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Sunday, June 26, 2016

Brexit talk for troubled times

by digby

English football hooligans

Brexit seems to have brought out a lot of heated commentary on both the left and the right. I made my opinion clear on this earlier and don't really want to get back into it in detail. (Apparently, being against it is just another sign of either my deep commitment to corrupt neoliberalism or my hatred for America. Or both.) We will see how this unfolds over the next couple of months. I remain gobsmacked by the number of stories of people now wishing they could take their vote back. It's just another illustration of why voting isn't therapy or an exercise in personal self-expression. It's fine to "send a message" but don't be surprised if the message isn't the one you intended to send.

Be that as it may, I did want to share a couple of really good pieces written by others on this subject. The first is by Jamelle Bouie at Slate. It's a wonderful piece and you should read it all. But this is the nub of the argument and I think it's very compelling:
The development of Western society over the past 300 years has occurred against a backdrop of racist domination, in which people of color were (and are) deliberately excluded from political and economic rights reserved for those persons deemed “white” (as distinct from European ancestry). All men might be created equal, but this normative equality didn’t extend to black or native Americans, just as it didn’t extend to those in South America, just as it didn’t extend to Africans or South Asians under colonial rule, just as it didn’t extend to Southeast Asians under the same. It’s how the same men who preached freedom could justify slavery and native extermination, how those who defended liberty could starve millions.

This racial hierarchy is still with us and still powerful, albeit attenuated in the face of broad taboos and the dismantling of official white supremacy. It continues to shape larger beliefs about citizenship and inclusion. Who really counts as an American? Who really counts as a Briton? Look no further than Trump’s attacks on Gonzalo Curiel, the American-born judge in the case against Trump University. For Trump, Curiel is a “Mexican,” and thus not American enough to be dispassionate in his judgment. Or, for an older vintage, see the brief right-wing push to end “birthright citizenship” in the United States.

In the United States, “whiteness” was the key to unlocking a broad array of social and economic benefits, provided to you as long as you could find the door (this despite the courageous work of leftists and radicals, black and white, in challenging those racial barriers). The same was true of other Western nations, where whiteness was a necessary (but not the only) factor in gaining access to new entitlements of citizenship.

It’s not hard to see how global capitalism and the elevation of financial markets have transformed the world over the past 30 years, upending our societies in ways we’re still trying to grapple with. What’s less obvious is the extent to which global capitalism has also upended racial hierarchies by degrading whatever material benefits accrue to those deemed “white.” For as much as capitalist economies entrench racial inequality, the logic of capital doesn’t especially care. It will impoverish black, white, and brown all the same.

Trump supporters are largely white Americans. Brexit backers are largely white Britons. And on both sides, they’re older, often elderly. In addition to everything else—all of the particular concerns of particular communities in the United States and the United Kingdom—we are witnessing a backlash to the weakening of a hierarchy that gave real status to people at the top, that protected them from the whims of capital or gave them prime social status as the expense of nonwhites.

I would just add that the upending of the patriarchal hierarchy is just as disquieting in societies all around the world. And it goes back even further. Economics certainly make this situation even more volatile. The fact that this is coming to a head in the wake of an epic financial crisis is no coincidence. But there are deeper forces at work here.

This piece by Joshua Holland is also very good. He takes a look at the polling in the wake of Brexit and unsurprisingly finds that the vast majority of people who voted for it share certain "attitudes" that place them in conflict with what I would have thought anyone would recognize as progressive, liberal or leftist:
I won’t pretend to be an expert on Europe’s common agricultural policy, but I can read a poll, and there was a doozy of an exit survey conducted by the oh-so-British-sounding Lord Ashcroft Polls. It found that those who think that capitalism is a “force for ill” were about evenly split, voting to leave the EU by a 51-49 margin. That narrow divide was dwarfed by what we might call the “asshole gap” – conservative assholes were overwhelmingly in favor of Brexiting the EU.

People who think multiculturalism “is a force for ill” voted to leave by an 81-19 margin.

People who think social liberalism “is a force for ill” voted to leave by an 80-20 margin.

People who think feminism “is a force for ill” voted to leave by a 74-26 margin.

People who think the green movement – environmentalism — “is a force for ill” voted to leave by a 78-22 margin. No word on climate change deniers specifically, but one can certainly speculate.

In other words, leave was given a big boost by the British equivalent of Breitbart readers.

The older you are, the more likely you were to vote leave. White voters supported Brexiting by a 53-47 margin, while two-thirds of Asians and three-quarters of blacks voted to Bremain. One would think that the latter have been subjected to the same economic forces as the former, but they don’t wax nostalgic for their dead empire or blame their troubles on those bloody wogs.

You will not get an argument from me that Cameron's despicable austerity measures were idiotic and cruel. I wrote about it constantly, for years. But kidding ourselves that instituting better redistributionist policies, soaking the rich, getting rid of monopolies, jailing bankers etc --- all of which I'm behind 100% --- is going to appease these people is failing to see the big picture.

This poster from the UKIP Leave campaign says it all: