Brexit, Boris, Trump and the road to the un­known

Kathimerini English - - Front Page - BY NIKOS KONSTANDARAS

Chaos pre­vails in Bri­tish pol­i­tics, the Euro­pean Union is at sea af­ter the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, Don­ald Trump is dom­i­nat­ing pol­i­tics and news cy­cles in the United States. These are, in them­selves, grave de­vel­op­ments. Yet they are not the cul­mi­na­tion or the end of a process – just sta­tions on the road to the un­known. We ought to re­al­ize the dan­gers so that we may all think of how to avoid them – whether we are EU de­ci­sion-mak­ers, mem­ber-state gov­ern­ments or in­di­vid­ual cit­i­zens. In Bri­tain, af­ter a re­sound­ing vic­tory in just last May’s elec­tions, the Con­ser­va­tive Party is head­less and di­vided; on the other hand, Labour is a bod­i­less head, with the vast ma­jor­ity of MPs re­ject­ing fresh- ly elected leader Jeremy Cor­byn; The Con­ser­va­tive who lead the “Leave” cam­paign, Boris John­son, sur­prised every­one yes­ter­day by declar­ing that he would not con­test the lead­er­ship of the party af­ter Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron was driven to re­sign. John­son’s flight was de­rided as a bid to es­cape re­spon­si­bil­ity. John­son, how­ever, apart from his cyn­i­cism, his hu­mor and his bu­limic at­ten­tion-seek­ing, has a de­gree in Clas­sics from Ox­ford. He knows the bad end that be­fell the con­spir­a­tors who killed Julius Cae­sar. Per­haps this is a tac­ti­cal with­drawal, so he can emerge later like Octavian, dis­patch his blood­ied and ex­hausted ri­vals and claim the throne. Cae­sar’s mur­der, osten­si­bly to pre­vent one- man rule, opened the way to em­pire. No one can guess how Bri­tain will go, nor how to­day’s fer­ment will shape the EU. Will mem­ber­states’ gov­ern­ments con­cen­trate solely on do­mes­tic prob­lems so as to avoid Cameron’s fate or will there be a col­lec­tive leap to­ward more func­tional co­op­er­a­tion? The sec­ond op­tion looks less and less likely: Ger­many swings be­tween cau­tious ob­ser­va­tion and im­pe­ri­ous de­mands for rules to be obeyed; France is rocked by protests against la­bor re­form; in Italy a ref­er­en­dum on po­lit­i­cal re­form this fall could lead to a new do­mes­tic and Euro­pean cri­sis. Brexit pro­vokes a sense of un­cer­tainty and may set off a chain re­ac­tion that could lead ei­ther to a strength­en­ing of the Union or dis­in­te­gra­tion. Trump is the most dra­matic proof of the dan­gers that arise when some­thing cracks in pol­i­tics and so­ci­ety. The sud­den pro­lif­er­a­tion of Tea Party ac­tivists and vot­ers af­ter Barack Obama’s in­au­gu­ra­tion in 2009 – with the clear pur­pose of ob­struct­ing the new pres­i­dent’s poli­cies – cre­ated con­di­tions for the rise of such a can­di­date. Whether he is elected pres­i­dent or not, the haughty bil­lion­aire who claims to speak for the com­mon man has opened the way for even more ex­trem­ist can­di­dates in fu­ture. Rage, lies and hy­per­bole have be­come ev­ery­day tools of pol­i­tics of the ex­treme right and left. It is be­com­ing harder to pre­vent the slide to con­tin­ual con­flict.

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