Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid.
(VANCOUVER ISLAND) In North America we woke up this morning to the shocking news that Great Britain had voted to withdraw from the European Union. “Brexit”, the movement supporting Britain’s exit from the Union, has been pushing its far right agenda for some time; its proponents have no real argument other than their appeal to nationalism, xenophobia, bigotry, and false statistics. The rhetoric from Brexit was replete with inflated numbers – from the cost to taxpayers of membership in the Union, to the number and cost of refugees – and anti immigrant fear mongering; the impassioned claims made by Brexit proponents were repeatedly fact checked and debunked, but the claims were simply repeated and became part of the shared wisdom of the right wing. Donald Trump, of course, is solidly in favour of Brexit and was delighted at the results of the referendum.
True to form, Trump held a press conference in Scotland at which he congratulated the people in attendance on voting for Brexit. However, the Scots had overwhelmingly voted against Brexit. Scotland, to its credit, had rejected the certain economic downturn that would result from a successful Brexit campaign; the Scots also rejected the politics of fear and hatred, and knew that despite the EU’s many flaws, unity and cooperation are more to be desired than the isolationist garrison mentality inherent in Brexit. Being, as usual, totally tone deaf, Trump spoke from inside his isolated bubble of high security that insured that his audience was comprised only of him, his security forces, his children, and loyal supporters; he never realised (and probably wouldn’t have cared if he did) that his speech was utterly offensive to the majority of Scots. But no matter, Trump only touched on the issue for a moment. The bulk of his remarks was a sales pitch for the floundering golf resort he was desperately trying to promote.
What I find most fascinating about the Brexit referendum’s results is the great number of Britons who have gone on record as being gobsmacked by the results; they never really thought that a Brexit win was possible. Problem, though, was that they had voted for Brexit just because they were pissed off about a host of issues; they didn’t really want Britain out of the EU. Now they are terrified of what they have unleashed.
What is becoming clear to Britain is that this may have been a terrible mistake. They recognise that as a mercantile nation, they are now going to have to negotiate trade deals with the EU, their biggest market. They are going to have to follow the same regulations and restrictions on trade items that they found cumbersome as members of the EU, because the EU simply won’t trade unless the playing field is level. They have lost all the advantages of being part of an enormous economic block and gained nothing. Already, while the ink is still wet on the reports of the result of the referendum, the Pound Sterling has lost value and is still in freefall; the London Stock Exchange’s FTSE index has plummeted, the price of gold has skyrocketed, and people are beginning to sell off British savings bonds.
So what went wrong? And what lessons can we draw from it?
Well, for one thing, it’s obvious, and for some Britons painfully obvious, that it’s not smart to vote against what you know to be the right choice simply out of pique, or resentment, or as a protest. They have learned that their single vote does matter, and it matters a lot. A corollary to that is that it’s not smart to think that one of the choices on the ballot is so self-evidently a horrible choice that people will do the right thing at the end of the day, so it’s okay to stay home, not vote, and let common sense prevail.
The real question now is whether those lessons will make any impression on American voters this November. I have long held that when the moment of truth arrives, the American people will, despite all evidence to the contrary, demonstrate that they actually do have some common sense and that they are not really a country of xenophobic bigots. In other words, my respect for the American people has always instilled in me the confidence that the majority will see that a vote for Donald Trump would run counter to everything they claim the country stands for: justice, fairness, rule of law, equality, compassion, and reason. What’s frightening is that I always had even more confidence in the people of the UK, and look what they just went and did.
The take away for all Americans from this debacle has to be that they have to start to take their political situation and even their vote very, very seriously. No one can afford to assume that the rest of the country will do what’s right. No one can afford to vote for an utterly unfit and quite likely insane demagogue in protest. No one can afford to abstain from voting because of an antipathy to the only alternative to a disastrous and dangerous choice. If a referendum like yesterday’s can end the way this one did, there is absolutely no reason to assume that a parallel and vastly more calamitous result can’t occur in November on this side of the pond. More than ever before, those Americans of integrity and decency need to mobilise and get out and vote. Even if they hate Hillary, it’s important to pinch their noses and pull the lever to vote against the America Donald Trump will bring. Even if Hillary doesn’t seem like their ideal choice for their next president, a vote for her is a vote against a horrifying vision of the world four years from now.
The US has a two party system. This kind of dilemma is what, from time to time, comes as part of the package. But even if one considers Hillary to be a bad choice for president, any rational and reasonably non-racist person has to accept that she would never be as catastrophically horrendous as Donald Trump. And in one thing he may just be right: A Hillary presidency might be a lot like an Obama third term. And, given Trump as the alternative, that would be wonderful.
Hillary Clinton has demonstrated her skills, her dedication, her political savvy, and her toughness over a lifetime of committed public service; you can say none of that for Trump. On the contrary; he has demonstrated time and again that he is an inveterate liar, that he is a bigot, that he is staggeringly ignorant of foreign and domestic policy, that he doesn’t understand the structure and powers of the branches of government, that he has no interest in human rights, in civil rights, or in the problems of the people whose votes he needs; he has shown that he can’t be bothered to learn even the very basics of what would be needed to govern a playground, much less the world’s only superpower. He is a very dangerous man and we must never relax and assume that he couldn’t possibly win. Don’t look at it as an endorsement of Hillary; if she were running against a Republican whose views contrasted with hers but had a reasonable vision and a clear set of skills to deploy as Commander in Chief, you would have a reasonable case for considering her opponent. It might or might not be a very hard choice.
But that isn’t the case here. In 2016 there is an easy choice. It’s easy not because one of the candidates would make such a great president; it’s easy because the other one would almost certainly tear the nation apart, probably tank the economy so severely that it would not recover in anyone’s lifetime, and would certainly turn it into a country that none of us could respect. So it comes down to this: you don’t have to vote for someone, but it is absolutely crucial that the country votes against the Republican’s presumed nominee. An abstention is tantamount to a vote for the dark side; a vote against him is what’s needed. A landslide would be even better.