Tuesday 22nd November 2016
As Britain’s Nigel Farage, after the seismic U.S. election, stood swooning next to a grinning Donald Trump in front of garish, King Midas-like golden doors at Trump Tower, former Labour British foreign secretary, the self-acknowledged former Condoleezza Rice-swooner, Jack Straw, called the President of the European Commission a narcissist and his proposals for Europe to be able to provide its own security, in light of serious European concerns over Donald Trump’s long-term commitment to NATO, as a delusion of grandeur and symptomatic of similar acts of folly that led to Britain voting to leave the EU and created an existential crisis of its own making. Weird, narcissistic and crackers were Jean-Claude Junker’s proposals and world view according to Straw.
Straw here is wrong, and his words could easily have serenaded from Farage’s mouth into Trump’s ears during their meeting. More worrying, Straw’s intervention is a prime example of how mainstream politicians are beginning to sing from the same Trump-Brexit beer-hall hymn sheet. On this issue Junker is right and Straw, Farage, Brexit, the official line of the British government and a large proportion of British generals are wrong.
The picture of Farage and Trump reminds us of what the forces of Brexit and Trump have in store for Europe in the next few years. With important European elections beginning in Italy and Austria in December and culminating in Germany in late 2017, the future of the EU and European security could not be more in the balance.
Farage and the forces of Brexit will be cheering the far-right Front National’s Marine Le Pen in France’s Presidential election next spring. They will cheer Norbert Hofer in Austria in December; Geert Wilders and Alternative for Deutschland in the Netherlands and Germany in 2017, and other nationalist groups and parties throughout Europe, with the sole aim, objective and dream of seeing the European project, and the unity, strength and security it has created, and the walls it has brought down, culturally, socially and politically, since its conception, go up in flames. Like the most satisfying thing destroyed by megalomaniacs and those filled with hate being hope itself, so will the forces of Brexit’s flames be fanned by the European ideal being razed from existence. Then Europe can return to “freedom”: the freedom of the Napoleonic wars, the freedom of the Franco-Prussian war, the freedom of the First World War, the Spanish civil war and the Second World War, along with centuries of war-torn freedom.
Europe, when a continent of separate powerful, competing nation states with strong national identities and cultural barriers of language and history, never managed virtually a single generation of peace in over 400 years, under a system of warring monarchies and nationalist “realpolitik” – the practical and relentless pursuit of national interest at the expense of moral or ethical considerations. The European Union has doubled this total in its 70 year history and each year is another success in its promotion of peace, democracy and human rights. The end of the EU and likely return of nationalist nation states in Europe would lead to great and prolonged political instability and surges in xenophobia and intolerance.
Whereas once Farage and UKIP’s behind-the-scenes liaisons with these far-right groups were a source of electoral embarrassment when exposed, now their support and admiration, and Theresa May’s pointed non-condemnation in their wake, will be open and legitimised through the subjugate banner of “freedom” and “liberation”. This can been seen in the government’s refusal to condemn three High Court judges being attacked as “enemies of the people” for overruling the government on a fundamental point of constitutional law in attempting to bypass the sovereignty of Parliament. The claimant, Gina Miller, received online death threats and racist abuse, and is afraid to leave her home. The recent murders of British MP Jo Cox and polish migrant workers validate her concern.
The British government has also sought to align itself with some of these groups in the right-wing and nationalistic Visegrad countries of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic in order to divide and rule with member states in challenging the EU’s founding principles of free movement of goods, services, people and capital. According to a Trump adviser, the president-elect spent an hour with Farage discussing “freedom and winning“, and the president-elect’s new chief strategist, Steve Bannon, as indicated in his alt-right news site, Breitbart, endorses a British alliance with the Visegrad group with the aim of undermining the EU. Where once such views remained on the fringe, they now have direct influence and prominence on American domestic and foreign policy.
What if Farage and Trump’s nationalist dream for the western world is realised? Mainstream politicians on both sides of the Atlantic are morally compelled to consider the following not implausible scenario.
Trump in America has settled into the White House. He has imposed large-scale tariffs on Chinese goods resulting in a damaging trade war that has hit the jobs of his traditional rustbelt supporters and those of other sectors such as technology. He won’t back down because successful businessmen, and especially Donald Trump, do not do that. He has moved forward with mass deportations and has further damaged the US economy by slashing the migrant worker component that underpins it. In the process he has heightened racial tensions and unleashed the forces of discrimination and racial abuse. He has cut taxes for the rich and corporate America, massively increasing the country’s national debt, while undergoing a programme of unfulfilled infrastructure projects that has resulted in widespread cronyism and large-scale third-world corruption scandals over the awarding of private sector contracts. Corporate America, it seems, is doing even better under Trump at the great expense of the nation. Even without the human rights reversals and damaging foreign policy, Trump has led America to severe recession and has caused deep social division, culminating in riots in almost every major city.
