On October 30, 2019, Chilean President Sebastián Piñera suddenly delivered a televised speech to announce the cancellation of the APEC summit and the climate conference to be held in the capital Santiago. Originally, the summit was to be attended by the leaders of the world’s major countries, being such a notable political event outside of the United Nations. China and the United States may even announce the first phase of their agreement to end the U.S.-China trade war during the summit.
The sudden cancellation of this high-profile summit has shocked the world. According to preliminary media statistics, the street protests in Chile have caused more than 30 deaths. This protest, triggered by the 4-cent price hike in the Chilean subway, involved more than 300,000 demonstrators who took to the streets at the height of the protests. In the current world, countries and regions that have undergone large-scale street protests similar to Chile’s are France, Spain, Hong Kong, Africa and Lebanon, among others.
Generally, people view such street protests and demonstrations from the perspective of populism, while some have a more conventional understanding that they are caused by the conflicts in the stratification of social class. For example, in the Chile protests, reports from some authoritative media focused on the dissatisfaction of problems among the Chileans, including high levels of social inequality, inadequate education funding, and high medical expenses.
The media pointed out that there are many demonstrators accusing the government authorities of providing services that are out of touch with their needs. The situation in the United States is similar. Social dissatisfactions focus on the anxiety of the middle class, heavy family debt, slow real income growth, the widening gap between the rich and the poor, regional poverty and differences, and the indecisiveness of major national policies. Wall Street too has become the target of attacks.
The conflicts between the 99% and 1% of the society are becoming increasingly controversial, while the bipartisan parliamentary politics is seriously out of touch with the concerns of the public. In fact, the accumulation of these social dissatisfactions has led Donald Trump to be elected as the President of the United States, to the dismay of the elite establishment politicians.
These problems do not just appear overnight, as many of them have existed for a long time. Social cleavage too has long been in existence, and Thomas Piketty’s work Capital in the Twenty-First Century has also confirmed these long-term phenomena. The world has long faced the same problem, but why is it now developing into a wave of social movements in various countries?
I have predicted and described the environmental characteristics of the future information society in my book Core of Information Analysis, published in 2010. I have also pointed out that “information is politics.” The WEB2.0 era has arrived, and it places a lot of focus on user interaction. Here, internet users are both consumers and creators of website content. The previous President of the United States Barack Obama was, in fact, the first “Internet President” of the country, and Trump’s later campaign strategies were subsequently adapted from those of Obama’s. Most of these views nine years ago have become today’s social reality. Whether it’s Facebook or Trump’s mastery of Twitter, it’s all the same.
In today’s world, political elites who do not understand the internet are still found all over the world, and they are self-proclaimed “establishmentalists” to separate themselves from populist political leaders like Trump. These political elites are accustomed to sticking to the political model that they are used to. They emphasize their counterparts’ dignity and conduct private political transactions. They deliver their speeches according to what is written, and they have mutually beneficial cooperation with several official “authoritative media” outlets. In addition, they have political routines and support framework protected by the law. Such is the classical “gentleman” image of these “establishmentalists”.
Albert Arnold Gore Jr. was such an example in the United States. When Gore and George W. Bush fiercely competed for the presidential election, a lawsuit was waged the Supreme Court, and Gore failed. After he heard the news of the verdict, he immediately took out his mobile phone and sent a message to his team that no one should attack the Supreme Court. Gore is a classic “establishmentalist” politician, but today that spirit is clearly dated.
The popularity of the internet has greatly shortened the transmission distance of information in society. No matter true or false, anyone can release a huge amount of information, therefore noises are everywhere. The transmission of individual voices is no longer effectively restricted by traditional media, law, power, culture, religion and other barriers.
It has unprecedented penetrative power. Internet technology too continues to innovate and provide new and attractive platforms and tools. In addition to the internet, there are also darknet, blockchains, and more new virtual spaces. Everyone’s voice, consciousness, claims, ideas, concepts, data, and so-called “truth” are transmitted in the form of information. They are ubiquitous and constantly being magnified, without ever disappearing.
I have previously pointed out that in today’s world the politicians who do not use Twitter are not good politicians. It seems that this statement is proven in the fact that none of the Democratic Party’s political elites used Twitter. They were at a disadvantage in the competition with the Republican Party, and it was difficult to find a Democrat politician who was competitive enough. This phenomenon is by no means accidental.
As “establishmentalists”, although their political opinions may be different, they are still elites of the same faction. Their social communication model is already outdated, and they must seek to transit their model. Otherwise, it may be difficult for anyone to be willing to listen to their voices. While it is undeniable that many have a dislike for Trump, but that does not mean people are willing to accept the old-fashioned “establishmentalists” because they fail to understand the society and are unable to solve social problems.
This transition of the model is not a theoretical issue. The people’s disappointment with the current theories of classical politics and economics has reached an unprecedented level. This is one of the roots of the rise of populism. Therefore, this transition of the model is only a problem of social behavioural patterns caused by the development of internet technologies. The protests in Chile were caused by the 4-cent price increase of the subway. In the end, demonstrations were initiated by the students of Santiago and finally developed into a large-scale protest involving the whole nation.
The Chilean political leader can only make some speeches on the TV stations and use the military to maintain order. This is a classic reaction of the established elites. Such a reaction is not only old-fashioned but is also outdated and does not bring any result except for more deaths. Needless to say, this will fail to win the respect and trust of society. This is precisely why the protests and demonstrations in Chile have not reduced, but have rather been increasing.
Final analysis conclusion：
Things are changing rapidly. Now is the era where political concepts submerge and information becomes increasingly integrated. The internet has made society more interactive and the traditional system of established elites cannot adapt to this change. They are not only incapable of solving problems, but even worse at explaining problems, this is enough to irritate the people. In conclusion, I believe that the future generation of established political elites can only come from politicians who are skilled in controlling the internet and social media.
Founder of Anbound Think Tank in 1993, Chen Gong is now ANBOUND Chief Researcher. Chen Gong is one of China’s renowned experts in information analysis. Most of Chen Gong’s outstanding academic research activities are in economic information analysis, particularly in the area of public policy.