Trump and the Brex­iters must own their mess

The Guardian - Journal - - Front page - Gary Younge,

Three years ago, shortly af­ter I ar­rived back in Britain af­ter 12 years in the US, my gas me­ter was stolen. When the new one ar­rived it bore a note, in­sist­ing that it should not be stolen. It re­minded me of the poster in the win­dow of the Boys and Girls club at the top of my street in Chicago that read: “Stop killing peo­ple.” Some things, should not need to be said. So it was on Wednesday as MPs passed an amend­ment de­mand­ing the govern­ment come back with a plan B within three days, if the Brexit deal is de­feated next Tuesday. The real scan­dal was not that the Speaker, John Ber­cow, had to cre­atively in­ter­pret par­lia­men­tary rules so that the vote could take place, but that the vote was nec­es­sary at all. Plan A isn’t up to much. It was with­drawn last month at the 11th hour be­cause it was clearly go­ing to be voted down. Noth­ing has changed. It will al­most cer­tainly be re­jected next week. Time is run­ning out. We have no hat and the EU wouldn’t lend us a rab­bit to pull out of it even if we did. Un­der these cir­cum­stances the govern­ment shouldn’t be forced to come back with a plan B in a timely fash­ion. When it comes to back­ups they should be well down the al­pha­bet by now.

Six hours af­ter MPs trooped through the di­vi­sion lob­bies to de­feat the govern­ment, US pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump walked out of a meet­ing with Demo­cratic lead­ers, osten­si­bly aimed at re­solv­ing the par­tial govern­ment shut­down, be­cause they re­fused to fund his bor­der wall. Head­ing into its third week, this is now the long­est shut­down for 23 years. Polls show that most Amer­i­cans don’t want a wall on their south­ern bor­der and a grow­ing num­ber blame Trump for the dead­lock. In a gut punch to a pres­i­dent who can­not dis­tin­guish be­tween run­ning a coun­try and host­ing a re­al­ity show, the Demo­cratic re­but­tal to his Oval Of­fice speech on the shut­down got bet­ter ratings than the speech it­self.

We start a new year in a state of transat­lantic po­lit­i­cal paral­y­sis. In Britain, par­lia­ment has taken back con­trol from a flail­ing govern­ment in pur­suit of the least bad op­tion. Brexit, it tran­spires, does not mean Brexit; it means whatever we can agree on, which may be noth­ing at all. In the US, it turns out, not only will the Mex­i­cans not pay for the wall, but the Amer­i­cans aren’t too keen on stump­ing up for it ei­ther. Sight­ings of butt-naked em­per­ors are now no longer news­wor­thy.

The si­mul­ta­ne­ous un­rav­el­ling of the Trump agenda and the Brexit process pro­vides a use­ful lens through which to un­der­stand the tra­jec­to­ries of the past few years in both coun­tries. Op­po­si­tional in na­ture, both Trump and Brex­iters thrived on gal­vanis­ing long­stand­ing dis­con­tent and prej­u­dice through in­flam­ma­tory rhetoric and egre­gious false­hoods, and as­pired to make noise not change. They did not in­vent these states of af­fairs – they in­her­ited them and ex­ploited them. Both Repub­li­cans and Con­ser­va­tives were al­ready riven and prone to ges­ture pol­i­tics. “We have to get some­thing out of this,” in­sisted for­mer Repub­li­can con­gress­man Mar­lin Stutz­man dur­ing the last ma­jor US shut­down of 2013 with char­ac­ter­is­tic fu­til­ity. “And I don’t know what that even is.”

In both cases they won not ar­gu­ments but elec­tions, by nar­row mar­gins, against all ex­pec­ta­tions, in­clud­ing their own. Glob­ally, these vic­to­ries can­not be un­der­stood out­side the broader rise of the pop­ulist right from Brazil to Ger­many. Lo­cally, they can be mis­un­der­stood as an ide­o­log­i­cal as­sault, rather than a po­lit­i­cal and elec­toral re­align­ment, fol­low­ing the fi­nan­cial cri­sis. Boris John­son is no Mar­garet Thatcher and Steve Ban­non is no Mil­ton Friedman. Amid all the talk of rightwing pop­ulism on both sides of the At­lantic, it is worth­while re­mem­ber­ing just how un­pop­u­lar they are. Repub­li­cans have only won the pop­u­lar vote once since 1988; the Tories have only won a par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity once since 1992. Mean­while, Democrats and the young are grow­ing keener on so­cial­ism than cap­i­tal­ism, and in the two Bri­tish na­tional elec­toral con­tests since 2016 the right lost sig­nif­i­cant ground.

Hav­ing promised the earth, their cheap rhetoric has butted up against hard re­al­i­ties and is run­ning aground. Eco­nom­i­cally, diplo­mat­i­cally, po­lit­i­cally and strate­gi­cally they ap­pear to be reach­ing their lim­its. Re­duced to their de­voted core, they are un­likely to gain al­lies, per­son­nel or sup­port­ers. The num­bers aren’t there; we have seen too much. That doesn’t mean they can’t do more dam­age, par­tic­u­larly in the US where Trump is still in of­fice. His threat to “do” a state of emergency il­lus­trates how fail­ure can en­gen­der des­per­a­tion. While they are un­likely to grow in size they can still grow in in­ten­sity. A per­son with a wreck­ing-ball can make a big dif­fer­ence, es­pe­cially when they have no in­ten­tion of build­ing any­thing.

A key ques­tion is how the fail­ure of these two projects is framed. The right will, of course, claim be­trayal. That is not sim­ply cen­tral to their strat­egy, but their iden­tity. A broad, un­fo­cused and po­ten­tially in­cen­di­ary sense of griev­ance is in no small part how we got here.

The left’s chal­lenge will not sim­ply be to counter those claims but to cir­cum­nav­i­gate them. Trump and Brexit are prod­ucts of a po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic cri­sis. The left needs to lo­cate them in that con­text and of­fer a so­lu­tion for the fu­ture, not a lament for the past.

The griev­ances on which they preyed didn’t come from nowhere. Not all of them are valid, fact-based, ra­tio­nal, honourable or co­her­ent, but that doesn’t stop them from be­ing keenly felt. None should be indulged, all should be en­gaged. Those who lied us into this mess should not be al­lowed to lie us out of it.

Hav­ing promised the earth, their cheap rhetoric has butted up against hard re­al­i­ties and is run­ning aground


Don­ald Trump in the Oval Of­fice on Wednesday

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