Monday 20th June 2016
Donald Trump’s march to the White House goes on. On Super Tuesday he won sizeable victories in a number of states that makes him virtually unassailable in the race for the Republican nomination at the July convention. Attempts to stop him and replace him with a more ‘amicable’ candidate if he falls just short of the required number of delegates would be a powder-keg moment. It would ignite a civil war within the Republican Party and quite possible result in deep civil unrest. Trump has already indicated that he would call his followers onto the streets, and having previously directly incited violence on the campaign trail by telling Trumpeteers to punch protesters, his fervent supporters would be at no risk of misinterpreting his meaning. Like all dangerous demagogues, Trump is not adverse to inciting violence if the powers that be try to stop him.
As he has already indicated with his wall, a Trump presidency would be bad for migrants. It would also be bad for Muslims and for women and for virtually all minority groups. In his victory speech he contemptuously derided Hillary Clinton’s standing and worth in the Presidential race as being based solely on her gender. This, despite her having served at the highest level of public office for decades while his own experience and knowledge of public policy and world affairs could more than adequately be surmised on the front lid of a cigarette packet.
His unpleasant misogyny and controversial views are longstanding and are not playing to the gallery. His Presidency, we can therefore predict, would lead to a full frontal assault on civil liberties and human rights; human rights that have made great strides around the world in recent years, and have acted as lighting rods to countries and leaders who hold such values in contempt, raising the temperature, increasing the pressure, and making their own ascendancy and grip on their undemocratic fiefdoms less secure and less certain. This assault has already begun in Republican states, with the overturning of LGBT rights in North Carolina with more states looking set to follow. Yet this reversal in global modernity will not just threaten American civil society.
In Britain, similar Trump and Republican-right values are virtually universal in the argument for Britain to leave the EU. In attacking President Obama’s support for Britain to remain a player on the world stage, during the President’s recent visit to the UK, Boris Johnson, the ex-London mayor and wannabe-future-prime-minister, called into question the President’s ancestry, as if this indicated that he couldn’t be trusted. Labour’s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, condemned this as “dog-whistle racism”, and its implied “otherness” would certainly not have been lost on a considerable majority of those calling for Brexit. Donald Trump made similar slurs during Obama’s re-election campaign and went on to publicly question the President’s birth right, an imposition that will no doubt be returned on millions of Americans should he secure the White House.
The assault of the transatlantic right on civil liberties and perceived political correctness continues unabated. In America, Fox News can barely conceal its contempt at the US Treasury’s decision to replace the slaveholding, former U.S. president Andrew Jackson on its $20 dollar bill with the ex-slave and abolitionist, Harriet Tubman; while in Britain, the right-wing Daily Mail smeared the new London mayor, Sadiq Kahn, by associating him with the July 7, 2005 London bombings—a kind of connect-the-dots, all-Muslims-are-terrorists inference. These are virtually daily examples of dog-whistle prejudice that emanate from a deep simmering distrust, fear and loathing of the “other” in both Britain and America. They are a backlash and a reassertion of perceived cultural and social superiority that inevitably result in political, social and economic discrimination, all backed up, hidden and marshalled behind an anti-PC banner and affirmative-action conspiracy. Supporters of Trump and Brexit tend to be older white men who view cultures and religions they do not understand as a threat—a view expressed through a strong dislike of immigration.
They are also examples of “breakout”, of strong normalising-attempted, “break-into-the-middle-ground” beliefs that if left unchecked would gravitate into policy, and they have more than an echo of the ghettos in Poland during the Second World War and Bosnia-Herzegovina in the 1990s, a conflict that the EU was criticised for not doing more to stop, including by Britain, when conversely, Brexit would make the EU less able to respond to such crises and would further destabilise the region, as a more fragmented Europe would find it much more difficult to agree on a unified response.
In the U.S., Trump has listed a number of progressive policies he would reverse if elected, including health care reform and the normalization of relations with Cuba. This would cause millions of Americans to be priced out of health care and millions of Cubans to be isolated from the community of nations. Trump would reverse the Iran nuclear deal, a major foreign policy success of both the Obama administration and the EU. A Trump America and a Brexit Britain would not have the will or the influence to secure this deal, making the world a more dangerous place.
