Brexit Created New Opportunities For The Left In The UK, And Trump Will Do The Same In America

On June 23, 2016, Britons voted to exit the European Union by a 3.8% margin. “Leave” had trailed in the Huffington Post aggregate polling averages by 2.5%, which means there was a 6.3% polling error in Brexit’s favor.

On November 8, 2016, Americans voted to elect Donald Trump president. Trump had trailed in the Huffington Post aggregate polling averages by 5.3%, which means there was an approximately 4% polling error in Trump’s favor.

We were told after the “Brexit” vote that none of this should be taken as a harbinger of things to come in America: the disanalogous qualities of the two phenomena were simply too stark, or so claimed know-it-all pundits and self-proclaimed “experts.”

But the pundits were wrong: they were dead-wrong in the UK, and they were even “wronger” in the US. The scope of the failure in the UK was massive, but it was outdone by the failure stateside: at least in the UK, some of the elite conservative organs did favor Brexit. In the United States, the only elites that favored Trump and accurately predicted his victory were a small cadre of eccentrics. Everyone else was 100% convinced he’d lose, big league.

One thing that was widely predicted in the run-up to Brexit was that “Leaving” would be a disaster for the Left: it would empower reactionaries, solidify the Tories’ grip on power, and throw the Labour Party into shambles. This was cited as one reason why the Left must not under any circumstances support Brexit, whatever the merits of pro-Brexit arguments regarding popular sovereignty, the amorality of Eurocrat technocracy, and the like. Lo and behold, many working-class Britons traditionally aligned with Labour ended up voting for Brexit, but these people were seldom represented in the London-based national media, which is dominated by debonair cosmopolitans.

Likewise, many dislocated working-class Americans, including large portions traditionally associated with the Democratic party, ended up voting for Trump. But their interests were not represented in the US national media, which is dominated by cosmopolitans cloistered in a select few urban centers, namely New York City, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Los Angeles.

Yes, scores of economically immiserated rural whites — including many that voted twice for Obama — ended up supporting Trump. We were told this would never happen. We were told Brexit would never happen. We were told a lot of things.

It’s truly incredible how closely the tin-eared Hillary campaign resembled the tin-eared “Remain” campaign. (Notably, the official David Cameron-led “Remain” campaign was advised by Jim Messina, the former Obama operative.)

“Remain” could barely proffer any affirmative arguments for why Britons should want to stay in the mysterious supranational governing body, beyond shouting that “experts!” all agreed this was the proper course of action. So what they ended up focusing on was how Bad (with a capital B) Brexit was, and employed a ton of ridiculous fear tactics to underscore the point.

So after 90% of the British establishment was proven dead wrong, a vacuum emerged. David Cameron announced his resignation. Labour went into disarray: although Jeremy Corbyn officially backed the “Remain” position, he wasn’t seen to have campaigned stridently for it (and he voted against entering the European Economic Community in the 1975 referendum, which was then a popular left-wing view championed by the titanic socialist figure Tony Benn.)

So what happened after Brexit? Oblivious centrist/moderate left Labour MPs tried to stage a comically incompetent “coup” against Corbyn, which failed decisively. Then they triggered a second Labour Leadership Election, fielding the feckless MP Owen Smith to challenge Corbyn. It was never even a competitive race: Corbyn won by an even greater margin than he did just a year earlier, in September 2015. Hence, Corbyn unambiguously solidified his grip on the Labour Party, dramatically expanding its membership, and making it likely the most stalwart socialist party in the Western World.

He almost certainly could not have done this but for Brexit. Although shifts in the Labour Party were extant anyway, as the September 2015 leadership victory demonstrated — recall that he was never supposed to win that one either per the UK pundit consensus, they were all totally shocked — Brexit made these shifts far more pronounced, and intensified the “vacuum” effect such that Corbyn could take advantage. And now here he is, manning the Labour Party with an unmistakable mandate. Theresa May might lead him in some polls, but so what? The next general election won’t be till 2020, and May doesn’t appear eager to call a snap election any time soon.

