The Wages of Discontent

Learning From History

Those were difficult times.

The People’s unhappiness and fear intensified as their economic situation stagnated and worsened, and they saw their hopes for the future shattered not only by their dwindling life opportunities, but also by the influx and sometimes prosperity of The Others, the foreigners. There was a growing sense that their country, burdened by excessive international obligations and recent war fiascos, was on the wrong track. It also faced external threats from The Enemy, whose menacing power was a nearly constant drum in daily news and political discussions and speeches.

As it is always the case in such trying times, The People yearned for a savior who materialized, not so much out of thin air, but from the always present class of such leaders ready for their chance: men (almost invariably) who promise to rescue The People and make their country and/or the world great again. The dying dreams of glory could be resurrected, fueled by righteous anger and a desire for renewal and purity in public and private lives.

The Leader ran on the platform of good old-fashioned values — faith, family, prosperity, freedom, and national pride — which resonated strongly with The People who saw themselves as increasingly dispossessed and disenfranchised, with their ways and traditions threatened in those uncertain times. Bold and charismatic, he spoke their language, not afraid to name The Others as the reason for The People’s misery and discontent. The People loved him. His words were simple and free of the complicated jargon of bureaucrats, which endeared his followers ever more to him. He told it like it was. There was no doubt in the minds of The People that this strong, decisive man was exactly what their country and the world needed.

Those who looked upon his rise to power with skepticism and fear, knowing that it spelled disaster, were ridiculed by the masses invigorated by The Leader’s message of revival and his promises of a great future for all. They were called wusses, cowards, or worse, traitors. Needless to say, they were unable to stop it.

The Leader, elected by his faithful majority, took the reins of power to great fanfare, followed by grand spectacles of national unity and strength, which continued for a long time, and as loudly as his revolutionary reforms were implemented in relative silence. His supporters felt prouder than ever. It made sense to them that certain sacrifices should be made to reclaim the country’s strength. (Although one was hard pressed to see those developments as sacrifices, given that they involved those others, the foreigners, and were designed to make their own nation great again.) That was the way to do it. That’s why they elected The Leader.

The rest was history.

Cartoon by Tom Toro from The New Yorker

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17 thoughts on “The Wages of Discontent

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