Kathy Sheridan: Brexit and Trump promises were just lies
Trump and Brexit supporters seem unconcerned by breaches of trust with electorate
President Donald Trump in full voice in the White House. File photograph: Evan Vucci/AP Photo
A couple of friends who thumped the table for Brexit and Donald Trump have gone rather quiet. Both my Irish-American relative and the long-time London-Irish businessman admit to feeling a little scalded.
Last May, David Davis MP asserted that post-Brexit, immigration would fall to “almost zero”. Last week, the now Brexit secretary, amended that to: “From time to time, we’ll need more, from time to time, we’ll need less migrants.”
In the US, Trump’s extreme bellicosity about foreign trade has descended to 'talking loudly and brandishing a small stick'
Last year, he confidently declared the UK would land an EU trade deal with the “exact same benefits as we have”, while also sailing forth to form trade deals with the rest of the world. Last week, he said he was just being ambitious about the government’s aims.
In the US, Trump’s extreme bellicosity about foreign trade has descended to “talking loudly and brandishing a small stick”, as the New York Times put it. His latest executive orders stopped short of authorising a ritual, public shredding of what he used to call “history’s worst trade deal”, the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with Mexico and Canada, or that “potential disaster”, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement. Instead, he ordered up a large research study and strengthened enforcement of an existing act. They now propose to use the TPP agreement as a “starting point” for deals, and to subject Nafta to some relatively modest changes.
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Yet Trump- and Brexit-supporting letter-writers to this paper, claiming to be amazed by the dearth of supportive contributions, seem comically unconcerned by this steady exposure of lies, aka fundamental breaches of trust with the electorate.'
'I see no harm in reminding them what sort of people we are,' burbled plucky Lord Howard of way-past-fighting age
There is entertainment value in the lounge bar colonels salivating over the return of the navy passport (to be redesigned at a cost of £500 million/€583m, while the Germans, Dutch, Italians and so on wander 26 EU countries at will, with no passports at all), amid fantasies of dispatching the Royal Navy to teach Johnny Foreigner a lesson on behalf of the plucky little Gibraltarians (who voted near unanimously to remain in the EU and were totally omitted from Theresa May’s early EU jousts).
“I see no harm in reminding them what sort of people we are,” burbled plucky Lord Howard of way-past-fighting age. Andrew Rosindell, a 51-year-old Tory MP, accused Spain of acting like a “colonial power” on the Gibraltar question (yes, the irony is ridiculous), but predicted it wouldn’t be “so silly” because “we send them huge numbers of pensioners”. An odd way to describe freedom of movement. Sue, one such pensioner, replied: “Send them? Excuse me! I am a UK citizen retiree in Spain. I went of my own volition when I believed I had a future to look forward to.”
What makes this way more frustrating than entertaining however, is the memory of how those flag-waving jingoists, snorting lines of nostalgia and simplistic solutions to globalisation and automation, dismissed the remainers as elitist, metropolitan bubble-dwellers.
Crushed by neglect
They pushed the narrative about the “left-behinds”, casting millions of people on both side of the Atlantic as a seething, amorphous blob, crushed by economic neglect and political correctness, whose sudden access to an explosive red vote button powered Trump and Brexit to victory. Michael Gove’s wife was so surprised by their success, she told him: “You were only supposed to blow the bloody doors off.” What larks. We won! No plan!
Yet this spotlight on the “left behinds” was undoubtedly a humbling one, one that has led to much self-questioning by remainers and Hillary Clinton supporters since. This effort is reflected in the continuing bestseller status of Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance about the Appalachian values of his upbringing and how they relate to the problems of his home town.
But it’s worth recalling the sweaty challenge of attempting to understand the nature and tone of Trump support during the campaign. The hysterical cheers for his threat of “the Second Amendment people” on a putative president Clinton who picked gun control judges; the endless stoking of violence against protestors; the relentless animus towards the media reflected onto young reporters by the aggressive, pumped-up mobs decked out in “Trump the Bitch” T-shirts; the deliberate omission – and ignorance – of any policy detail.
Who was I to be repulsed by the violent, ignorant, know-nothing sexism and racism culture being unleashed?
It was repulsive. But, if it meant that at least some of the left-behinds had found their voice, who was I to be repulsed by the violent, ignorant, know-nothing sexism and racism culture being unleashed? Surely any concerns about the dog-whistle racism discernible in much Brexit rhetoric, were trivial in that greater scheme ?
The problem is that Trump’s acquisition of power has magnified his obvious authoritarianism, his refusal of accountability (check out the monumental buck-passing on the Yemen raid), his reckless self-belief that may yet trigger a nuclear holocaust. Britain, under the uncompromising Theresa May and her devoted media barons, hurtles towards a Brexit harder than the most jingoistic dreams.
The lesson? Some bubbles are a heap more dangerous than others.