These four articles try to make sense of the Brexit-Trump phenomenon.
Farage is starting to sound like Trump
[This article originally appeared in The London Economic, Mar 17 2016]
Nigel Farage dominated Tuesday’s EU referendum debate. Some of us booed him, but that didn’t stop him getting massive applause.
“Obama is the most anti-British president America has ever had,” was met with cheers from the audience.
“In Brussels,” he continued, “they’re hell-bent on building a European army.”
At this point Nick Clegg intervened, raising his voice to be heard over the crowd,
“The much bigger danger than this fantasy fear of a European army is Vladimir Putin. What does Vladimir Putin want?”
This is where Nigel Farage took a deep breath, his eyes rolled back into his head, and he morphed into Tiny Trump:
“Stop lying. Stop lying to people about this. You lied in fourteen, and you’re lying again. They want a European army, and that’s a fact.”
A few minutes later, when Tiny Trump was invited to speak again, he opened with this:
“Well once again Nick is telling you a complete pack of lies about Norway and their deal. But he’s good at that. He’s done it for a living, for years. [applause] What I would say, I mean. We’re being told – Wouldn’t it be dreadful to be like Norway? How ghastly. Can you imagine being rich? And independent? And happy?”
These are the sort of short and punchy accusations you will recognise if you listen to Donald Trump. Here is an example of Donald in action:
“This guy’s a liar. You have a combination of factors. He can’t do it for obvious reasons, and he can’t do it, because he doesn’t know how to tell the truth.”
This style of speech – with its short, sharp, combative soundbites – is difficult to transcribe. It’s the way people talk when they’re angry, and people tend to be incoherent when they’re angry.
And that, I think, is your simple answer to why people are flocking to America’s Donald Trump and our Tiny Trump. People are angry, and they want to hear people voicing this anger, not politicians explaining things.
A friend and I loitered after the debate to watch the politicians sign letters and pose for selfies. As Tiny Trump was escorted by his henchmen into a big black Land Rover, I turned to a passer-by and said, “check it out, it’s Nigel Farage”.
Their reaction? “Ah great man, great man. The only man up for the job.”
This is not something a lot of us – Guardian readers, London Economic readers – want to hear. It makes us feel uncomfortable.
But we need to start taking Tiny Trump seriously. Not as a serious thinker, but as a serious threat to our freedoms and prosperity.
I despise Farage and everything he stands for, but just mocking and ignoring him won’t stop family and friends voting for him. And they are voting for him. It’s not funny anymore.
A barrage for Farage
[Apr 4 2016]
Nigel Farage dominated the Guardian’s recent EU referendum debate. Some of us booed him, but that didn’t stop him getting massive applause.
I wrote an article about it for The London Economic.
While it is important to undermine Nigel Farage, it’s equally important to understand him.
Over in America The Boston Globe and The Nerdwriter have done some impressive analysis into the rise of Donald Trump and the way he communicates:
“Whereas his opponents and the political class in general seem hyper-aware that their words will be picked apart and used against them, Trump wilfully disregards this fact. As a lifelong salesman he has a huxter’s knack for selling a feeling.”
Nigel Farage shares Donald Trump’s ability to communicate. Sarah Pascoe – the comedian who introduced the Guardian debate that Farage dominated – made this observation last year:
“My sister is a school teacher and she did a mock election. UKIP won by 90%. So this is a real thing. Nigel Farage is an amazing communicator. Young people can understand what he’s saying, and he seems more honest. And actually that’s the danger of it is, because he’s not doing the whole bacon sandwich practice, he’s just going “yea did that, said that” – he cares less. He’s actually doing this incredible job.”
Middle-ground politicians don’t seem to have grasped how unpopular they are, and perhaps UKIP’s colonisation of a Guardian audience was a wakeup call. To be fair on the Guardian, at least they have John Harris.
“This isn’t really a story about the whys and wherefores of UKIP. It’s about a colossal failure of mainstream politics, and the extent to which it’s left millions of people behind.“
Political thinkers should pay attention to people like Sarah Pascoe, The Nerdwriter and John Harris. The rise of Trump and Farage demonstrate an exodus from mainstream politics.
British votes are lurching to the Left (Corbyn), to the SNP and to the Greens. Most dramatically of all though, they are lurching to the Right:
We seem to be getting tired of mainstream politics.
Perhaps liberalism is imploding.
In 2013 two well regarded philosophers – John Gray and René Scheu – had an interesting conversation about this crisis of mainstream politics:
Scheu: Unrest is increasing.
Gray: Exactly. The result is not only growing unemployment, but poisoned politics.
Scheu: Agreed. But the question is: why have the politicians disregarded the warnings of serious economists and introduced a single currency, when it was clear that the respective economies were performing at different rates? That is disastrous utopianism!
Gray: That is was, no doubt. But today we have to solve today’s problem – do you want to abet a new political nationalism and populism of the worst kind, as we can observe it in Greece, Hungary and Italy, because mistakes have been made in the past?
Scheu: Absolutely not, however, the politics of “there is no alternative” are not an option either. Especially for a sceptic, the prevailing political reasoning must sounds very implausible: We have accumulated all this debt, and now we must accumulate more debt in order to solve the debt problem.
Gray: You see, there are no simple solutions. With economic governance by the book, you do not get ahead. On the contrary – such utopianism would be dangerous in the highest degree. Many liberals lack awareness today of this danger, and Hayek lacked a sense of it during the tense 1930s. If you only argue economically, you risk great social upheavals.
