions within the Conservative party, and May’s resignation.

Suddenly however, the Conservatives’ luck turned, with the election of the at the time popular Boris Johnson by a landslide of 80 seats and allowing Johnson to pass his withdrawal agreement with the EU, allowing the UK to leave the EU in 2020. All in all, it looked like the Conservatives had made it out of the mess they made once again, that was at least before a global pandemic.

Johnson would face many problems during his premiership, mostly because of him, such as not attending briefings during the early stages of the pandemic and not enacting a lockdown early enough. It would be unfair to not mention his cabinet, who also gave him some problems, like Dominic Cummings taking a trip to Durham with his family in the middle of a lockdown, or the Partygate fiasco that sealed his fate.

As Johnson resigned in shame, the Conservatives elected Liz Truss, another mistake. As she crashed the economy, all the effects of over a decade of Conservative rule had led to a cost-of-living crisis and disastrous policy launches such as the mini-budget. As Truss and now Sunak has struggled to manage the cost-of-living crisis their party created, their focus on social policy hasn’t been successful in giving them the ability to distract the population from the lack of success in their economic policies.                                                                                             

But what can we take away from this? Really, it’s that nothing should hold power for too long, as it only creates disconnection from the public and concern about remaining in power rather than a pragmatic government with the people’s best interests in mind. Also, it’s really boring to see the same person in the news over and over again.

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