Theresa May, the Home Secretary, in finally coming out in support of her prime minister and the remain campaign, sabotaged the cause by stating that Britain should leave the European Convention on Human Rights, because it is sometimes inconvenient and troublesome to right-leaning policy enactment, thereby completely failing to grasp the fundamental universal core element that is essential in the underpinning and protecting of such rights. It is populist grandstanding that represents the worst kind of grounding for long-term, sound political judgement, and, as with Boris Johnson, though much less brazen, has more than a suspicion of personal ambition and grass-root lobbying for David Cameron’s soon to be vacated Downing Street residence. With this stance being taken by a “Remainer”, it is an erosion of rights and civil liberties that would be accelerated by Brexit.
This assault by the right would be economic as well as social, with workers’ rights and employment protections such as holiday, health and pension, and maternity and paternity provisions directly under threat. Brexit’s clarion call for the people to be liberated from the supposed servitude of unelected EU bureaucrats would in fact see a reassertion of Victorian economic utilitarianism and the deep social division, inequality and economic subjugation that inevitably follows, as indicated by British Nineteenth-Century history and the work of Charles Dickens, with the rights of the wealth creators overly protected, enabling them to harvest and to bottleneck the redistribution of wealth to the people. Examples of this have already been seen with the proliferation of zero-hours contracts and inequality in both Britain and America having accelerated since the financial crisis, from a continued rise over the past forty years, laying wreckage to Conservative economic belief that is wilfully ignored in the governance of the few over the many.
Simultaneously, 1930s America would be revisited with Trump’s protectionism. Trade wars would harm U.S. exports and threaten jobs. It is also incompatible with Brexit’s vision for Britain: a stampede of instant “have-your-cake-and-eat-it” free-trade agreements with the rest of the world, including America. Trump rails against globalization and free trade, blaming it, along with immigration, for America’s ills. Immigration is also the scapegoat of Brexit, which, paradoxically, promises a free-trade utopia while setting fire to its free-trade single market access with the largest economic trading bloc in the world. Investment in education and the infrastructure needed to fully reap the benefits of immigration is the antidote to Trump and Brexit’s socioeconomic snake-oil elixir.
This two-pronged civil rights attack, post-Brexit and post-Trump victory, would occur simultaneously on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet such an assault on liberal civil society would not just have severe implications domestically. Politico Europe recently reported the Russian influence in Donald Trump’s campaign, including the front-row attendance of the Russian ambassador during his recent strong-man, ‘America First’, foreign policy unveiling. This reveals that Putin’s strategy is to take advantage of the open democracies of the West in order to destabilise them from within. This can be seen in his support for right-wing groups throughout Europe. The media news channel ‘Russia Today’, renamed RT, also follows this pattern of subversion, for whilst castigating the banditry of Western unfettered neoliberalism – itself far from an ignoble cause – it offers not a peep of protest over Russian state-wide corruption and imperial ambitions, thus making a mockery of its supposed journalistic independence from Moscow. Putin then, in his support of groups wanting the dismantling of the EU and a return to national borders, has subversive links stemming from Moscow via Europe and London all the way to Middle America, all with the sole aim of destabilising Europe and weakening the transatlantic alliance and strengthening and extending his influence and borders. This can be seen through the concern of Western intelligence agencies over the alleged Russian infiltration of European political parties. It also explains why right-wing, demagogic leaders such as Trump and Nigel Farage admire Putin for being a strong man. It is the clearest indication yet that Britain’s self-imposed exile from the EU and the community of nations would be celebrated with kholodets and vodka in the Kremlin.
Strategically, and within the confused, contradictory foreign-policy rhetoric, Trump is at best indifferent to the transatlantic alliance, this being the sole reason for European peace and stability over the past 70 years according to those pushing for Britain’s EU exit and the cornerstone of their post-Brexit imaginings. This again would be music to the ears of Putin, enabling him to pursue unchallenged his geopolitical goals, leaving small Eastern European nations who have only recently enjoyed the peace and stability and prosperity of Western democracy in their long histories at the mercy of an isolationist Great Britain, a vastly destabilised European Union, a weakened NATO and a US President more interested in initiating a modern-day Nazi-Soviet pact, leaving Putin free to carve up the satellite states, returning Western Europe, the Middle East and the world to a new, dangerous era of cold-war geopolitical stand-offs.
From a British perspective, leaving the European Union and the European Convention on Human Rights would leave Britain less prosperous, less free, and vastly less secure in a weakened, destabilized continent. In America, protectionism, tariff wars, discrimination, social division, and the unravelling of alliances will not regenerate the Rust Belt—they will spread it like dry rot. In a time of peril for transatlantic liberal society, a vote for Donald Trump is a vote for Brexit.