“The times, they are a changin’,” sang Bob Dylan way back at the start of the ‘60s revolution. Well they are changin’ once again. The Brexit vote shocked not only the markets and the debt rating agencies (both of which promptly punished Britain for voting ‘leave’), but it led to the resignation of PM David Cameron. There was a lot of “what have we done” second guessing the morning after.
It would be easy, as some in the mainstream media have opined, to think that the yobs who hate immigrants, especially if they’re not white, carried Britain out of the EU.
Yes, the leave vote was generally older, whiter, less educated and lived outside of urban centres, but not dramatically so. And yes almost all UKIP (UK Independence Party) supporters voted to leave, but so did chunks of Labour and Conservative voters. Besides, Britain’s working people have an honourable history of resisting racism and fascism. But, like both the Labour and the Conservative Parties, they too have blurred the lines between immigration, race, tradition and what really ails them.
You could say much the same about Mr Trump’s supporters. They too are older, less educated and largely working class. But it would be equally foolish to tar and feather them with the same race-baiting brush we might use on the Donald. Many of them are working class Democrats who would have voted for Bernie, but will now vote for Donald J.
What the Brexit voters and the Trump supporters have in common is betrayal. They have been betrayed by the very people who have said they “feel their pain.” For the past two generations they have been promised that work and money would trickle down to them; that free trade deals like NAFTA (and now TPP) would provide them with a good job; that if you work hard, serve your country and pay your taxes you’ll be alright.
Well, that’s a load of horse-spit, isn’t it? Workers in both England and America have lost real wages. Some have lost their homes and their health. They watch their political leaders bail out bankers and know their CEOs make in a day what will take them a year to earn. The good union manufacturing jobs are gone, replaced by precarious service jobs. And still they’re told they’ll have to make further cuts to salaries, to pensions to health care.
The Brexit vote last June was as much a revolt against this neoliberal agenda as it was about anything else. There is no party in the UK who can give the disheartened a voice – not the Conservatives under Thatcher-lite Theresa May, not Labour if they come up with another leader like Tony Blair, and especially not the UK Independence Party.
The Presidential vote in November is shaping up the same way. The disenchanted and disinherited vs the established corporate and political elite. With Ms Clinton, the ultimate insider on one side and the Donald on the other, the contest could not be more stark.
This is not to say that Mr Trump is the great white hope of the working man – he’s not, despite his proclamation: “I am your voice.” It is to say that the Brexit vote and the Trumping of American democracy are really the same urge for escape from a political and economic agenda that has disadvantaged so many people.
You can see the same struggle in just about every democracy in the West: the rise (and co-opting) of the anti-austerity party Syriza in Greece, the quick ascendency of Podemos in Spain. But as the left resurges, so does the far right – the National Front in France, Golden Dawn in Greece, the nail-biter of an election in Austria where the fascist Freedom Party is contesting the result.
The interesting thing about this revolution is that it’s democratic – as long as the Hillary Clintons and the Donald Trumps and the Theresa Mays and their elite backers don’t co-opt it, which they will try to do. Expect Ms Clinton to signal left to win the election and then turn right in office – a very dangerous manoeuver both in traffic and in a precarious democracy.
We in Canada should not feel smug. Large scale unionized manufacturing jobs are not coming back anytime soon. Most of our new jobs are precarious. And now that the oil patch is no longer propping up the middle class, expect to see the same fault lines start to appear here as well.
There’s always hope …