The mainstream media are full of stories about the “angry white people” involved in Brexit and the Trump campaign. I think it’s important to understand what is making them angry. That’s a step on the road to transforming their anger into intelligent action.
Anger is often a reaction to having one’s boundaries violated, and that is very much the case with Brexit and Trump’s supporters. People are angry because the economic security they once had has been taken from them in the name of “austerity,” in the name of “free trade,”by outsourcing and automation of manufacturing and the jobs it once offered, and, ultimately, by the demand for higher corporate profits.
Another thing that angers Britons and Trump supporters is that, in the midst of their own fall, their communities are being swamped with immigrants and refugees. These refugee/immigrant streams were created by the actions of politicians–so-called “free trade agreements,” or any one of a growing number of wars, insurgencies, and failed or failing states. The politicians have been paying no price for creating these disasters, even building careers on the benefits that have accrued to the corporate class as a result of their actions, but the middle class correctly perceives that they are the ones paying the price–being underbid on jobs/wages, competing for a diminishing stock of affordable housing, and, at least in their perception, having their tax dollars funneled into services for the newcomers. That last one is a more complex question than I can fully deal with here, but it does have to do with the fact that corporations and the wealthy are paying an increasingly smaller share of many nations’ tax income, especially here in America, and the tax burden is falling increasingly on the middle class.
The fact that Polish immigrants to Britain that are being subjected to serious abuse indicates clearly that this anger is about class, not race. There’s no racial factor involved with Poles–they and the Scandinavians might be the only people “whiter” than Britons, and they aren’t Muslims. They just have the same trades skills that Britons have and they’re used to working for a lot less money. To blow off what is going on in Britain and the United States as “racism” is either to misunderstand it or to intentionally mislabel it to deflect attention from what it’s really about, which, as I said, is that working-class people are paying the price for decisions made by high-level politicians who, until recently, have been completely insulated from the catastrophic effects of their decisions. Brexit has changed that. Here in the US, Trump rode that resentment to the Republican nomination, easily brushing aside all the conventional Republican politicians who were closely identified in the public’s mind with “the establishment.” Hillary Clinton, too, is a legitimate target for that ire.
The inability of working class people to see the real cause of their problems and instead fall for Trump’s semicoherent ramblings is also the fault of the corporate establishment, who have done all they can to keep the public pliant, sedated, and ignorant with television. junk food, and widely prescribed psychiatric medications. The sedation has worn thin, and the pliancy is turning to resistance, but ignorance is harder to overcome. People in this country, in England, and over much of Western Europe are angry about being clobbered with “foreigners.” Yes, their response looks like racism and nationalism, and the neoliberal political class is dismissing it as such. So far, Trump supporters, and many Brexit supporters, haven’t gotten past who they have been clobbered with to go after the corporate/state parties that have actually been doing the clobbering. If or when they do, there will be a revolution, and Trump may well be one of its first victims.
Here in America, we are in a classic, crazy-making “double bind.” The choices appear to be, “vote for Trump and invite racist, nativist chaos, or vote for Clinton and ratify the corporate security state.” Neither is an acceptable option. In Eastern Europe, the so-called Communist regimes presented people with a similar situation, holding their hegemony together by convincing everyone that they were just one person who was powerless against the state apparatus. The day all those “powerless people” realized how many of them there were, governments didn’t just fall, a whole political system dissolved. Here in America, those of us in the Green Party and elsewhere who dissent from the corporate narrative have been portrayed as a small, powerless minority. The Sanders campaign proved otherwise, but there is still a lot of work to do, and no promise of success. That uncertainty is all the more reason to do our very best.
music: Jackson Browne, “Till I Go Down.”