The last time a right-wing social movement spread this quickly was in the 1930s. The nostalgia for a lost empire is heavy – UKIP asks its followers to Believe in Britain, while Trump asks his to Make America Great Again. Both promise to cure unemployment, and are obsessed with military strength and removing foreigners.
In America it has gotten to the point where Trump has even quoted Mussolini:
Asked if he knew he was quoting Mussolini, Trump responded with:
“It’s okay to know it’s Mussolini. Look, Mussolini was Mussolini. It’s okay to – it’s a very good quote. It’s a very interesting quote … I know who said it.”
One of the most toxic aspect of all this new form of politics, is its use of propaganda. Oswald Mosley’s BUF had to rely on public meetings, posters, and the support of a right-wing newspaper. Nigel Farage and UKIP are able to exploit all of these, alongside Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
Like many of us, UKIP are not using social media to debate and discuss, they are using it to build an echo chamber. Here is just one example – a video from UKIP’s Facebook page titled
“UKIP leader Nigel Farage won the Guardian Live Debate last night. WATCH his best bits in the video below!“:
And here is the full democratic version:
Brexit endorsements explained by Wikipedia
[This article originally appeared in The London Economic, Jun 23 2016]
While everyone else has been busy mudslinging, the hive mind of Wikipedia has produced a very balanced list of everyone who has made an endorsement during this EU referendum:
Here are some highlights:
President of the USA
Prime Minister of Canada
Prime Minister of Norway
President of China
Prime Minister of India
Prime Minister of Japan
Prime Minister of Bangladesh
Prime Minister of New Zealand
The European Union
Vladimir Putin (said he would “shed no tears”)
Marine Le Pen and the National Front (France)
Geert Wilders and the Party for Freedom (Netherlands)
Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democracts
– 171 Conservative
– 218 Labour
– 54 SNP
– 8 Lib Dem
– 4 Sinn Fein
– 3 SDLP
– 3 Plaid Cymru
– 1 Green
Leader of the Conservatives
Leader of Labour
Leader of SNP
Leader of Lib Dems
Leader of Greens
Leader of Plaid Cymru
Leader of Sinn Fein
Leader of UUP
Leader of Alliance
– 131 Conservatives
– 10 Labour
– 8 DUP
– 1 UKIP
Leader of UKIP
Leader of BNP
Leader of Britain First
Leader of EDL
Leader of DUP
Leader of Communist Party
Leader of Respect Party
The Wildlife Trusts
Friends of the Earth
Surfers Against Sewage
Global Justice Now
|Governor of the Bank of England
International Monetary Fund
Institute for Fiscal Studies
Confederation of British Industry
World Trade Organisation
|47% of small/medium business (FSB)
80% of big business (CBI)
33% of FTSE 100 chief executives
|42% of small/medium business (FSB)
5% of big business (CBI)
0% of FTSE 100 chief executives
Ford Motor Company
Marks & Spencer
Tate and Lyle
British Medical Journal
The Irish News
London Evening Standard
The Mail on Sunday
Manchester Evening News
The Daily Telegraph
The News Letter
The Sun on Sunday
The Sunday Telegraph
The Sunday Times
Trump is America’s Brexit
[This article originally appeared in The London Economic, Aug 8 2016]
Obama recently delivered one of the biggest speeches of his life, and one of the most damning criticisms of Donald Trump to date. After eight years of being heckled by “The Donald” and his fellow conspiracy theorists, this one was personal. Around 45 minutes he spelt it out with these bold words:
“That’s why anyone who threatens our values, whether Fascists or Communists or jihadists or homegrown demagogues, will always fail in the end.”
This powerful sentence puts Trump shoulder to shoulder with Mussolini, Stalin, ISIS and other demagogic tyrants. The comparison is perfectly valid, especially given that Trump has been strutting around unashamedly quoting Mussolini.
But while the comparisons might be accurate, the claim that they will “fail in the end” is one that rests on hope, not evidence. Within our echo chambers it’s comfortable to hear “Trump will eventually fail” rather than “Trump will probably win”. Even if he doesn’t win the election, he will have succeeded in poisoning American politics by wiping his feet on its norms and etiquette.
One of the strongest pieces of evidence pointing towards a Trump regime comes from something called the Fragile States Index, an annual report ranking the countries of the world by how vulnerable they are to conflict and collapse. The 2016 Fragile States Index ranks Somalia and South Sudan as most fragile, with Finland and Norway as least fragile. Since 2011 Syria’s ranking has plummeted from 48/177 to 6/177, while the United States has inched from 158 to 159, and the UK from 159 to 162.
J.J. Messner is one of the people involved in the Fragile States Index, and he was interviewed by C-SPAN just after the Brexit vote:
“When the Brexit referendum occurred, we went back in the data … in the United Kingdom we found that over the last five years the Group Grievance indicator [a tool for measuring tension between groups] had pretty much been the only indicator that had worsened. What we also found was that it had worsened at the same rate as it has in the United States.”
By this assessment, it looks like the United States are hurtling towards their Brexit moment – a painful realisation that the other half of the country belong to a different social tribe, and that they, after years of feeling ignored, have seized control of the status quo.
You might find people ignorant, but ignoring them is no solution. Political realities are uncomfortable because we have to share them. The Remainians stuck in Brexitopia are learning this far too late, and if Americans don’t want to see Trump in the White House, they should get away from their internet bubbles and have some uncomfortable conversations with his supporters.