The end of the beginning of the revolution?

The wheel turns: in both Britain and the US people have begun to "think again". Credit: London & Partners

There is ferocity in the way that Brexiters are warning against anything less than hard Brexit which suggests they are fearful of what could be called the “think again” factor.

A similar sort of aggression towards the growing ranks of doubters about Donald Trump’s suitability to become President of the United States has turned that campaign into the nastiest and most divisive ever.

In both the UK’s Brexit story and the US’s presidential election story, the language of those arguing to seize back from the despised “elites” the power to set the future course of the two great pillars of western democracy has always been strident.

But in recent days, it has shifted from strident to abusive and, even in some instances, to unhinged.

So what is going on?

It seems that reality may be reasserting itself over rhetoric and, as it does, the emptiness of the rhetoric is becoming more obvious to many who were initially seduced by it.

Two “real” things have changed since Britons voted for Brexit and Americans embraced Trump. The pound sterling has plunged in value as demand for it has collapsed. And the value of the Trump presidential “currency” has been smashed by revelations about Trump’s real character.

The consequence is that, in both Britain and the US, people have begun to reflect on these realities. They have begun to “think again”.

As the reality of Britain’s decision to vote to leave the European Union begins to bite and the reality of Trump’s character begins to be more starkly revealed, ordinary people have begun to worry that they may have been victims of con artists.

Of course, the UK is going to have to live with the consequences of its June decision. But reflection on what those consequences might be will be important in the decisions to come about what sort of relationships Britain has with Europe and the rest of the world.

In the US, the fateful decision on whether to go ahead with the Trump revolution or to take a more prudent course is yet to be made. It looks increasingly likely, however, that prudence with conquer Trump.

In the US, the simple appeal of Trump’s “make America great again” is being negated by the fact that voters increasingly examine the reality of the person who they are being asked to trust to deliver the promise. And the reaction to this from Trump and his brown shirts is vicious and threatening.

In Britain, the “make Britain great again” idea that the Brexiters successfully convinced voters to embrace has already been hit hard by a pound sterling now sliding at a rate only matched by the world’s most unwanted currencies.

And what do people who are unsettled about this get from the Brexit hardliners? A full frontal assault by the Daily Mail editorial accusing “Bremoaners” of being “Whingeing, Contemptuous, Unpatriotic”…. and “Plotting to Subvert the Will of the British People”.

In the aftermath of the Brexit vote and in the best days of the Trump “change America” campaign, there was much discussion of what this meant for the world. “The Beginning of the End….” was a phrase widely used in relation to the European Union, the trans-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific alliances, liberal democracy, globalisation, western civilisation and so on.

But maybe there is another way to look at this.

Maybe it can be seen from the opposite direction, as the end of the beginning of a revolution which was based on a vision of the future that had little more substance to it than nostalgia and visions shaped in rose tinted rear vision mirrors.

The more the promises of the leaders of the revolution against the existing order are seen to have been empty of solutions to the problems of the current system, the less likely it will be that ordinary people will be willing to join the revolution.

Were that to happen in the US, with the result that the Republican Party suffered a deep loss of credibility, the harder it would be for them to deny the legitimacy of a Clinton presidency in the way that the Obama presidency was denied it.

Maybe, if the UK parliament is allowed a real and searching debate about the reality of Brexit and its consequences, an economic future for Britain in Europe may still be able to be found.

And maybe the wave of populism now sweeping the democratic world – with its false promise of easy solutions to the problems whose complexity have undermined the credibility of the existing political order – will be seen to have peaked with Brexit and Trumpism.

It’s too early to say. But it is certainly possible.

By Geoff Kitney


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