British UKIP politician Nigel Farage’s defense of Donald Trump’s misogynistic comments caught on video, dismissing them as “alpha male boasting,” underlines the existence of a transnational right-wing political axis that relies on aggressive rhetoric to mobilize specific constituencies against liberal elites and immigrants.
The crisis of globalization has created a pronounced trend to economic nationalism, politically allied with implicit and explicit racism. The achievement of Brexit by Farage’s party therefore is not a purely British phenomenon, but a consequence of the failure of the political establishment throughout Europe to acknowledge the interests of deindustrialized working class communities or suburban communities fearing loss of their steady middle-class existence. The Tory right, backed by the major media outlets, was able to deflect these communities’ anger away from the billionaires accumulating wealth from the system and onto immigrants and minorities.
Former economic advisor to the Obama administration Lawrence Summers notes that the biggest concern of the world’s finance ministers and central-bank governors today is that “traditional ideas and leaders are losing their grip and the global economy is entering unexplored and dangerous territory … with Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, the strength of right-wing nationalists in Europe, Vladimir Putin’s strength in Russia, and the return of Mao worship in China — it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the world is seeing a renaissance of populist authoritarianism. … Publics have lost confidence both in the competence of economic leaders and in their commitment to serving broad national interests, rather than the interests of a global elite.”
A globalized economy does not supplant national states, but relies on them to enforce trade and labor discipline; if traditional forms of consensus are losing their grip, that is a serious problem for international trade agreements. The European Union is taking a very hard line with the UK because it faces internal centripetal forces threatening to break it up. European governments are concerned to shore up their own eroding domestic positions: Angela Merkel, for example, is losing support from the German electorate and has insisted on the acceptance of free movement of people as a condition for access to the single market.
In Britain, prime minister Theresa May has called for restrictions on immigration in order to appease the hardline Tory grassroots and keep her party intact. Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith comments: “May has succeeded in uniting a large swathe of the country, both Leave and Remain backers against her, including many with her own party, with her hardline anti-immigrant posture. It’s a confusing wild lurch in Tory politics, throwing big business, London, social liberalism, elites, liberal Brexiteers under the bus and courting UKIP voters.” More importantly, she has triggered a collapse in the pound and the likelihood that the financial industry will lose its lucrative passporting rights that enable it to work in the eurozone.
According to the Guardian, “The French finance minister, Michel Sapin, said on Friday that eurozone governments would not accept the City of London remaining the main euro clearing centre once Britain left the EU. … The leaders’ statements reflect an increasing feeling in European capitals that the hard line the prime minister and others adopted during the Conservative conference – including the home secretary, Amber Rudd’s plans to prevent migrants ‘taking jobs British people could do’ – may reveal a far deeper hostility to the EU than they had imagined.”
As the Washington Post commented: “Ironically, the European referendum — a poll that was intended, in the words of its proponent, to make Britain’s Parliament sovereign again — has made British legislators almost irrelevant. May has declared she will not allow a parliamentary vote on the timing or nature of the British break with the European Union. She will not allow the governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland, where voters opposed the changes, to have any voice in the process.”
This absolutely vindicates Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s demand for negotiating a “new relationship with the EU: one that protects jobs, living standards and workers’ rights.”
Across the pond in the US, Trump will likely lose the presidential election, but his disgruntled supporters will remain a political force on the right. Particularly worrying is his support from the security forces and police, together with his threats to lock up political opponents if he wins the election. Despite the release of the damning video of his remarks, Josh Marshall points out, “he has a massive amount of support among the most engaged Republican voters. The last 24 hours has probably lost him significant support in the race against Hillary Clinton. … But in the context of intra-Republican politics that leaves him with massive levels of support intact.”
This is confirmed by the New York Times: “Trump’s perceived character — a strong leader with a simple message, never flinching from a fight, cutting through political correctness with a bracing bluntness — resonates in places like Appalachia where courage, country and cussedness are core values. … It’s not that the economy is bad in all of Kentucky; the arrival of the auto industry has been a boon, and the unemployment rate is just 4.9 percent. It’s that all the old certainties have vanished. Far from the metropolitan hubs inhabited by the main beneficiaries of globalization’s churn, many people feel disenfranchised from both main political parties, angry at stagnant wages and growing inequality, and estranged from a prevailing liberal urban ethos.”
The ideology of the Democratic establishment does not enable it to effectively counter this force. It tends to write off these workers as homogeneously deplorable, without attempting to address the real causes of their alienation. It stems from the meritocratic outlook of the professional class, which sees education as the magic cure for poverty, and has benefited from the demographic changes that white workers perceive as threatening their status and wages. To his credit, Bernie Sanders has consistently refused to write off this layer of the working class and advocates fighting for the ending of the export of well-paid industrial jobs.
Harold Meyerson writes in The American Prospect that white millennials who are thinking of voting for the Green or Libertarian party candidates in the upcoming presidential election, rather than Hillary Clinton, are expressing their white privilege. “On the afternoon of the opening session of this summer’s Democratic Convention, I was walking into the convention arena while hundreds of young demonstrators, many carrying signs backing Green Party candidate Jill Stein, shouted and occasionally hurled invectives at those entering the hall—an odd tactic, I thought, since more than 40 percent of the delegates entering the building were Bernie Sanders’s. The friend I was walking in with—a Latino legislator from California—cast a cold eye on the demonstrators and noted, ‘They’re all white’.”
He adds: “The gap that’s opened between white and minority millennials should come as no surprise; it tracks their different life experiences.” A recent survey found that “48 percent of young blacks had experienced racial discrimination in looking for a job, compared to 30 percent of Latinos and just 10 percent of whites. It found that 57 percent of both black and Latino millennials were concerned about someone in their household being laid off, while just 41 percent of young whites voiced that fear. But surely, the gap also reflects the greater and more direct danger that a Trump presidency poses to minority communities, immigrants, and Muslims than it does to whites.”
But while Sanders’ millennial supporters are opposed to a Trump presidency, they need to overcome the political confusion that inhibits them from voting for Clinton in the upcoming election alongside citizens in the African and Latino American communities, which would be the basis of vital alliances in the fight against racism in the US. Brexit has already led to a marked increase of racist attacks on immigrants in Britain; Corbyn and his supporters have made public their opposition to the government’s demonization of immigrants, despite pressure from within his own party.
Right-wing nativism threatens to erode the social contract of democracy and rights for all peoples in Britain and the United States, for which giants like Martin Luther King gave their lives. In Abraham Lincoln’s words: “A house divided cannot stand.” Voters in the US have a political duty to stop Trump lest they condemn themselves to a repetition of the worst of American and European history.