2016 may well go down in history, as the year that everything changed. Polls became worthless. Rationalism became a diminishing return. Electoral power was wrested from the many. Geopolitical explosions have continually shaken the earth.
From the election of the foulmouthed Duterte in the Philippines, to the first North Korean nuclear testing, the global civilization of mankind was staggered last year with a terrible succession of tremors. But of them all, none has been more indicative of this bubonic plague of a trend known as Brexit.
The UK Independence Party (UKIP) is a political party in Great Britain. Its principal aim is to see the UK leave the European Union(EU), which it has been a member of since the end of World War Two. In June of 2016, it succeeded.
The idea of some kind of a Brexit has been gathering steam since 1988, when Margaret Thatcher decried a European superstate on the horizon. But it wasn’t until 2004 that the UKIP really started gathering momentum.
Within the next few years, UKIP, the British version of the Trump voting alt-right was increasingly threatening the right-flank of the Conservative Party.
With this in mind, following his party’s victory at the 2015 UK general election, then- Prime Minister David Cameron decided it was time to settle the UKIP once and for all. So he called their bluff by announcing the referendum.
This reckless and ridiculous choice was based on Cameron’s hope more people than not were just grumbling about aspects of membership in the EU, and would vote to stay if it came right down to it. They didn’t, and their choice has thrown the entire global order into disarray.
Many of the people who voted for the Brexit have bemoaned their decision ever since it went through, which is not something many thought would happen. The polls all said otherwise, as did every other conventional metric.
We learned this year to treat metrics and poll results with a grain of salt. Polls (and the betting markets) all showed a narrow victory for “Remain.” Instead, Britons voted 52 to 48 percent for “Leave.”
In many ways, Brexit was Great Britain’s version of the Donald Trump campaign. It started as a protest vote, a way of expressing displeasure with a trend of developing liberalism that was moving too quickly to suit those unprepared for it. One is reminded of the people here in America last November who used their vote- something thousands died to give them- to write in Mickey Mouse, or Bernie Sanders.
BBC reporter Fiona Trott wrote about a scene that summed up the general mood, in Hartlepool, a town where seven out of 10 people backed Brexit. “It’s been a vote against the establishment,” one man said. Unemployment here is 9.4%. People feel hard done by. So why not vote for change?”
Economics writer Chris Dillow has argued that, among other factors, feelings of bitterness and defeat contributed strongly toward convincing people to make a decision likely to worsen their lot even more. The sociological concept of Prospect Theory may help us to shed some light. This concept points out that people who feel they’ve lost a bet, want to gamble even more to break even.
Working class British citizens who felt they had lost out from immigration, voted to Leave. They felt they had little to lose from doing so. On the contrary, most who voted to stay had educations and money, and had been able to survive under the current system. The vote highlighted Britain’s fundamental divisions.
This closely resembled the section of the American populace who voted for Trump. Nixon once called them the Silent Majority. In Britain, the term “The Left Behind” was used to describe these older, socially conservative white voters.
Many of these people have seen their ranks thin and their neighborhoods become economically marginal with the passing years. Their tendency has been to blame new arrivals on the job market, rather than the large-scale social issues that are stopping society from making room for everyone. In the case of both Trump and Brexit voters, this manifests in anti-immigrant sentiment.
The World Economic Forum, in 2017, discussed in its Global Risks Report that “the Brexit and Trump victories featured appeals to sovereignty rooted in national identity and pride” and that it would “be challenging to find political narratives and policies that can repair decades-long cultural fault-lines”.
Nigel Farage, the leader of the UKIP and the most iconic spokesman for Brexit, was able to isolate and target those faultlines. And he had a lot of help. Farage has close ties to Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. The head of the CIA described that outlet as a “hostile intelligence service” that cooperated with Russian agents.
Links between Farage, Assange and the Russian government have made Farage a “person of interest” in the US counter-intelligence investigation that is looking into possible collusion between the Kremlin and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, the Guardian reported in January.
As with the Trump campaign, disinformation- and often Russian disinformation- proved an effective tool against a stubborn and truth-resistant public. Russia used its vast intelligence apparatus during the run up to the U.K.’s June referendum on EU membership in favor of the winning “leave” vote.
Russia is also believed to have leveraged its “troll army”– the very same producers of fake social media content who made our lives a hell all through the primary and general elections here in America last year- to focus on messaging around the referendum campaign.
Both RT and Sputnik, which are Kremlin-funded English-language news outlets, produced often misleading news coverage sending a message matching the campaign’s, urging voters to leave the EU. Michael Dougan, Professor of European Law at the University of Liverpool, described the Leave campaign as resorting to “dishonesty on an industrial scale.”
The Leave campaign has been identified as one of the first large-scale examples of what is now being referred to as “post-truth politics“. Debate is now to be framed largely by appeals to emotion, rather than the details of policy or objective factual analysis. As one Trump voter said last year on a thread discovered by Millennial Democrats, “Liberals just use facts, so that they don’t have to think for themselves.”
That is one criticism we Democrats are glad to accept, at least in part. We do use facts; actually, this is what allows us to think for ourselves effectively. That is why there is not a Democratic analogue of Rush Limbaugh.
That is also why we don’t ever fall for nonsense like the toxicity of Trump or the breaking bad of Brexit. We have known all along that America never stopped being great for one second. We understand the importance of maintaining strong social cohesion with our allies in Europe and elsewhere. We don’t need a party line developed by propaganda specialists. We have critical thinking skills.
We are going to need them now more than ever. Because Brexit isn’t just Great Britain’s problem, any more than Trump is a threat only to us. What is happening here transcends national bounds. America and Brexit and Trump are entwined. The Trump administration’s links to Russia and Britain are entwined. In point of fact, Brexit is a key component of a consistent and growing sequence of aggressive Russian attempts to rebuild at the expense of NATO and the United States.
Russian efforts to hack the French elections between President Emmanuel Macron and Marine Le Pen last year run parallel to their efforts in our election. They have also been actively attempting to undermine and hamstring Angela Merkel in Germany’s election this month.
There is a worldwide, far-right conspiracy in this world right now being headed by Vladimir Putin. His strategy is to divide us internally, dissolve the bonds that link our alliances, and separate us from our holdings one piece at a time. His motivation is to make Russia the foremost world power. Above all, Putin wants to be respected, but he will settle for merely being feared.
Our defense is simple. We stick together, we involve ourselves in each other’s battles. No one goes into a fight alone. We have all the troops, and we’ve got justice on our side. Going forward, it will be necessary for us to realize that we’re all fighting the same fight against the Nazis. Regardless of where you happen to be, know that you have backup. #RiseAndOrganize!