Everyone knows the best way to start off anything is with an explicit disclaimer, so here it goes.
I’m not for Brexit. I see a lot of problems with the European Union but I haven’t really seen much in the way of solutions from so-called Euroskeptics. You could rightly say that were I a UK citizen, I probably would have voted Remain. So again- I’m not in favor of Brexit.
That being said, I think a bit of an autopsy is in order, and unlike most commentators who seem to be harping on about how “the racists won” and “Putin is celebrating,” I think it makes a lot more sense to discuss the failures of the pro-EU side lest this same pattern be repeated across Europe. If that sounds like rubbing salt in Remain’s wounds, too bad. On this blog I constantly write about how the Russian government has no accountability and doesn’t brook internal dissent and many of you cheer me on for it. Now I’m applying the same logic to the EU and the Remainers. Deal with it.
The REAL culprit
First of all let me say that I know who’s really responsible for this disaster, if only indirectly. I learned about him in 2008. Here’s your scapegoat right here, Remainers:
Yes, this is a real thing that exists- Captain Euro. Take Captain America and make him about 1,000 times lamer. How lame exactly? This says it all:
I’m not well versed on Italian politics but I do know this: If you are “working” with Matteo Renzi, if you are doing anything at all with Matteo Renzi, you are lame, period. Case in point.
In fact, to truly measure exactly how lame Captain Euro is, let us compare him to Captain America.
Captain America: Born Steve Rogers, a morally upstanding young man from Brooklyn who wanted nothing more than to serve his country in WWII but could not due to his physical weakness.
Captain Euro: Son of an ethnic German Croat who was dogged to his dying day with accusations that he had been a member of the notorious anti-partisan 7th Waffen SS “Prinz Eugen” division. The father maintained that he had only served as a divisional staff clerk.
Captain America: Thanks to an experimental serum, Rogers gains super strength and regenerative properties.
Captain Euro: Professor of paleontology who had to have one of his knees replaced with a “metal alloy joint” after a car accident. I’m not even joking here. Read it for yourself. No, the joint isn’t made from the strongest material on Earth. No, it doesn’t allow him for fire missiles out of his leg. But the biography assures us that he remains in “peak physical condition…” for a professor, I guess.
Captain America: Motivated by hatred of bullies, Nazis, and supervillains.
Captain Euro: Was apparently motivated to “fight” for European unity after witnessing the horrors that befell Yugoslavia in the 1990’s. Somehow missed the fact that both the 90’s Yugoslav wars and the ethnic violence which took place in WWII-era Yugoslavia can be traced to heavy-handed attempts to force several different nationalities together into one country without taking into account those nationalities’ specific concerns.
Captain America: Super strength and athletic endurance. Literally punched out Adolf Hitler, who later elected to commit suicide rather than face the shame of living after being so humiliated in front of his most trusted SS guards.
Captain Euro: An extensive knowledge of trade law and legislative procedure.
Captain America: A shield made of the strongest metal on Earth which also returns to his hand like a boomerang in violation of all known laws of physics.
Captain Euro: Vespa scooter. I already told you the artificial knee joint doesn’t do anything. Don’t have a pen with you? Captain Euro’s got you covered.
Captain America: The Avengers, a group of the most powerful superheroes on Earth.
Captain Euro: Faceless bureaucrats.
Likelihood of hanging out with Matteo Renzi
Captain America: “I don’t know who that is but he sounds lame.”
Captain Euro: “We’re going to the street food festival later this afternoon. I call him ‘Matt,’ actually.”
Alright, you get the idea. This may be a joke, but it is a joke that contains a key truth as to why Brexit succeeded, at least in my opinion.
The anti-establishment campaign
In the wake of Brexit’s win one phrase I’ve often seen is “anti-establishment campaign.” It’s being brandished about as if the Brexit crowd somehow cheated by framing their campaign in such a way. The obvious problem is that when EU supporters point this out, they’re essentially identifying themselves as the establishment or pro-establishment.
