In politics, 2015 may well come to be known as the year of the outsider. We too often think of ourselves as the “only” Americans worth noting, but a look at recent political contests in rest of the Americas where outsiders unexpectedly won the day (or at least disrupted the usual political narrative) might prove instructive.
In politics, 2015 may well come to be known as the year of the outsider. Inconceivably, a businessman-turned-TV-reality star and a neurosurgeon are leading the Republican polls. Bernie Sanders — an elected official but still an outlier in his party — is mounting an improbably serious challenge on the Democratic side. The presidential election in 2016 could be an extraordinary contest between outsiders, or at least a contest between an outsider and an insider. And if it is, it would follow a recent trend in the Americas. We too often think of ourselves as the “only” Americans worth noting, but a look at recent political contests where outsiders unexpectedly won the day (or at least disrupted the usual political narrative) might prove instructive.
TV personality vs. former First Lady
In Sunday’s election in Guatemala, Jimmy Morales — a TV comedian running as a conservative candidate — trounced his opponent, former First Lady, Sandra Torres, whose proposed policies were moderate, and reform-centered. If the parallels between Trump and Hillary Clinton weren’t enough at first blush, Morales also faced accusations of being too ridiculous to be a real candidate, of inflammatory speech and racism during the electoral campaign. A video of him doing a comedy skit in blackface and a curly wig is genuinely wince-worthy in its implicit and explicit racism — as Trump’s stint as host of Saturday Night Live will undoubtedly be to many U.S. Latinos. Still, for the Guatemalan electorate, even a buffoonish right-winger proved more palatable than someone with a political history. Though neither Torres (nor her ex-husband, former president Álvaro Colom), are in any way implicated in the recent scandal that resulted in the president, the vice president and about a dozen cabinet members and public officials being criminally charged with corruption, they are, nevertheless, perceived as part of the political status quo and exactly what the Guatemalan electorate was voting against. “Guatemala has made a choice,” Morales said during his victory speech, “that it wants a change.”
Party loyalty is not enough
Moving from Central America to South America, Sunday’s election in Argentina is being understood as a repudiation (stunningly unexpected) of the Peronist party and of sitting president Cristina Fernandez de Kirschner. Though Kirschner’s welfare and social safety net programs have been popular with the working class in Argentina, her hand-picked successor, the presidential candidate Daniel Scioli, failed in his attempt to receive the majority of the vote. Instead, Mauricio Macri — the center-right candidate of the Cambiemos (Let’s Change) party — ran neck and neck with Scioli, and the final choice between the two will be decided in a run-off election. But worse, for the Peronist party machine, they lost the congressional majority, and Kirschner’s top ally and minister, Anibal Fernandez who was bidding to become governor of Buenos Aires province, was defeated. In its analysis, the BBC said that “Macri and his movement have tapped into a deep dissatisfaction that opinion polls and overconfident government ministers missed or ignored,” and Macri himself has characterized it as vote for change, effected via his appeal to independent and undecided voters.
Inside, but not an insider
In Canada, the Oct. 19 election traded Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his conservatives for new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his liberals. It was, by all accounts, an unexpected rout. Trudeau’s political bona fides were characterized by Harper and the conservatives during the campaign as “thin.” The son of former Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, the new Prime Minister (who is 43) was first elected to parliament in 2008 and has only helmed the Liberal party since 2013; before taking public office he worked mostly in youth advocacy and as a drama, French and math teacher. But Trudeau drew crowds. He placed himself and his party in clear counterpoint to Harper and the Conservatives, under the tagline “Real Change.” He decried the government’s handling of refugees; its combat mission as part of the coalition against ISIS; its attempts to ban the wearing of face veils known as niqabs during citizenship ceremonies; and its refusal to launch a national inquiry about missing and murdered First Nations women. Voters were galvanized. Aaron Paquette, an artist, author and First Nations advocate who was running for parliament in Northeast Edmonton (he was unsuccessful), described it like this: “People came out in droves to vote, there were line ups and conversations. People are once again engaged in the well being of their nation.” Federal estimates are that 68.5 percent of the nation voted.
North or South, right-wing or left-wing, the prevailing winds favor change. For us at AL DÍA it means a renewed understanding of the obligation we have, as a media organization, to encourage that change to be inclusive and representative of the electorate, rather than of the political machines of either party. This is the genesis of our participation in an unprecedented initiative called The Next Majority. We invite you to read about it here. And then, we invite you to be part — with us — of the sea change it represents.