It’s not difficult to connect the dots between Donald Trump’s election victory and Britain’s vote to leave the EU in June. Both results defied the odds in a fashion quite like no other. Both contests revealed a revulsion for a political elite viewed as introverted and out-of-touch. Critical to both victories was a seismic populist storm which shook the establishment. It was welcome yet alarming, needed yet vulgar.
Freed from political correctness, some Trump supporters and proponents of Brexit lost all sense of proportion. The populist wave rampaged past the tools of the rational; namely, reason and fact and embarked on an emotional storm which wasn’t going to be thwarted by anyone or anything. Inconvenient truths were discarded into the same wastebin as rejected arguments. In the place of reflective debate came a highly paranoid, emotional, oftentimes sinister and above all angry discourse.
The advocation for mainstream anti-establishment politics is profoundly justified and such a retort to an elite which has long been indifferent to the struggles of the middle and lower classes is long overdue. Nonetheless, what was most deplorable about this furious mob was their apparent unsusceptibility to the consideration of an alternative point of view and their arbitrary rejection of these views without addressing or quashing its content. This immunity to refutation isn’t so much a logical constipation as a total abandonment of rationale in debate and as a stimulation of belief.
Michael Gove’s risible dismissal of experts during the referendum campaign and the widespread denunciation of any and all recommendations to vote to remain within the EU, whether from business or world leaders, ushered us all into a dangerous post-truth world.
The very people previously smeared with pathologies and labels such as ‘xenophobe’ and ‘racist’ for voicing legitimate concerns about mass immigration into the UK engaged in an equally unfair denouncement of those verbalising their belief that Britain should remain in the EU. And as with the liberal muffling of the immigration debate, the Trump/Brexit mob had their own tactics to stifle the conversation regarding the EU.
Unfortunately it continues. The judges who stipulated that the House of Commons must have a say on the Brexit process were appallingly belittled as biased. Leave.EU criticised them as ‘unelected’ whilst Nigel Farage called for a counter pro-Brexit march.
In the US, Kellyanne Conway, a senior adviser to Donald Trump, infamously declared that the administration was presenting ‘alternative facts’ in the media row about the crowd size at Trump’s inauguration, essentially declaring that new ‘facts’ can be engineered when genuine facts threatening to undermine are raised. Populist movements are destined to have an uneasy relationship with the media; a platform of varying ideas and opinions.
In conjunction with or perhaps the cause of this allergy to balanced reasonableness was an unfettered and palpable fury. And therein lies the danger. Some of the most heinous crimes in modern history – most notably the Holocaust – were the results of similar populist uprisings where a common sense of fury (combined with a starry-eyed utopianism) knew no limit.
And what of those leading these revolts? Populism is the terrain of demagogues. Where the mob are whipped into a maddening frenzy by inspiring and oftentimes blood-curdling speeches decrying the failures of the past and a commitment to a rectification for the future. With exhaustion at the painfully predictable soundbites of mainstream politicians, the angry, non-conformist rantings of Trump were instantly conspicuous and were swiftly gobbled up.
In Britain, it was somewhat different. Nigel Farage aside, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove engaged in another brand of rousing oratory. It was dreamy and idealistic, encouraging and buoyant. It was positive and polite demagoguery.
We Brexiteers must finally speak out against this sinister phenomenon. Not just for our failure to voice our disapproval at shady statistics and assertions by some in the leave camp during the campaign (regardless of similar levels of dishonesty transmitted by the remain camp). But for our failure in condemning a culture of sentimental irrationality, untamed indignation and crass language and behaviour intended to offend and provoke.
We Brexiteers are responsible to ensure that the Brexit process is represented rationally and sensibly. More importantly, we have a crucial role to play in promoting constructive debate where reasoned impartiality is championed above oftentimes harmful emotional impulse. It is precisely because we are on the Brexit side of the argument that our voices are so crucial in the attempt to weather the populist storm.
This is not to condemn the vote to leave the EU as illegitimate, however. Many would have voted to leave the EU regardless of the potentially dubious nature of some of the figures transmitted by the Vote Leave campaign such as the alleged £350 million disbursed to Brussels weekly.
Trump’s victory in the US election should finally put to bed the preposterous notion that those who voted to leave the EU did so out of either ignorance or of racist and xenophobic urges. Trump’s explicit campaign rhetoric made it unambiguous to the voter what exactly they were voting for. In addition, to classify the tens of millions of people who voted for Trump as racist or xenophobic is a claim so ludicrous it hardly requires rebutting.
Yet the democratically apathetic Europhiles persist. Ed Miliband affirmed that Trump’s victory displayed the ‘sickness of the nation’. Brexit-wise, many MP’s, across a selection of parties, voted against legislation proposing the triggering of Article 50 without the promise of a second referendum. As long as this attempt to insidiously undermine democracy goes on, with the insistence that the decision of the masses is invalid, one can only expect more vitriolic populist surges to arise as their opposition.