Discouraged Americans Should Take Heart from Brexit
If things don't change between now and Inauguration Day, the 2020 election will go down as a historic loss for democracy.
But on New Year's Eve, across the Atlantic, democracy just had a historic win. That's the day Great Britain, four tortuous years after the British people overwhelmingly demanded their liberty from the European Union in a national referendum, finally regained her sovereignty. "The war is over," exulted Brexit champion Nigel Farage as soon as the U.K. struck its last-minute trade deal with the E.U. on December 31. Brendan O'Neill, editor at Spiked, also hails the victory, but he believes that the war for democracy "has only just begun":
Brexit is best seen as the first battle in the war; as the first stand-off in a far broader struggle to take back control, not merely from Brussels but from our own elites. The war for democracy must continue, and with vigour.
The unexpected election of Donald Trump in 2016 was the start of a political revolution in the United States. For the first time in memory, traditional working-class and middle-class Americans found themselves with a ferocious advocate in the White House, who was also unapologetically pro-America, and determined to restore her standing on the world stage. The war of annihilation unleashed by progressives on Trump quickly revealed itself as a war to eradicate his supporters as well. By giving as good as he got — or usually better — Trump forever unmasked the Deep State and the creeping tyranny of a bipartisan cabal of elites.
But just as our revolution was taking off, the U.K.'s revolution was being strangled in its crib. The largest majority in British history, 17.4 million voters, had turned out in 2016 to demand their country back from faceless, unaccountable technocrats in Brussels. Yet instead of marking the departure of the U.K. from the E.U., the referendum triggered, as O'Neill describes it, "that heady, deranged moment when the political, media and cultural establishments looked with horror upon the vote for Brexit and started to plan its overthrow." Only the day after the referendum, members of Parliament, "seething about the temerity of the dimwitted public in voting for Brexit," were plotting its demise. "In the words of that arch anti-democrat David Lammy," O'Neill writes, "the Labour MP who furiously devoted himself to thwarting the most important democratic vote ever cast in this country, 'we can stop this madness and bring this nightmare to an end.'" Thus began "the long, scandalous two years of the Remainer Parliament," when recalcitrant M.P.s "did everything within their power to stop Brexit and to silence the democratic roar of the British people."
But as much of a menace as the European Union is to democracy, O'Neill explains that, in reality, the assault on Brexit was "not a dastardly plot by Germany." The battle against Brexit was a civil war, waged by
British politicians and British campaigners and members of the British media and cultural elites. It was they who openly raged against the 'low-information' electorate. It was they who spread conspiracy theories about the co-option of British plebs' minds by nefarious Big Tech and evil Russians[.] ... It was the British liberal elite who gathered in the streets in their tens of thousands explicitly to demand the revocation of the votes of millions of working-class people[.] ... To these people, to these political, media and cultural players who devoted so much energy, time and money to trying to keep Britain in the EU, the importance of the EU lies in the insulation it provides between politics and people; between the making of laws and the citizens expected to live by those laws; between us and them.
Britain's them were their dimwitted public, the "low-information electorate" whose American counterparts are known as "deplorables" — and like the British them, we're also too unintelligent to govern ourselves. Just ask Sarah Smarsh at The Guardian. She believes that if you're a white American with access to NPR or CNN, and yet still "believe the current president is a good man," it's because you're "irrational ... perhaps even disturbed," or else you're "moved not by facts but by the feelings [your] outrageous leader incites." Two days after the 2016 presidential election, Foreign Policy magazine declared "Trump Won Because Voters Are Ignorant, Literally." F.P. lectured its readers that "Democracy is the rule of the people, but the people are in many ways unfit to rule."
That's what they think. Literally.
The fanaticism for the E.U. of Britain's "political and chattering classes" — impelling mass, furious gatherings of Remainers in their "EU-themed clothing" and "blue-painted faces" — is "directly proportionate to these people's antagonism towards the idea of the wisdom of the crowd." You'll observe the sinister resemblance to their like-minded American cousins on this side of the Atlantic. The maxim that "technocracy is preferable to democracy" is also embraced by America's chatterers and cognoscenti, because "experts know better than ordinary voters; [and] some issues are too big to be dealt with by mere citizens." In 2009, Thomas Friedman, downcast over how Barack Obama's mission to "usher in a new way of being on the planet" was being blocked by a Republican Congress, ruminated over the "great advantages" available to a "one-party autocracy" — provided, naturellement, that "a reasonably enlightened group of people" are in charge, Friedman having in mind enlightened people like the Democrats — or the people who run China. Why waste time educating the Bible-clinging dolts on the calamities of climate change when "one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century"?
Friedman's wish of a dozen years ago is now the theme of the 2021 Democrat playbook.
That means that these are dark days, indeed. But it took scrapping through five years of defeats before Britain, at last, saw the fulfillment of "the people's will over the alleged expertise of [their] elected representatives." Parliament voted for the trade deal only "with gritted teeth," stresses O'Neill, because "they had no option. We made them do this[.] ... If the elites had their way ... Brexit would simply have been stopped."
Could it be that this generation of Britons — people I've often written off as decent, if bendy, consumers of socialized benefits, continental vice, and tabloid gossip about the Royal Family (basically, spongier versions of their Hun-defying ancestors) — has more pluck than we give it credit for? America clearly is not the only place the war for democracy rages, and at the moment, in our country, democracy is losing. But just as the Battle of Brexit is only one, early victory in the larger war, the defeats American democracy is suffering now can't be the whole war, either. The Brexit win followed five dark years of reverses and scorn for the Leavers who first roared for it — while being abused as "ignorant losers, white, old, xenophobic and stupid, 'gammon' who would be better dead or disfranchised." In those same years, the United States was enjoying the advances under Trump. Now it may be our turn. The Establishment Puppet-Elect has even promised us darkness!
Our cousins' hard fought slog to liberate themselves from the E.U. could be a lesson for us Yanks. Considering the present state of the American republic, we should be humble enough to learn it.
T.R. Clancy looks at the world from Dearborn, Michigan. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.