Last year Guatemala - widely considered an ‘immature’ democracy - presented its citizens with a two candidate choice remarkably similar to that which citizens of the USA were confronted with this week: between an inexperienced television clown and the ex-wife of a previous incumbent
The clown presented himself as the walking embodiment of some sort of solution to the country’s political malaise. Other than the fact that she would have been the nation’s first female President, his opponent represented continuity, though for some she was also the corrupt walking embodiment of the malaise.
The clown was duly victorious and wasted no time in demonstrating an almost complete inaptitude for government. Many citizens, including those who had voted for him, were soon joining street protests repudiating their choice, largely on the basis that it had not really been any kind a real democratic choice at all. The malaise had become a vacuum.
In effect one man had exploited a breakdown of enthusiasm for politicians and public institutions, using a populist platform to take advantage of the fact that many could not bring themselves to repeat the tried and (formerly-)trusted formulas.
This week Donald Trump was ‘swept’ to power by 25.6% of eligible American voters. Many of these will have had reservations about their candidate as a statesman, as a human being even, but will have wanted to deliver a big kick in the goolies to the system.
Yet arguably, the even more substantial protest was articulated by the almost 50% of eligible voters who just decided not to.
So yes, this is a failure of democracy, and not because it delivered a result that people who watch The Daily Show are profoundly anguished about, but because it demonstrates clearly that the process of democratic maturation in the developed world is not as inevitably one-directional as the arrow of time.