Last night a group of friends and I quite unintentionally stumbled into the Churchill Tavern and proceeded to drink pints of Fuller’s London Pride while watching the Brexit returns. Contrary to the elites’ counsel and predictions, Leave beat Remain. While there were plenty of Americans at the bar having a bloody good time, oblivious to the going-ons across the pond, one could pick out the Brits tensely watching the TV. When BBC called the referendum for Leave there was no cheering.
Stepping outside, I bummed a cigarette from an unhappy looking fellow. Mid-twenties, well-dressed, he was imperious, defiant, and British. I asked him what he thought, and while we both stole glances through the window at the TV, he declared: “Farage is a twat. This entire campaign is based on a bigoted, xenophobic lie.” Gesturing to his friend, a Frenchman, he declared, “There will be consequences with the EU and especially the French.” I held my tongue. It isn’t my country or my election and if there is one thing that annoys me it is when Europeans pontificate on American politics (John Oliver, go home). I told the man as much so there was no fisticuffs. Plus, there was no need to rub in the victory. Despite what I just said, I am for Brexit.
When scholars reflect on this tumultuous decade, a dominating theme will be the revolt of the silent majority against the nefarious and vague entity titled “The Establishment.” With the conclusion of the Cold War, the future looked bright and the initial results proved promising. Liberal technocratic democracy worked; and not just worked: it was the system that would ensure worldwide peace and prosperity. We had arrived at the end of history. But the present belies that hope. Reagan famously asked the American people in 1980, “Are you better off than four years ago?” Put the question to the present, and lots of people would answer in the negative—for the last twenty-five years. Far from entering a glorious future, the West is in dangerous downward flux. And now the people are speaking out and declaring that the emperor is wearing no clothes. The EU’s grand project teeters on the brink. The American political order is in a state of disarray.
Say what you will about the negative facets of the anti-Establishment forces roiling across the political spectrum, The Establishment has brought this upon themselves. In the Western world they failed to deliver the prosperity and security that was suppose to wipe away all tears and in Europe eliminate once and for the sordid nationalism that had caused so much conflict over the centuries. Instead we have a resurgence of nationalism and populism. Far from being the refuge of the scoundrel, nationalism is turning out to be the Titanic’s lifeboats as the EU takes on more and more water.
The Establishment, frustrated, still demonstrates a smug confidence and a dismissive disdain for the plebs who dare rise up against the Western world order so long legitimized by the very same plebs participating in the democratic process. The arrogance and frustration of the elites is not totally unfounded. Trump and Brexit’s supporters promise the moon and advocate many a ridiculous proposal (ten foot high wall?) that will result in even more fanciful benefits. Furthermore, they’re awful, hate-filled people. Sure, The Establishment admits that things could be improved, but it is smarter to stick with the devil you know and reform from within than join the cuckoos. The issue The Establishment faces: how to convince the unwashed masses of their elite wisdom? Apparently these well-bred fellows, with all their graphs and fear-mongering, were not capable of thwarting Brexit. And scoff as they did, they could not stop Trump from becoming the presumptive GOP nominee. So now there is talk of convention shenanigans and how the Brexit vote was non-binding and therefore reversible.