Brexit. Even though the people narrowly voted for it, it now seems like no one wants it. The British government is desperately either trying to put together a deal that doesn’t lead to absolute crisis or begging the EU to give them more time… to come to a deal that doesn’t lead to absolute crisis. How is it that the party that campaigned for this idea, the party that called for the referendum on this deal not seem to have any plan on how to carry out this deal?
Because they honestly didn’t think it would happen. But their base, inflamed now for decades in a cynical ploy for votes, took the political theatre seriously and now stand poised to set the curtains alight.
I’ve made no secret in my writing that in the global right’s not-quite-slow-enough slide into fascism they had had to resort to more and more inflammatory rhetoric to gin up votes for oligarchy-enriching policies that, if they actually ran on those and not the unfounded fear of someone trying to steal your job or your race or your hamburgers, would never actually get them elected. It has served the right well for the past 40 years now and allowed them to essentially cultivate a base that doesn’t care if the oligarchs rob them blind, so long as folks aren’t surrendering their “western values” which I suppose means people chewed up & spat out by an exploitative system not getting the food they need to keep on living? The best example of this mindset was put into sharp relief in a recent New York Times article, where a voter for the current American Mussolini-in-training whined of the would-be dictator “He’s not hurting the people he needs to be hurting.”
That’s the lay of the land for the right: three decades of continually poisoning the well with harsher and harsher rhetoric (because the same old stuff loses its sing after a while, so you have to keep upping the ante) until your main voter base not only believes gay frogs are a sign of cultural Armageddon or that the government is looking to imprison people in abandoned Walmarts, but also that in the fight of socialism vs. barbarism, it’s barbarism all the way, so long as they’re not the ones being eaten.
The only problem with this continued pouring of gasoline on the fire is that, eventually, you have to start burning important things to keep the fire going. Eventually, you end up burning yourself. Ergo, Brexit. Ergo, the Trade War. Ergo, the US losing its place as an economic leader. All of these are the result of trying to blend reactionary far-right social policies with technocratic centrist status-quo financial policies. You can only exploit primal fears for so long before it starts to cut into the system of psychocapitalism that you’re trying to keep afloat. Ironically, this system of psychocapitalism, a system that prizes short-term earnings above all else is always doomed to be undone by the fact that no one running the system, whether it’s economically or politically, ever looks past the next quarterly earnings report or election. Because of that, they always fall victim to an unsustainable system that is directly undermined by the rules of the system itself. You can only cut so deep before you start cutting the throats of the people you rely on to keep you in power, and as soon as you start hurting the wrong people, the whole thing collapses because you lose the only thing that was keeping people voting for your garbage policies that were designed to fail.
The smartest among the psychocapitalists knows this, and that’s why you’re seeing so many naked power grabs and bluntly obvious admissions that yes, the game is up and it was always the point to extract wealth from the working classes. Those who aren’t complete fools who actually think they are doing a tremendous, bigly job are the ones looking to cash in and get out before the entire thing collapses. Brexit is a perfect example of stoking up this sort of blind rage in the voting population, but being unable to control the fire once it rages out of control and ends up burning your house down. As billionaire Jeff Greene told New York magazine back in 2012: “You’re in Palm Beach, you’re in the Hamptons, you think you’re so secure…Do you really think if you had 50,000 angry people coming across the river, you think you’re safe?” Play with fire and you get burned, and the global right movement is starting to need some bandages. The biggest issue is however, whether or not the right will be sent off to heal and possibly come back smarter from their ordeal, of if they will shamble forward like the living dead, content on consuming everything in a fiery hellscape. Given the attitudes of leaders today in Hungary, Brazil, France, the Phillipines, Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the United States, among others, it would not be a completely foolish endeavor to believe the latter is coming.
It’s going to be the job of the Left to both fight off the zombies of bad ideas and also try our best to bring this world back from the brink as we have done before. In fact, there’s a disturbing trend in modern history of the left patching things up just in time for right-wing or right-wing-friendly “centrists” to wreck the shop again. It’s not going to be easy, and there’s going to be a lot of sacrifice, but you don’t wind up on the Left if you want things to be easy. The best parts of the left are not sustained like a fire but like a spring, endlessly bubbling with hope and optimism for what can be done instead of hoping to burn down the house before it changes into something you don’t personally recognize. It is those best parts, the parts that want the same rights guaranteed for all, that must lead the way forward with malice toward none and charity for all as Abraham Lincoln said during his second inaugural, with the Civil War still raging all around him. It is sometimes true that we can be at our best when the house is burning down, and how we all come together to rebuild it.