by Larry Smith
American presidential candidate Hillary Clinton had to apologise recently for calling some of her opponent’s supporters “deplorable”, meaning they are racist, sexist, homophobic or xenophobic.
In fairness, she did add that many Trump supporters were desperate for change because they felt let down by the system. Still, it is never a good idea for candidates to denigrate voters during an election campaign.
Just think back to the 2012 Republican nominee’s comment that 47 per cent of voters who take government handouts would support Barack Obama “no matter what”. Mitt Romney effectively wrote off half the American electorate with that comment.
And of course, we are all familiar with Donald Trump’s persistent alienation of non-white voters. These voters are an increasingly important factor in American presidential elections, but Trump has focused more on exploiting the anger and vitriol of the white working class.
According to well-known geopolitical analyst George Friedman, white workers have become a disaffected group in the United States - due largely to the collapse of their living standards, combined with the changing values of a more diverse society.
They see the political elite as near criminal and entirely incompetent, with politicians saying whatever they need to say, while ignoring the problems that affect those earning below the median income level.
These lower middle class Americans are increasingly unable to live the life they could have expected a generation ago, which breeds resentment. And things are similar in Europe, where the governing elites seem oblivious to the rising potential for social and political upheaval.
"When those who have skills and are prepared to work can’t get a job that will allow their families to live reasonably well, this is a problem,” Friedman says. "When vast numbers of people are entering this condition, this is a crisis. When there is a crisis, these people will turn to politicians who speak to them and give them hope.”
The general facts on rising inequality are clear. The world’s richest 1 per cent now own more than the rest of us combined. Power is being used to skew the economic system to increase the gap between the richest and the rest.
As French analyst Philippe Maze-Sencier wrote, people are worried: “Their world is in turmoil, their children’s future suddenly uncertain, their way of living under threat. The perceived impotence of traditional parties (has) contributed to making...hard-right populist movements acceptable if not mainstream."
I would argue that there are clear parallels to this trend in the Bahamas, but we have yet to see the rise of a populist leader who can skilfully exploit the fears and resentments of the masses to effectively attack the status quo.
Many Bahamians view our political parties as bands of brothers organised to protect special interests and avert any serious change. They hold all the cards, promote their own bipartisan interests, restrain attempts at serious reform, and trample on the rights of ordinary people.
Indeed, Friedman’s description of white working class anger in the US could easily be applied to the black working class in the Bahamas: "They see the political elite as near criminal and entirely incompetent, with politicians saying whatever they need to say."
Of course, politicians are not the only members of the governing elite. Important businessmen, wealthy lawyers, doctors and financiers, high-level civil servants, and union leaders are able to exert significant influence over government decisions.
To avoid political and social upheaval, our leaders need to focus on ways to create a better life for most people. This means economic growth and jobs, especially for youth. We have far too much political gamesmanship, lack of accountability, and gravy train corruption - and too little effort to make things better.
Take tourism, for example. It is our biggest economic driver, but we are not growing, adapting or improving this industry. We take it for granted, but the cultural product we market to visitors has deteriorated. And there are no more hotel beds being occupied today than there were a generation ago.
The inevitable result is structural high unemployment. But what is the cause? Is it our inflexible labour markets, where unions regularly threaten to shut the country down? Is it bureaucratic inertia? Is it a lack of private investment? Is it political rent-seeking, corruption and nepotism? Is it because growth and development do not benefit those in control?
Probably a combination of all these factors. But one thing is clear - if we do not find a way to move things forward, reduce our inefficiencies, reform our institutions, and dramatically improve the lives of a majority of our citizens, at some point we could be facing a failed state.