In a period of historic change such as this, political time speeds up and the workings of political exchanges take on greater clarity. In Greece’s daily political grind, in the runup to the British referendum on EU membership, in the US presidential elections we see that instead of credible analysis of events and consensus in seeking solutions, events are swayed by false dilemmas which preclude the correct handling of challenges.
On the one side stand those who, like Margaret Thatcher, proclaim “There is no alternative” (TINA), on the other, equally adamant, is the “Anything but this” (ABT) camp. On the surface, the two seem to have nothing in common, as they express completely different mind-sets. At a deeper level, however, we see that the one thing they have in common is that proponents of both camps see no problem in appropriating each others’ positions.
In Greece, the sum of the groups opposed to the bailout, along with a general rejection of “the system” is a clear declaration of “Anything but this.” The dynamics of protest brought SYRIZA to power, where the formerly fringe party flirted with radical changes to Greece’s course, risking exit from the eurozone, before suddenly expropriating the TINA camp’s argument. Now it is New Democracy and other forces which traditionally argued that there was no alternative to keeping Greece in the eurozone (and which paid the cost for it) which have swung toward ABT. They argue that the SYRIZA-Independent Greeks government has to go before it causes more damage. The political conflict is played out on the axis between TINA and ABT while protagonists change positions at will.
In Britain, crusaders for Brexit exaggerate the problems of today’s Europe and overstate the benefits of “independence,” pushing the “Anything but this” line. What would follow an exit does not concern them much, as long as they win the argument by exploiting the various (often very different) sources of discontent with the status quo that exist in every country. Supporters of remaining in the EU have more arguments in their favor and also claim that there is no alternative to running with the flow in Europe so as to be able to avert any developments that could harm Britain. At the core of their argument is fear of the unknown, whereas Brexit’s fans embrace the unknown as something better than the present.
Trapped in simplistic opinions which preclude consensus and compromise, politics are driven to primitive polarization. The only winners are the “strong men” with their simplistic message. People like Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Vladimir Putin and others who project themselves as their voters’ only choice. With false dilemmas, with wrong choices, nations are in peril. And so is humanity itself.