Or should I say, I’m so sorry, England and Wales? Because it looks like you’re going to have to drop that “United” stuff soon. You might also want to reconsider that “Great” prefixing “Britain”. Brexit won their referendum. The UK is going to begin the process of breaking from the EU. Stock markets are reacting with shock. The people who despise Nigel Farage are also shocked. Other countries in Europe are dismayed.
I’m afraid I see it in terms of what’s going on in the US today, and that worries me. Gary Younge’s take on the vote is informative. He talks about the incompetence of the Remain campaign, and how it was oblivious to the concerns of the people and set itself aside as the smart people who know better than you do, and never made a good case for remaining in the EU. And then he tears into the Leave campaigners.
It is a banal axiom to insist that “it’s not racist to talk about immigration”. It’s not racist to talk about black people, Jews or Muslims either. The issue is not whether you talk about them but how you talk about them and whether they ever get a chance to talk for themselves. When you dehumanise immigrants, using vile imagery and language, scapegoating them for a nation’s ills and targeting them as job-stealing interlopers, you stoke prejudice and foment hatred.
The chutzpah with which the Tory right – the very people who had pioneered austerity, damaging jobs, services and communities – blamed immigrants for the lack of resources was breathtaking. The mendacity with which a section of the press fanned those flames was nauseating. The pusillanimity of the remain campaign’s failure to counter these claims was indefensible.
Not everyone, or even most, of the people who voted leave were driven by racism. But the leave campaign imbued racists with a confidence they have not enjoyed for many decades and poured arsenic into the water supply of our national conversation.
In this atmosphere of racial animus and class contempt, political dislocation and electoral opportunism, the space for the arguments we need to have about immigration, democracy, and austerity simply did not exist. Our politics failed us. And since it is our politics only we can fix it.
I see this same dynamic playing out here in the US. The almost-successful Sanders campaign tells us there’s a huge part of the electorate that wants change from politics as usual, and yet the Democrats have anointed a moderate conservative, status quo candidate. Will Clinton actually respond to that productively? Will she make changes in party policy that will appeal to that broad swathe of the country that wants a more progressive government? She could end up the David Cameron of America.
Younge’s description above also fits the Trump campaign. The know-nothings are always a force to be reckoned with in this country, and if Brexit could win, could Trump rally the same forces to win here? That’s possible (but unlikely, we say, although everyone was saying Brexit was unlikely, too), but one way it could happen is if the Democrats try to take an uninspiring middle course.
What do I mean, “if”? The Democrats always take the path of trying to avoid offending anyone, and thereby end up pissing everyone off.
The world’s a somewhat scarier place this morning. I hope my country doesn’t end up contributing even more to the fear.