Brexit; Trump; accusations of xenophobia and racism; the rise of the alt-right… these are topics from which a person should probably steer clear at their own dinner party if they want to avoid a mercurial social explosion. For a personal article, however, such topics are better suited. You have to err on the side of caution when discussing these matters anyway but I couldn’t ignore them as potential focuses for this blog.
The truth is that we live at a time when the world’s political climate is the least stable it has been for – well, at least in my lifetime. This certainly makes that political climate something worth considering in depth. I’m neither a historical expert nor a political one, but I’m going to offer some opinions on the current state of the world. If they’re not opinions you share then perhaps they can merely offer a different point of view to consider.
It might’ve been a symptom of the typical childhood naivety but, when I was growing up, the political world seemed to be lot more secure than it is today. Whether Blair, Brown, or Cameron (coalition Cameron; not gambling-with-the-wellbeing-of-his-country-for-the-sake-of-getting-reelected Cameron), each could offer the average citizen a certain amount of reassurance. Someone could disagree with the PM’s ideology, party, or policies, but ultimately there was an underlying sense that these people who ran the country at least knew what the hell they were doing. Here and now, there is no such sense of security. If anything, it’s the opposite.
As the deadline for the dreaded B-word draws closer, more often than not it seems that our own government is running around like a headless chicken, its inhabitants fighting amongst themselves – many of whom out for his or her own political gain, but none of whom seem to have fathomed exactly what a post-Brexit UK might entail.
So where did all this chaos come from? While it would be easy to pin it on Brexit, that still doesn’t address the root cause – i.e. why people were even calling for a referendum in the first place. When you consider the whole picture, it becomes clearer (I think) that the United Kingdom was merely one of the many countries swept up in a rising fear of, and consequent rebound from, a world that was becoming increasingly globalised.
When I reflect on how someone as asinine as Donald Trump became president of one of the most powerful countries in the world, my first instinct is to laugh. I would, if it weren’t so terrifying. However, when you analyse the situation: when you bear in mind that we are only really exposed to the two coasts of the US through film and media; and appreciate that middle America was, in some places, so poor that many were forced to queue daily for food coupons, the fact that such a figure rose to power is not in the least bit surprising.
Of course Trump, a reality TV star, would seem appealing: pinning the blame for unemployment and poverty on immigration and promising that he alone could “make America great again”. It is in fact absurd that Trump should’ve rose to power spouting such socialist rhetoric – that he’s a man of the people; that he’ll never lie to or exploit them like those pesky politicians – when he is himself a capitalist billionaire mogul, and the furthest thing from a socialist that anyone could possibly be. But Trump was clever in at least one way: he tapped into something – a growing national unease and, riding the waves of populism (as Nigel Farage did in our own country), used that unease as a leg up to further his own position.
As hinted at earlier, I am a remainer at heart. My husband is Italian; I've lived in Europe (life in Italy offered up some of my happiest memories); and, although I acknowledge that the EU is very flawed, I still maintain that it’s infinitely better for the country’s wellbeing to remain within it, than to be cast out of it (albeit voluntarily). However, this isn’t going to be a blog-rant about how Brexit should never have been made possible; many who are far more eloquent, and understand the issue far better than I do, have written extensively on the matter. Instead, I’m going to ruminate on its underlying cause. And try to appreciate how and why people’s sentiments precipitated such anti-EU thinking.
Because that was ultimately the problem: the political remainers were so bent on convincing the public how grave the consequences would be if we were to leave, they neglected to actually listen to why those people wanted Brexit to begin with. They never tried to determine where such dissatisfaction came from, and never sought to find an alternate means of addressing it that could’ve potentially precluded an exit from the EU.
I came to realise this when having a (calm and civilised) debate with a friend recently. I don’t even know if this friend truly believes in Brexit; he just likes playing devil’s advocate. But in the middle of the debate he brought me up short. In the past I’d complained about those people (the Piers Morgans of the world) with whom it is useless engaging in a debate because it is – to employ the overused but appropriate cliché – like talking to a brick wall. In a debate, the ability to listen and appreciate the opposing point of view is just as crucial as articulating an own point of view. But while I was in the middle of vehemently restating why Brexit shouldn’t happen, my friend politely pointed out that I was being like the very brick wall I always complained about. I wasn’t willing to see the other side; to see why so many thought that Brexit was the answer. He was right: I wasn’t. Only now can I start to understand that it was a similar trend to the events in the United States. And I think that was what politicians got so devastatingly wrong; they weren’t willing to see the other side either. And those who seemingly were (*cough Boris Johnson*) jumped on that band wagon for their own political agendas.
I don’t blame the Brexiteers. Both campaigns lied, and both went about everything the wrong way. I don’t even blame Nigel Farage (well, not completely – although he definitely was a catalyst). Rather, I think Brexit became an inevitability because of the state our globalised world has come to. And it was a repercussion of those in power not listening to those who needed to be heard.
Yet I can't shake the feeling that we are watching the world as we know it crashing in slow motion, and there’s nothing anybody can do. Who knows what lies ahead and what this new political instability will bring. I only hope that its consequences won’t be so great that they affect everyone’s day-to-day lives. But there are some things that are more certain: when future historians look back on this period that we live in, it will go down as a pretty extraordinary time. At least we can say that (at the very least, that is) we were a part of it.