By now it should be clear the Brexit referendum was engineered by and wasdue to a split in the Conservative Party. They never expected Brexit to win and are now backtracking as fast as possible. Brexit was a deeply cynical ploy and its leaders there, like Trump here, care not at all for the shafted middle and working class people they pretend to champion.
Sadly, the left was mostly asleep in Britain. Liberals both there and here are uncomprehending and mostly contemptuous of those supposed illiterates in fly-over areas who bizarrely just aren’t listening to their urban betters mansplain things to them.
One reason for the success of the populist Right is that this debate was one structured as an argument within the Right, from the beginning. It is odd that in a debate where Remain clearly needed the Left in order to win the debate, that the Left was so utterly absent. That is in part due to the Left’s own inherited weaknesses and blind-spots. Most of the Left has unenthusiastically backed Europe for years, as a last-ditch defence against the British ruling class, but such a lack of enthusiasm was never going to translate into a rowdy call to the battle stations.
The problem at heart is the 2008 financial collapse is still a collapse for far too many. They haven’t recovered.
Both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very, wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for thirty years.
Since the 1980s the elites in rich countries have overplayed their hand, taking all the gains for themselves and just covering their ears when anyone else talks, and now they are watching in horror as voters revolt. It seems in both cases (Trumpism and Brexit), many voters are motivated not so much by whether they think the projects will actually work, but more by their desire to say FUCK YOU to people like me (and probably you).
The leaders of these movements (Trumpstick, Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage) have acted cynically for their own benefit. They’ve been willing to stir division and nationalism. And some of their supporters are real racists. The only solution for that small minority is to be crushed and thrown into the dustbin of history. But I refuse to believe this is the case for the larger group of supporters, that is, half of the UK or almost half of the US. They have some legitimate concerns, and the only outlet to vent they were offered was a terrible one.
The current crisis of authority is due quite a lot to a greedy monied class that cares not a whit about anything except amassing more money.
As Chris Hayes warned in his 2012 book Twilight of the Elites, “Given both the scope and depth of this distrust [in elite institutions], it’s clear that we’re in the midst of something far grander and more perilous than just a crisis of government or a crisis of capitalism. We are in the midst of a broad and devastating crisis of authority.”
It’s natural — and inevitable — that malignant figures will try to exploit this vacuum of authority. All sorts of demagogues and extremists will try to re-direct mass anger for their own ends