It is a fact that many ordinary people who support the EU are well aware of its problems. They express disagreement with some of its policies and acknowledge that some of its practices are ridiculous. On the other hand, the EU’s most fervent defenders often come off as ridiculous romantics or authoritarian schoolmarms ready to scold anyone who expresses dissent toward the idea of “Europe.” Timothy Snyder is a good example of the former, while Anne Applebaum is the latter.
Snyder, somewhat odd for an American, has such glowing praise for “Europe” as the salvation of humanity you’d almost think he’s Captain Euro’s secret identity. Applebaum, on the other hand, chides the Greeks to accept austerity because their country’s economic woes are their own fault. It doesn’t matter that at times these people make valid points. What matters is how they are perceived as a whole.
Snyder, Applebaum, and much of the pro-EU crowd often come off as though they’re proud to be part of “the establishment,” as though there’s nothing wrong with this image. It’s like some kind of Christian youth group telling teens about how “cool” it is to obey your parents and practice abstinence until marriage.
Meanwhile you’ve got Russia and the Euroskeptics playing the role of the rebellious bad boys. It doesn’t matter that Russia is ruled by an authoritarian regime far more restrictive than any European democracy however flawed. It doesn’t matter that dissent, which is seen as rebellious and admirable in Western countries is considered treason in Russia. It’s the image that matters.
The irony here is that it really isn’t hard to deflate Russia’s carefully-constructed rebel image- all it takes is more education on Russian politics and comparing the reaction to dissent in the West to that it Russia, something I do all the time here. Unfortunately many of the EU cheerleaders prefer to defend the status quo and establishment outright. Is it really so surprising that they lost?
The Putin factor
Probably one of the dumbest, most inexplicable tactics of the Remain supporters was to tie in Vladimir Putin with Brexit. Basically the propaganda went like this: “Russia is supporting Brexit! If you vote Leave, Vladimir Putin will be happy! You don’t want to make Vladimir Putin happy, do you?!”
There are several things wrong with this argument. The first is that most of the people who voted for Leave probably never really gave a fuck about Vladimir Putin or Russia. See unemployment, lack of opportunities, and austerity tend to make it difficult for people to care about issues far beyond their immediate surroundings. Yes, they are extremely cynical. You know what is also cynical? The free-market-uber-alles policies that came to dominate most of the industrialized world since the 1980’s. When your society celebrates making profit above all else without any regard for the consequences, don’t be so shocked that the people on the receiving end suddenly don’t care too much about the human rights of people in far away countries. Add to that a long, avoidable war which was sparked by the most cynical manipulation, and you get an audience willing to listen to anyone who gives a voice to their anger.
It seems the Remain campaign’s rhetoric about Putin was supposed to work something like this:
“What? Vladimir Putin wants Brexit? He’s a right muppet! I’m switching my vote to Remain!”
In reality probably went more like this:
“What? Vladimir Putin wants Brexit? We have an ally abroad! My government seems not to like him so he must be wonderful!”
All the rhetoric about Putin and Russia did nothing but cement a relationship between the former and the Euroskeptics, who seem to be doubling down on their love for the midget. This also helps the Kremlin media, which can use this hysteria as “proof” that they are having an impact, thus justifying their over-inflated budgets from which they can siphon off money.
For those flogging the Putin-Euroskeptic connections, here’s a reality check: The European Union had major problems before Russia’s “soft power offensive” in recent years, before RT was founded, even before Putin became president. Many of these far right parties existed long before then as well, and their arguments were the same. Rather than address the roots of this problem and find the factors leading to the rise of the far right, it would seem that the establishment preferred to turn a blind eye and then, when it became clear how influential these parties had become, blame Russia.
As for the real relationship between Putin and the European Union, it’s a bit complicated. On one hand, Russia’s elite wants to continue squirreling away its stolen wealth in the West. I’m sure a number of them also want to have nice places to “retire” to when Russians get fed up, grow spines, and the lynch mobs start converging on Rublevka. Yes, instability in the European Union will help make this possible as smaller countries with economic woes will be more receptive to working with corrupt Russian officials.
