As Sam Rosenfeld tweeted last week, "There must be some mistake, didn't John Oliver EVISCERATE #Brexit on Sunday? I assumed they would just cancel the vote entirely after that."
It's not all that relevant, but I've never really taken to John Oliver. He seems like the liberal/progressive version of Rush Limbaugh that liberals/progressives have long dreamed of. He may be more factually accurate than Limbaugh, I haven't bothered to check, but that's not really the appeal of such people, is it? It's the gladiatorial spectacle with the audience howling, cheering, and turning thumbs down on their guy's opponent; the advantage to TV commentary is that the opponent doesn't even know he's down and has been EVISCERATED. Unfortunately, Brexit voters didn't realize that they should have just stayed home that day.
I worry sometimes that I'm getting old, because the use of "fuck" by trendies like Oliver annoys me. As a teenager I would have been thrilled by it. But my objection is that throwing the word into every other sentence doesn't make your argument any stronger. (This would come as news to Brexit voters as well, I imagine.) Since Oliver supposedly traffics in fact and logic in contrast to the conservatives he owns, destroys and eviscerates, and smacks down, his spittle-flecked expletives should be unnecessary. But it's hard to be a supergenius in a world full of idiots.
When I clicked through to the article itself, I noticed something that I think is significant. The author of the article says that Oliver "compared both British leaders to Donald Trump, noting their similarities for lying, bombast and nativism." The reference is to Boris Johnson, the former mayor of London, and Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party.
“Basically, it seems like whoever the next U.K. prime minister is going to be, whether it’s [former London mayor] Boris Johnson or a racist tea kettle, they are going to be in for a rough few years, because once they invoke what’s known as Article 50, they’ll have just two years to negotiate their withdrawal and future relationship with the EU,” explained Oliver. “On top of which, they’ll have to settle outstanding bills with the EU, hammer out new trade bills with dozens of countries, sift through thousands of EU regulations and decide which ones to keep, and figure out how migration will work—and all the while, lives hang in the balance.”Now, "leaders" wasn't Oliver's word, but I realized that Oliver was overlooking something. Farage is the leader of a marginal political party; Johnson is a celebrity politician and journalist who campaigned for Brexit. But there's a lot more to political leadership in England than these two, and most of the elites, both Tory and Labour, including Jeremy Corbyn, urged voters to vote for Remain rather than Leave. The outcome of the referendum was a shock to them, and if nothing else was a salutary lesson to believers in media brainwashing that the masses aren't as easy to brainwash as the media hope.
My point is that Oliver sided here with the same rotten elites who've done so much harm over the past several decades, the centrists and neoliberals whose policies led to the economic crash of 2008, to endless and escalating wars that waste trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and there's less and less space in the middle. In the US, such elites were blindsided by Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, who in different ways have shown just how little legitimacy the respectable political, business, and media leaders have anymore. The 2016 Presidential campaign was supposed to pit Hillary Clinton against Jeb Bush, but Trump and Sanders threw a monkeywrench into that assumption. The respective party hierarchies have done their best to block these rebellions, with more success in Sanders's case; Trump, a wealthy celebrity and media star, was aided by the media who couldn't resist giving him vast amounts of free publicity. And the reaction among the self-styled meritocracy has been panic. Brexit just threw fuel on the fire.
True, Trump's campaign, like Brexit, has been fueled by racism and bigotry, but then so has Clinton's (if more genteelly), and now that Sanders and other great liberal hopes like Alan Grayson have embraced "no fly no buy" -- as a response to the Orlando massacre, it's not likely that a Democratic victory in November will be any better for religious and racial minorities than a Trump victory -- or indeed, than Obama's victories were. But Clinton will be nicer about it. No embarrassing vulgarity (or less of it, anyway), but Muslims and Mexicans and blacks will be quietly harassed and silenced and jailed and deported and (especially outside our borders) killed. It's been profoundly dispiriting to see so many liberals and leftists join with the Right in revealing their contempt for civil liberties and due process, but I'd rather know than not know. Amanda Marcotte claims that the Dems are just pretending to support "no fly no buy" in order to embarrass the Republicans, which I might find more persuasive if 1) Bernie Sanders hadn't supported it months before Orlando and 2) if Democrats like Diane Feinstein didn't have such a record of indifference to civil liberties and due process, dating back to the Bush II regime and beyond. Like so many liberals, Marcotte thinks that the Democratic leadership is playing eleven-dimensonal chess with the Republicans, instead of with their base.
