So they did it! 51.89% of the voters of the United Kingdom voted yesterday to leave the European Union. “Brexit” as it was called, triumphed by some 3+% over “remain.”
And then the clone of Donald Trump, on the other side of the “pond,” Boris Johnson the unofficial leader of the Brexit side, bombasted his way to the “favourite” contender spot to take over from Prime Minister David Cameron, who has vowed to resign by October, at his party’s convention.
Is this the victory of the ordinary people, over the establishment, or the victory of bombast and political lies, the stock in trade of both Johnson and Trump.
Of course, there is a mood of political anger at those people and organizations considering themselves “ensconced” in the perks of power. Establishments quite literally hate turbulence, as does the business and corporate sector. The linkage of the business/corporate power bloc with the government, as still-attached Siamese twins, linked especially to the military production sector of the corporate world. Nevertheless, turbulence is what the United Kingdom and the European Union, possibly the rest of the global market system as well. No longer are the predictable patterns predictable; no longer as the normal ways of operating in the political arena normal. There is no normal, except to say the no normal is now the norm. We are living in a period of political chaos, and it did not start with this vote. Nor did it start with the nomination of Trump as Republican candidate for president.
Bank Governors, starting with Mark Carney, former Governor of the Bank of Canada, and now Governor of the Bank of England, will do whatever is in their power to stave off another deep and troubling run on the stock markets, so that the world does not have to go through another episode like that of 2008-9. However, announcing that the Bank of England has some $350 billion pounds in reserve to be accessed should the need arise, Carney hopes to quell fears of another massive sell-off without a return to a level acceptable to the global business community. So there is a range of fiscal and monetary issues that will have to be resolved following this vote. And there will be a range of political/contractual issues that will have to be worked out, after the 27 other members of the EU have their say. And then there are all the travel, and passport issues, the trade issues (after five years’ of negotiating to arrive at the free trade agreement between Canada and the EU (of which Britain was throughout a full member of the EU), and political housekeeping just to replace Prime Minister Cameron, after he put all of his political “eggs” in this basket, now that the bottom has fallen out of that basket.
One of the most tumultuous and troubling issues underneath the vote to leave the EU was the question of immigration and the European Union’s approach to it. With 65 millions people now classified as refugees by the United Nations, the largest number at any one time in recorded history. This mass of humanity, twice the population of Canada, roughly 5 times the population of New York city, is not going to suddenly evaporate, nor is it likely to “return home” anytime soon, given the depth of the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, some of the major sources of refugees, all of them attempting to survive by scurrying to Europe. Great Britain is also complaining of too many immigrants, and those seeking to leave the EU want some national control over immigration, rather than having to share the burden under the EU banner. However, immigration, migration, refugees....these are important but certainly not the only source of global chaos, uncertainty, fear and anxiety. Political chaos abounds.
Political chaos includes “spontaneous” terror attacks, the abduction of hundreds of young girls, the explosions of suicide bombers’ vests, an increase by 900% in the illicit market of rhinoceros horns, the slaughter of hundreds of elephants for their tusks, the wanton dumping of millions of tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, the front pages of hundreds of dailies (their number shrinking daily, as the mega-media corporations swallow the smaller units) painted in 72-point type about the dangers and the fears of ordinary people about our capacity and ability to trust what formerly were trusted political organizations. The United States Congress votes down four reasonable and responsible gun control measures, including no sales to those on “no-fly” lists and background check enhancements, in spite of the “sit-in” reminiscent of the civil rights movement of the sixties. Iran just signed a multi-billion ($300B+) contract with Boeing for jets, for their civil aviation operation, while North Korea just fired a missile that can now reach the American base in Guam, although there are serious doubts they can mount a nuclear warhead on it yet. North Americans are “stuffing” their angst with sugar and salt, just another way of “voting” that does not enter into the calculations of the pollsters, as “votes”. The health care budgets are stretched to their breaking points, while the pharmaceutical companies literally control the Food and Drug oversight agencies. In Canada, for example, hundreds of millions of dollars are spent every year to treat seniors who have been prescribed medications by various doctors, none of them knowing what the others have prescribed, so the pills argue with each other making their recipients “sick”....but the sickness is only a symptom of the systemic collapse of the design of the drug administration system, whereby no central medical doctor and/or pharmacist keeps a running monitoring of all the prescriptions, potentially throwing up red flags of warning. Individuals, by themselves, are running the show, when the show is so far about their “pay grade” yet, because of privacy and the freedom of the individual, chaos reigns in this sphere too.