One the other hand, Russia is not the Soviet Union. It is integrated into the global economy and what power it amassed in the 2000’s was based on this fact. Burning down the EU is essentially they same as railing against the US. It will eventually come back on Russia. Instability in the EU will lead to economic crisis which means less investment.
Of course this situation will be bad for everyone all around, but the bottom line is that Putin doesn’t “win.” He never “wins.” He just loses more slowly, usually thanks to his opponents blunders.
The EU has often been accused, either rightly or wrongly, of being anti-democratic. It certainly doesn’t help when some Remain supporters have come out in denouncing referendums. This has been accompanied by typical liberal elitism, blaming the unwashed masses for being “uninformed” and easily duped by demagogues without any self-awareness as to what they were specifically doing to appeal to those same masses and to counter the rhetoric of said demagogues.
First of all this is ridiculously hypocritical. After all, Ireland approved the Lisbon treaty after holding a second referendum. Was that the will of the people or the unwashed masses being duped by demagogues? My point is that even when you’re right, you can’t start demonizing democracy just because it doesn’t go your way. And do I even need to point out that we wouldn’t be hearing any of this anti-referendum rhetoric had Remain won? Jesus, it’s Eurovision all over again!
True, democracy without law can degenerate into mob rule, but that’s not what happened here. The Brexit referendum was conducted in agreement with British laws and regulations. It was announced far in advance and carried out according to plan. These facts alone make it very different from some other “referendums” in recent years. It’s also worth pointing out that Maidan, which EU cheerleaders love to condescendingly mischaracterize as “Ukrainians dying to join Europe,” could rightly be called “mob rule.” In this context it matters little that Yanukovych basically drove the situation to that point; what matters is you can’t condemn Brexit and praise Maidan just because one went the way you wanted and the other didn’t.
Sadly the ruling class and specifically the right-wing of that class has a major advantage in capitalist society. They are able to take advantage of liberal inability to solve the contradictions of their capitalist system in order to whip up hysteria against the political establishment. If they are successful, as with Brexit, they’re able to get liberals themselves railing against democracy. Whichever way things go, democracy loses and the world moves closer to authoritarian society. Cynicism strangles ideals.
It’s so common these days to see people making anti-democratic arguments based on oblivious statements like “people are stupid.” Well let me ask- what have you done to inform people? What are you doing in your daily life to dispel myths and misconceptions that people have about politics, economics, history, and so forth? Yes, there are masses of so-called “low information voters” out there. But here’s the thing- people are only going to be informed about politics if they are made to feel responsible. If you don’t encourage them to vote, support a candidate, join a party, or otherwise participate directly in politics, they aren’t going to take the interest because many of them are too busy working 9-10 hours a day just to make ends meet. That’s thanks to your system.
As an American, I’m floored that liberals can’t understand Trump’s popularity when they did virtually nothing to remedy the needs of America’s working class- they simply assumed they had their support and that was the end of it. Now they expect someone working at Subway to dig into world politics and understand why Donald Trump can’t actually deliver on any of his idiotic promises, or understand why those promises are idiotic in the first place.
You can talk about human rights, European unity, and rule of law all you like, but the problem is that millions of citizens cannot eat those things. They cannot live in “European values.” It doesn’t matter what your intentions were. It doesn’t matter that you think you were doing what’s best for them. All that matters is how your actions and words are perceived by others- the only thing we can actually see in the real world.
In the end, there are two paths lying in front of EU supporters. One path is that of finger-pointing and blame shifting. “It was Putin! It was those dastardly demagogues! Our people are too stupid!” The other path is that of responsibility, reform, and making good on those values Europe supposedly stands for. Brexit is a historic blow and a major defeat for the idea of a united Europe, but it was a defeat rooted in arrogance, ignorance, and incompetence. Defeat, however, has a certain positive quality- it’s highly educational, much more so than victory. So the EU can either learn from this defeat and change its ways for the better, or it can keep making blunder after blunder until it falls apart.