As a Belgian citizen, I only follow the Brexit debate & US election campaign from a distance, I admit. Still, apart from the haircut of some of the protagonists, I see at least one other important similarity between these two high-profile political battles: too many people on the left will once again “settle” for the so called lesser evil, all the while having no real hope that their vote will bring about the transformative change that is urgently needed in our world.
As for the UK, my guess is that David Cameron will turn out once more “lucky” in a few weeks from now, when the Brexit vote takes place. His political fate will most probably be saved by the fact that most of the energy of the Brexit’s ‘Leave’ campaign has come from radical/xenophobic right. The leftwing case for voting ‘Leave’ wasn’t made by Corbyn and many other leftwing voices (or only very reluctantly so)– see for an example of the latter, Paul Mason (who admitted that there is indeed such a case, and a strong one, but just not now…). The reason is simple: most Left wing people believe, even more than so called ‘rational’ right, that many of the current challenges can only be tackled at a European (or even global level). And rightly so. But that’s where the buck stops, unfortunately. Most of the European left by now also agree that the EU we have now will not take the decisions needed for a better (ecological and social) world. Not in Europe. Not anywhere. It’s a neoliberal vehicle (or at least damned close to being one), and it’s not likely this will change anytime soon. As others have said, the EU has long ago adopted a neoliberal model of globalisation. Even if neoliberalism is now slowly dying, the chance that EU leaders will change their ways soon is pretty limited. “The markets” and other powerful neoliberal ‘stakeholders’ will make sure of that.
This is the picture you get from across the sea, if you follow the Brexit debate with half an eye (and ear) only. My (not very evidence-based) view is: if the right-wing & left-wing case for a Brexit had come together, Cameron would have been in a very different place now, and the same goes for European technocrats. By and large, though, xenophobic populist-nationalists are on their own in this ugly fight. I wonder whether that’s a good thing.
Of course, I also don’t want a Brexit, I also very much think the Brits belong to Europe, and wouldn’t like to see them go. But you have to admit that the current European Union needs a “shock moment”, more than ever. True, some will say the neverending eurocrisis & horrific migration policy failure are more than shocks enough for Europe, and they are – as they might lead to a Europe that just falls apart. But if you want a shock moment for a better EU, you need something else.
Now that the leftwing Greek “revolution” has been pretty much annihilated by European Ecofin technocrats & the ECB, the chances for a more social Europe – and perhaps even more importantly, a Europe that can once again become a ‘role model’ for the rest of the world – are very dim (If you think it’s hard to reform WHO, try the EU). Absent of a massive shock moment – like a Brexit, but one that would have been voted for by radical right AND left – I can’t see that happen. A Brexit, voted by radical right only, is no use. Only a Leave vote with sufficient left-and right wing support could trigger (perhaps) a change among the Euro-elite, and change the EU (maybe) for the better in the medium term. If opposition to Europe comes from both sides, it’s far more difficult to just discard it as some ‘xenophobic and backward nostalgic nationalist’ reaction from people ‘who can’t get used to globalization’ and ‘understand we live in a different world now’.
Of course, a Brexit in the short term might imply for the Brits even more neoliberal policies, as many have pointed out. Still, what we will most probably get now, a so called ‘rational’ vote for “neoliberal policies with some social mitigation & ecological corrections” – i.e. what Cameron and most of his colleague leaders in the EU stand for – is not what the EU needs. Nor what the world needs.
The same goes for the US, I feel, even if the political climate there is even more brutal. Of course, Trump is repulsive – watching him for half a minute on tv usually suffices for me (the man is far more repulsive than Boris Johnson, whom I actually find more likeable than David Cameron (although that doesn’t mean, much, I admit)) – but you wonder whether voting for Hillary (and thus neoliberal globalization with some mitigation) is what the US (and the world) need at this crucial point in time. Sure, people change their views over time, and Hillary might have changed hers as compared to the nineties, or a Sanders movement might continue to push her to the left; and yes, sadly, Trump will no doubt blow up the Paris Agreement (and many other things perhaps) if he gets the chance – which is also a huge problem as the window of opportunity to try to avoid catastrophic climate change is closing fast.
But the relentless maelstrom of neoliberal globalization needs shock-moments, ideally in the ‘heartland’ of neoliberal globalization. The UK & US clearly qualify. So perhaps a Trump victory could be one. Of course, I much prefer a Sanders victory as such a shock moment, but that doesn’t seem very likely now anymore.
I admit history has taught us that giving great power, even for ‘tactical reasons’ (see part of the elite’s scheming in the Weimar republic for Hitler’s rise to power ) to lunatics and/or narcissists (and Trump is at least one of these), can lead to enormous horror. So you might not want to take any chances there.
Still, voting against a Brexit (and thus for the EU we currently have), or for Hillary Clinton would be a big effort for me, although most probably I would indeed vote for the “lesser evil”. Happy I’m not a UK or US citizen.
I hope that one day, we can create a Europe that understands that the real heroes are not the ‘wealth creators’ and entrepreneurs, but rather the many ordinary people who try to provide for their families, day after day. When that day comes, I’ll wholeheartedly vote for such a Europe.