We listen to the daily drum beat of how the markets, the stocks and the price of a barrel of oil all rise and fall, more turbulently than a riff by the Rolling Stones. In fact at least there is some musical structure and discipline to that riff, a structure and discipline that is completely absent from the global political turbulence. And we haven’t even mentioned the chaos we drink, breath and eat every day. Fracking threatens the drinking water of millions with the energy companies throwing billions in advertising/information campaigns to prevent environmental attacks from taking their legitimate toll. Coal companies are continuing to fund political campaigns to keep their doors open, while they belch toxic gas into the atmosphere, in many countries, without a regime of transformation that is sustainable and enforceable. Food processing, including the mega-corporate control of all the seeds necessary for the propagation of vegetable and fruits, the mega-imprisonment of pigs, chicken and other animals with hormonal-infested “feed” in order to maximize the profits of their corporate investors, the health of the consumer taking no mention in the equation of production, distribution, pricing and the impacts on the health care systems.
It is not only that political chaos seems to pervade the global map; it is also that none of the major issues seems to be attracting the kind of focused, determined, and muscular attention most of the issues merit, and even demand. And that in and of itself is also quite unsettling, for those still willing to read the papers and watch the news. Many, unfortunately, have turned away, given the hopeless of the situation. Yesterday, in Great Britain, however, some 70% of eligible voters turned out to vote, apathy not being a major factor in that outcome. Today, the New York Times is warning, following the shock of this vote to exit the EU, that Americans from all segments of the society have been taking a Trump candidacy far too lightly, and that he could actually win the White House in November. No thinking, sentient human being would wish for such an outcome, and no sane American voter would pull the lever in the voting booth for such a result. However, this is not a “sane” period of history, and events have a way of overcoming predictable, normal, conventional patterns. Will Trump ride this wave into the White House?
Brexit, of course, could lead to other “independence” movements in Quebec, Scotland* ( the First Minister of Scotland has already announced that a second attempt to separate Scotland from Great Britain in order to remain inside the European Union will be held, given the overwhelming support in that country for the “remain” side in yesterday’s vote), Northern Ireland. Independence movements however, without public insistence on reasonable and responsible controls of the people and the money in charge will result in little more than another illusion of freedom, compassion and well being of the people who are at the bottom of the “food chain”....the people who vote, and who pay the taxes. This is not an argument that attempts to say the world is ending because the Brits have voted to divorce from the EU. However, it is to say that such a vote will bring into question the validity, stability, efficacy, and effectiveness of many of the other political structures, organizational structures, and those previously invulnerable power blocs that we thought were created for the purpose of enhancing the lives of ordinary people, when it can be legitimately argued that the interests of those with power were more prominent in the design than we ever wanted to believe.
The world also faces health epidemics, Ebola, Zika, and the threat of bacteria immune to the antibacterial drugs we have depended upon for decades. In the face of all these turbulences, signs of chaos, and uncertainty, the words of a young woman coach of young Canadian women athletes, when asked about her uneasiness about flying to Rio and the Summer Olympics, “In a world full of threats and dangers, we just have to be more courageous and more bold!” Her words startled me, and gave me a shot of adrenalin and hope, adrenalin that charged my thinking into revisiting the cloudiness that is so readily visible, and hope that a new generation of mature adults facing the world with enhanced confidence, and even a little “strut” of bravado may be the best antidote to the threats and the dangers we all face.
Let’s not forget too, that in Mandarin, the word for threat is the same as the word for opportunity. Are we up to the opportunities, of these many profound threats?
*The First Minister of Scotland has already announced that a second attempt to separate Scotland from Great Britain in order to remain inside the European Union will be held, given the overwhelming support in that country for the “remain” side in yesterday’s vote.