Current events part 1: Who speaks for a nation?

It’s easy to say that “Israel does this” and “Hamas does that”, “Azerbaijan wants this” or “Armenia wants that.” But of course, countries don’t have wills of their own, only people do. So who are we talking about? Leadership and their supporters, of course. It’s a pyramid of folks, the leaders at the top whose names we might know, their cadre of supporters, the military leaders whose names we wouldn’t know but whose support is crucial, their oligarchs whose funds back them.

In a more authoritarian regime, that pyramid may be short and narrow. Even in an brutal dictatorship or absolute monarchy, it’s never just one person deciding things, though that is a convenient way to think about it. Idi Amin, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman al Saud, Vladimir Putin, they all need support from someone, though if they manage things well, that will be as few people as possible. For instance, Russian oligarchs depend on Putin more than he depends on them. How does he manage this? I don’t know, but I’ll bet it has something to do with Polonium and windows.

However they work it, they only need passive acquiescence from the public at large and don’t have to be too worried about popular discontent… unless it reaches mass riot proportions. And even then, a sufficiently well-paid police and army can quell that.

In a more representative government, that pyramid of folks who determine the personality and will of a nation will be wider and deeper and include more of the population. Certainly not all of it, though, since more than half of the voting public will likely be opposed or indifferent to it. In the USA, we famously can have rule by minority, thanks to the Senate and gerrymandering. In Florida, for instance, I think Democrats could win well over half the vote and still not control the legislature. I don’t know the number… seem to remember 70%.

And of course, there are a lot of people who are just not interested who don’t vote and don’t participate. Used to be, pre-Reagan, that the Christian Evangelical population did not participate much. Reagan’s support team noticed that and figured out how to involve them: tell stories from the Christian Evangelical point of view, use the right signal words, flatter them, and involve them at the highest levels. It worked well. Nixon’s team famously flipped the Dixiecrats over the GOP side the same way: agree with their story of America, blame and harass Blacks, and so on as is well known. Trump followed up by involving the disaffected — famously, people who had never seen politics as serving them (while often, paradoxically, on various forms of government support), by using brutal language and pumping fear and a kind of mean humor. That worked too, but that is a fairly small tranche of the electorate; though enough in a close race, when added to mainstream Republicans.

So that pyramid of people who create the nation’s personality and will to action can be manipulated, and one of the most important tasks of a ruling group is to do so to their own advantage. Sometimes they fail and lose power, sometimes they fail and are forced to submit their own will to that of their supporters. Rival groups (such as parties) work hard to shape that pyramid to benefit themselves.

Either way, there will be citizens who have no input into the country’s actions and others who do, to a greater or lesser degree.

So you can say, legitimately, that (for example) extremists don’t speak for all citizens. Sure, but of course the opposite is true too — sensible centrists don’t speak for all citizens either. Those who wish to find a peaceful accommodation don’t speak for all citizens. There are many citizens, obviously many young men, who prefer action, danger, and risk to peace and prosperity. So much more exciting.

And it’s also true that very busy people generally don’t participate as much in politics. If you’re a farmer with many children, you won’t have the time to show up at town meetings. Those with time on their hands control the levers of power; anyone who’s ever lived in a co-op or a condo knows this. Or been on a school board.