Historically disruptive events like Brexit, and the election of Trump, confer opportunities for new modes of organizing, and new configurations of politics. US liberals stubbornly denied that Brexit portended anything for us, and they’re still denying it even though the evidence is in. But it should be 100% clear: yes, there are opportunities abound now that Trump is victorious. I wouldn’t say that these prospective opportunities would have justified a vote for Trump, but Trump won, so that debate is over. The question is: what to do now?

Unlike in the UK, it’s not just a select segment of Democrats who have been discredited, but the entire Democratic Party apparatus at every level: from the media/pundit racket, to federal/state/municipal elected officials, the Clinton machine had its tentacles in everything because they have been the dominant force in the party since the 1980s. (Bill Clinton gave his infamous long-winded speech at the 1988 Democratic convention and had been a formidable player ever since; his brand of “New Democrat” centrism was seen as on the upswing. Now both he and Hillary are pariahs.)

Due in large part to their decades of prominence and professional networks, the Clintons secured something like 98% of all endorsements from Democratic officials for Hillary’s 2016 run. Sanders got a few prominent endorsements — Keith Ellison, Tulsi Gabbard, Jeff Merkley — but you can basically count them on one hand. The tiny cadre of Democrats who endorsed Sanders have now been vindicated, while the huge mass of Democrats who endorsed the Clintons have been permanently discredited. They knew what they were doing by endorsing a scandal-plagued, deeply unpopular candidate who had no sense of the mood of the electorate. But they did it anyway. So they are permanently discredited. Just like the “Blairites” who tried and failed to oust Corbyn.

So because the breadth of the failure was so vast, and the sheer scope of discreditation is so gigantic, the potential for new left-wing politics is even more expansive now than it was in the UK post-Brexit. This doesn’t mean that everything is suddenly going to be hunky-dory, or that reactionary forces shouldn’t be counteracted, but what it does mean is that a huge, gaping vacuum has emerged in the American polity, and it’s just waiting to be filled. If everyone simply reverts to the trite posture of TRUMP BAD TRUMP BAD! 24/7, these opportunities for new politics will be missed. (The people who failed cataclysmically also must be held accountable to ensure that they do not regain their reputations, thus my ongoing Pundit Accountability Initiative.)

Sure, oppose Trump when he does bad things — strenuously — but don’t let that be your sole political objective. There are other things to be done.

Furthermore, please drop the overheated nonsense about Trump. It failed for 1.5 years, and it will just keep failing unless commentators actually modify their behavior (which they show no signs of doing.) Trump’s primary political objective is not instituting “white nationalism” or furthering some kind of virulently ideological right-wing agenda. The reason he has nominated Sen. Jeff Sessions as Attorney General is because Sessions was one of his first notable endorsers: it’s a matter of personal loyalty, not philosophical affinity. If you think the guy NBC Universal paid to host “The Apprentice” for 11 years was secretly a white nationalist during that period, you’re kidding yourself.

Trump’s overriding principle is faith in his own “deal-making” prowess, and there’s little reason to believe that he wouldn’t be open, at least in principle, to working with the left. Bernie Sanders apparently recognized this prospect when he stated, and later re-iterated verbally, that he’d be willing to “work with” Trump on discrete policy initiatives, such as infrastructure spending.

Are the pundits/commentators/Twitter personalities who have worked themselves into a lather over the past 1.5 years going to accuse Bernie Sanders of being a racist, or a fascist enabler, or similar for offering to work with Trump? Presumably the legions of Serious Political Analysts who have labeled Trump a fascist thereby believe that Sanders should be immediately arrested and jailed as a collaborator. They presumably also believe that Barack Obama should be jailed too, because Obama has likewise offered to work with Trump. If anyone has “normalized” Trump, it’s Obama, who actively rejected the more hysterical liberal characterizations at a press conference last week.

(By the way, notice how the entire chattering class almost in unison discovered the concept of “normalization” and now can’t stop throwing around the word like they’re some kind of authorities — funny how that works. They’re also all newfound experts on “white nationalism” — after years of close, careful study, I’m sure.)

Bernie Sanders is now the titular head of the Democratic Party. There’s no formal process to determine this as in the UK, but it should be blindingly obvious.

So in closing, yes: Brexit opened up new space on the British political scene, and Trump will do the same here. Acknowledging this is in no way an endorsement of Trump: it’s an endorsement of seeing things as they really are.