SYRIZA and Independent Greeks grew strong in a climate of unbridled, insatiable rage against the “mainstream parties,” undermining every effort to fix the unfixable in the economy. This anger united the two parties from the fringes of the left and right and brought them to power without their having to deal with obstacles such as ideological differences. Why bother, when the glue that brought them together was so strong?
They knew that the harder they attacked the “system” that the majority of voters had already rejected, the more influence they would gain. Their basic ideology was “others are to blame.” So the louder they shouted, the more attractive they were to each other. Drunk on their own promises, why worry about the day after?
The formula was old and it always worked. Most opposition parties based their tactics on making the government’s life unlivable. When the country hit the wall, when a united, national effort was the only way out, the easy rhetoric intensified, sabotaging any effort at consensus. Alexis Tsipras’s haste to force national elections in 2015, presenting himself as a new Moses whose presence in government alone would be enough to lead his people to the land of plenty (in other words, back to the years before the memorandums), had the desired effect.
The people followed him, only to find themselves wandering in the same desert as before. Today Tsipras is in the difficult position in which he put other governments. He, his governing partner and their deputies are under fire for agreeing to a new memorandum with creditors, for doing that for which they poured scorn on others. The opposition parties, the news media and social media snarks are making a feast of this humiliation, mocking government MPs as wedded to their parliamentary seats.
The difference today is that although the opposition parties have every right to exact revenge on government MPs, the country does not have the luxury of more time to waste. Of course, it is difficult to expect the opposition to, in effect, reward the irresponsibility and lies that got SYRIZA and Independent Greeks to this point. We have learned that populism can be defeated only with worse populism. But now that we see the dead end of cynicism, perhaps something will change. Maybe more voters will understand the perils of false promises.
Maybe those who cultivate tension in politics come to understand the dangers that they themselves will face. Maybe responsible politicians from across the spectrum will wake up to the fact that they must not fear difficult decisions and consensus: that in the end it is better to fall fighting for what is right than to hide behind the customary inertia. Perhaps this could be the best legacy to hope for from this government.