A fractured society

For days now journalistic commentary has gone round and round about Spain’s failed investiture and its aftermath. The smallest of details have been discussed: what they said to each other, the looks they exchanged, what faces the MPs made ... Apparently, everything depends on whether they make a good impression or not, or who is more or less skilled at drawing the others into their own terrain. How come after Franco’s death and during the political Transition people who came from such diverse positions were able to reach an agreement, but now they can't? Are today’s politicians worse than those of forty years ago?

The information that we get about politics tends to trivialize it, to turn it into a type of random game in which everything depends on very secondary factors of a personal nature. Making the link between class interests and political options disappear has been one of the most constant operations in recent years: governments and media have worked hard to make us believe that, in effect, the results of an election depend on the color of a tie or a poorly-shaved beard, following the American example. In the end, what does it matter? If politicians end up being puppets that look alike, if “they are all the same", as we have heard people say so often, we can blame them for any harm suffered by society.

At this moment, the impossibility of an agreement between Spain’s political parties does not stem from these minor aspects, although in some cases they can have an influence. It comes from another, much more serious, fact: we are living in a fractured society which is experiencing a splintering process; and not only is the distance between us not shortening, it's becoming greater with every day that goes by. Where there used to be a certain cohesion, enough for a broad majority of the population to accept the common rules emerging from the Transition, there have now appeared cracks, breaks, and deep ruptures. All the data that have been generated lately show that in the 1980s and 1990s inequality decreased somewhat. It's not that wealth was distributed any better --the rich remained rich. But growing productivity allowed for some of the wealth to be spread among the middle and the working class, a development which softened the blow of great inequality, to an extent that it appeared that social classes had disappeared. It was a process of convergence. Indeed, the differences continued to be enormous, but on the whole, everyone progressed. This is the fundamental element for social cohesion, which is not to say that everyone thinks alike, but that the majority are okay with the way things are going, because they see a path of progress.

Roughly at the start of this century, the trend reversed and inequalities began to grow again, first slowly, later in an accelerated fashion. Discontentment grew, not because most people had stopped progressing, but rather because many had lost the minimum conditions that allowed them to live with dignity. How can cohesion be maintained under these conditions, when the government no longer insures either the fundamental rights to housing or to work, when people’s standards of living are diverging more every day, in contrast to what happened during the Transition, when —for the first time since the Spanish Civil War— diverse sectors converged? In Spain the 1977 Moncloa Pacts allowed for an agreement between the upper-middle class and the working class: let us modify the working conditions and put crippling strikes behind us, to put it simply. Everybody won, so of course they came together. Now we are at the other extreme: a capitalist class that doesn't stop for anything, because it no longer plays on a national level, but rather a trans-national one; and middle and working classes without the ability to demand anything, because unemployment completely weakens them --if you don't like, it we can find a hundred who will do your job. It's not that nobody wants to compromise: it's that the forces are totally unequal, and the powers-that-be don't make the slightest concession, they're playing hardball. But despite the ideological hegemony that they've achieved, the discontent can no longer be concealed, and we should be thankful that new political parties have arisen to express it. Under these conditions, a solid political agreement that could rebuild a consensus is simply impossible. And what we see, the only thing that will probably grow, is the gap between the positions and the objectives, both of economic and territorial nature, as we are experiencing at present.

Both sociology and political science have studied these situations thoroughly. When a parliament can no longer reach agreements, democracy has failed. Even what happens there is a direct example of this deep disagreement, of the impossibility of an understanding: shouting, slurs, quarrels -- the parliament has become a kind of street market incapable of maintaining the norms of behavior. When they can't agree with their adversaries because there is not even minimal common ground, they resort to caricatures, disavowals, accusations of being anti-democratic ... all because someone has broken the rules of the game, and the very legitimacy of certain parties or political positions is being put into question.

In the past these situations were resolved by imposing an exceptional regime; there were military coups. Now that we are a part of the European Union, a military coup is out of the question, but other forms of exceptional states are not --a technocratic government, imposed from above and outside of the parliament, is a form of exceptional state, a way of giving in to the parties and the interests they represent. It is a path that leaves the hands of the powerful much freer to impose their interests, and a way of silencing the people, because now they don't have even the feeble instrument of political parties to make their voices heard. Is this where we're headed? Everything makes me think so, given that the PSOE is unable to adopt a leftist position and try for an alternative government that could begin an authentic democratic regeneration, which would allow us to rediscover the road to cohesion. 

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