Brexit & Trump: A Victory for the Disenfranchised?
Today's guest writer is a scholarly friend of the blog. John is a DPhil Theology student at the University of Oxford who is specialising in fourth-century Christianity. His key interests are intersectional feminism, the history of European philosophy and left-wing politics.
Only a couple of days after Donald Trump’s presidential victory, a photo was released showing Trump and Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (not, as FOX would have you believe, the leader of the opposition) in a lift, wearing expensive suits, surrounded by polished marble and filigreed metal. We’ve all seen it. Considering their backgrounds, this is to be expected – Trump is a billionaire born to the ultra-rich, and Farage is a privately-educated ex-city trader born to a city trader. They are every bit the essence of privilege – white, older rich men. Yet both their recent campaigns tried to replace their privilege with compassion, declaring Brexit and Trump to be the manifestations of the will of the “left behind.”
Brexit has often been touted as a victory of the left behind. In some ways, that is true. The areas that had higher numbers of working-class families, a large recent influx of migration, and lower levels of education – distinct trademarks of the “left behind” – were more likely to vote to leave the European Union. However, Women were (marginally) more likely to vote to remain, probably because EU trade law has made significant moves in the right direction for workplace equality, as were Labour voters (68%) and BME individuals (65% - unfortunately, I have been unable to come across LGBT+ v. cis/straight voting trends, but as hate crime against LGBT+ individuals rose by nearly 150% after the referendum, I think we can make a guess). Rather than due to the efforts of the disenfranchised, the leave victory is instead due to the rise of hatred amongst the white community. According to one poll by The Independent, leave voters responded overwhelmingly negatively to terms such as multiculturalism, feminism, immigration, social liberalism and even the internet. In other words, the leave vote was in no way a rejection of some perceived notion of lefty bollocks, as Farage might suggest, but is instead a rejection of the freedoms given to minorities and the oppressed. These trends, then, appear to indicate that Brexit was not a victory of the disenfranchised at all, but the movement of straight cis white people, regardless of socio-economic identity, towards a toxic nationalism. If we see white people as the disenfranchised, we are nothing short of delusional, and as such Brexit was no victory for the vulnerable.
The recent US election appears to be in the same vein, though we may have to wait a bit longer for more solid statistics to surface. Though it was white men and women who swung the victory for Trump, working-class whites earning under $50,000 a year were more likely to vote for Clinton. In this case, the rich whites clinched it for Trump, so any claim of working-class support can and should be dismissed as utter nonsense. With Trump and the Republican majority in both houses, far more is at stake for women, most importantly reproductive rights, sexual health and equality of employment. Of course, while the latter will stagnate, the former two are at great risk even despite Obama’s recent executive order to prevent the defunding of Planned Parenthood. As for BME and LGBT+ individuals, the USA’s atrocious track record is only going to get worse. “Make America Great Again” will only come true if greatness and whiteness are synonymous. Then again, for red America, they often are.
Most disconcerting is that the referendum and election results have actively emboldened more violent expressions of hate. In the UK, we have already considered the rise in hate crimes against the LGBT+ community, but hate crimes against BME individuals and non-British whites also increased, by almost 50%. In the US, official statistics will arrive soon, but reports of racist and sexist violence over social media have absolutely skyrocketed. Many are aware that Trump’s presidential win happened to share a date with the anniversary of Kristallnacht, but on that same day in 694, all Jews in Hispania were sentenced to slavery, and in 1729 the Judah HeHasid Synagogue was burnt in Jerusalem, leading to the diaspora of the Ashkenazim. One could say there is no more apt date for the climax of the rise of hatred to occur, but in reality, every single day of the year has seen evils committed against an oppressed group.
What is important he is that we are finding that history is once again repeating itself. More than once in history, a market has crashed and economic divides have increased. Self-proclaimed populists have begun to dominate politics, and their regressive isolationist policies were heralded as innovative cure-alls. Nationalism rose, and those different were seen as cuckoos in our nests. I doubt there are many of us who haven’t been told to “get over it” in these recent times, but we who know history understand that those ignorant of it are perpetually doomed to repeat it. “Getting over it” is to deafen ourselves to the cries of millions of persecuted souls, and to make ourselves blind to the injustices surrounding us. Philosopher John Stuart Mill understood the tyranny of the majority to be the death-knell of diversity, and as the firstfruits of tyranny are always acts of violence against the vulnerable, “getting over it” is not, and can never be, an option.
Still we are told that these things are victories for the disenfranchised, despite all statistics, despite the injustices before our very eyes, and despite history screaming at us that they are nothing of the sort. Trump and Brexit embody the rage felt towards modern politicians, who have the gall to give a helping hand to women, minorities and refugees rather than just focussing on the plight of those who just need a little bit more. Therein lies the problem: Brexit and Trump came into being by that ever-present watchword of All Lives Matter, Men’s Right’s Activists or those who complain about the “oppression” of Christians in the western world – “What about me?”