It's the panic among liberals and centrists that has been most revealing, I think. Look at Oliver's rant for a sympomatic example, a sort of lefty Brit-accented equivalent to Limbaugh or Trump fearmongering. But the stock markets' reaction to the result of the vote hardly counts as a liberal let alone Left phenomenon, nor as a humanitarian response to racist tribalism. The economist Dean Baker just pointed out against a New York Times Op-ed that "a high stock market is not an economic good. It is a distributional measure. It means that the owners of stock have more claim on society’s income. There is very little direct relationship between the stock market’s value and investment. (In the US, the investment share of GDP peaked in the late 1970s, when the stock market was in the doldrums.)" Stock speculators don't care whether "lives hang in the balance"; their interests are at odds with those of most people, and it's a great mistake to see the Dow Jones and other indices as readouts of economic health -- except insofar as falling stock prices are used as an excuse for making most people suffer.
A good article at the Intercept pointed out that, contrary to the alarmism of the respectable mainstream opinion makers, an actual exit of the UK from the EU wasn't going to happen soon -- if ever. In the first place, the referendum wasn't binding, and made nothing happen by itself:
... as the legal blogger David Allen Green has explained clearly, the measure Britons just voted for “was an advisory not a mandatory referendum,” meaning that it is not legally binding on the government. No matter who the prime minister is, he or she is not required by the outcome to trigger Article 50. And, despite what senior figures in the EU and its other states might say, there is no way for them to force the U.K. to invoke Article 50.In the second place,
What all this means in practice is that, while it would be political suicide for any leader to try to avoid acting to satisfy the popular will expressed at the ballot box, there is some wiggle room for a new government to try to find a compromise arrangement that would satisfy a larger share of the population than just the slim majority of voters who demanded separation.
Then there is also the fact that, as Matthew Parris notes in a column on the bizarre politics of what comes next in London’s Times, “About 160 of the 650 MPs elected last year want Britain to leave the EU. The overwhelming majority of Westminster MPs believes that leaving would be a mistake. Many believe it would be a very grave mistake. Not a few believe it would be calamitous.” Because of that, Parris observes, “Our experiment in direct democracy is hurtling towards our tradition of representative democracy like some giant asteroid towards a moon.”With most of Parliament opposed to Brexit, a mere non-binding referendum isn't going to have the final word. But what infuriates respectable opinion leaders is the thoughtcrime, and the rejection of their benign guidance.
Given that a two-thirds majority of the current Parliament opposes leaving the EU, Parris suggested, a new general election next year was almost inevitable, further delaying even the start of the process.
Richard Seymour, who apparently was as surprised by the outcome as anyone, has written some useful pieces on Brexit. He doesn't scant the role of racism and bigotry that motivated Leave, but:
There is a lot of finger-wagging on Twitter and elsewhere about how the exit voters have just triggered economic self-destruction. House prices will fall, savings will be diminished, the pound will weaken, jobs will dry up. Well, that's all true. Except. Not everyone benefits from the insane property market. Not everyone has savings. Not everyone benefits, as the City does, from a strong pound. Manufacturing has suffered from that priority. Large parts of the country have been haemorrhaging jobs for years. 'The economy' is not a neutral terrain experienced by everyone in exactly the same way. And some of the votes, coming in core Labour areas, not necessarily strongly racist areas at first glance, indicate that. So people have voted against an economy that wasn't working to their benefit. (That doesn't mean the practical alternative will not be worse. I suspect it will be a great deal worse.)The vindictive anticipation with which so many liberals (e.g., this guy, and see some of the reactions quoted here) have greeted Brexit reminds me of the liberals I know who've expressed hope that the government of North Korea would collapse, cheerfully indifferent to the vast human cost of such a development; and North Korea isn't even close to being a democracy despite its name: its citizens don't have the responsibility for their repressive government that Americans or Brits have. A similar hope evidently motivates many Trump supporters, to say nothing of those who hope for a meteor strike to settle our hash. It's worth stressing that it was a "slim majority" that voted Leave; those crowing over the cataclysm to come seem to be ignoring that cost to the many millions of people who'll suffer as Britannia sinks beneath the waves. Not that I'm at all surprised. "Lives hang in the balance" is a gloat, not a warning. There's considerable racism and "tribalism" in the liberal response to Brexit and Trump: those who made the wrong choices are Others, not like Us.