In Europe, Marine Le Pen’s election to the President of France, celebrated wildly by a wide-eyed Nigel Farage, has led, combined with far-right governments in Austria, the Netherlands, Poland and Eastern Europe, to the end of the European Union. The conditions of America are now being repeated in Europe as the forces of nationalism, exclusion and division now have carte blanche to create a new-old European order of insulated political incorrectness. A place where cherished freedoms, democracy and elections are ‘won’ in the controlled and manipulated manner of third-world dictatorships and Russian autocratic kleptocrats.
With Trump’s admired ‘understanding and improved relations’ with Russia, Vladimir Putin has annexed Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – Russian anyway according to Trump and the Conservative forces of Brexit, with the Ukraine now directly threatened by a massive build-up of troops on the Russian border. In Asia, Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia are next in Putin’s sights as he looks to create a two-pronged pincer movement around Turkey, down through Eastern Europe and Greece (the beneficiaries of generous Russian loans after being left to the wolves following the collapse of the Euro and the EU), through Syria (recently rebuilding after being bombed from existence during President Assad’s Russian-backed victory in the civil war) to the terrorist hubs of Iraq and Iran, where Russia, in a closely-guarded secret deal with Trump, can finish what America should have done and “get the oil”. This, then, could be the culmination of a Trump-Brexit world of strong, admirable leaders who get things done.
Britain’s own turn to nationalism – a consequence of the self-serving party-political decision to hold the EU referendum, has seen the value of the pound fall by 20% since the vote to leave in June; and, as the country imports far more than it exports and has one of the largest trade deficits in the developed world, price rises and inflation have already seen significant increases, with the start of the two-year process of leaving the EU still months away, as the government seeks to define its negotiating strategy whilst leaving parliament and the nation in the dark. Huge uncertainty over the process has lead to sharp declines in business confidence with £65 billion pounds worth of investment scrapped since the referendum and only 18% of companies viewing now as a good time to add risk to their balance sheets. Standard and Poor’s also accessed Britain’s future economic outlook as bleak and warned of future downgrades as Britain diminished as a global economic power outside the single market. The British government has also engaged in a deal with the carmaker Nissan over reassurances that Brexit will not incur extra costs and tariffs. Other businesses and industries are expected to follow suit to the door of Number 10, leaving the government in an impossible position of having to subsidise the economy in the wake of the decision to leave the EU and single market over its commitment to controlling its borders and reducing immigration. The British government, rather than devising a strong negotiating hand, seems more likely to be caught up in continued economic firefighting of its own making. America could find itself in a similar position of having to compensate companies for the loss of trade Trump’s protectionist policies would result in. The global reach of companies could see them relocate with significant job losses in both countries.
So what next for a Europe and America that has unleashed the forces of nationalism? Forces that threaten to tear down all the building blocks of human understanding that were tirelessly and selflessly constructed step by step since the catastrophe of the Second World War in order to propagate and protect human life through international law, cooperation, and peace and security; a process that saw Europe pool sovereignty and integrate politically with the aim of locking the cause of the conflagration, nationalism – but not national identity – into a Hellraiser box – the dark forces of which were never to be returned on the people who yearned to live in peace after such bloodshed and misery. It is this perceived loss of national identity due to migration and globalisation, along with increased social and economic inequality and stagnant wages, that has led to the surge in populist movements in Britain, Europe and America since the financial crash of 2008.
From a British perspective, despite the purposely honourable and prestigious platitudes of Remembrance Day, it seems we have lost the power to convey our lessons of history even virtually within our own lifetimes; and, regardless of our disastrous foreign policy decisions and actions as a nation, and the remorseless mocking – as a national pastime – of national stereotypes by a hostile national press, we still convey to the world in suitably upright Received Pronunciation – like an international competition of who can be the most respectful in words not deeds – a succession of grave-faced dignitaries placing wreaths at the cenotaph, and still have no compunction in separating the two. Unlike the Greeks, Britain is a very poor storyteller, for, far from embedding the values of tolerance, increased cooperation and understanding into our national psyche in order to ensure the dark days of the past never return, Britain aims to subvert and dismantle these building blocks in order to keep all the benefits of EU membership without incurring the costs, and fundamentally weaken the Union in the process. The centuries of conflict and instability in Europe that has given rise to Remembrance commemorations and the increased expectation and wearing of the poppy as a badge of national pride, particularly, and paradoxically, by the right-wing press, have been sacrificed in favour of pandering to the perceived, short-term, and inconsequential in comparison, problems of immigration
Far from ignoring the legitimate concerns of those left behind with the wrong skills by an increasingly globalised world, mainstream politicians like Jack Straw on both sides of the Atlantic, at a time of grave peril for all human enlightenment, would do well to remember that pandering to the tunes of a largely ignorant Brexit-Trump pied piper is not only dangerous and irresponsible, but also morally reprehensible. It may be popular and tempting for mainstream politicians, but that doesn’t make it any less than what it is: crazed delusion. Sometimes as a people and as representatives of the people we have to be stronger. We have to be braver and stand up for what we know is right. We have to fix our political systems. We have to make our economies work for everyone, fairly. We have to remove the conditions for corrosive nationalism to thrive. We have to make our democracies less susceptible to external subversive influence and powerful internal manipulation and distortion. We have to be better storytellers.
A version of this article has been published by the World Policy Institute and is available here.