The Realities of Power
One of the most enduring characteristics of the human mind is its incapacity.
People consistently over-estimate their own capabilities and under-estimate difficulties. People persistently tell themselves comforting fables instead of grappling with complex reality. This is why we have the history we read about in books: folly after folly, blunder after blunder, catastrophe after catastrophe — and all totally unnecessary.
This is the continuing story of one particularly amusing recent self-imposed catastrophe: Brexit.
As everyone knows, back in 2016 the British were presented with a choice: remain within the European Union, a structure that had ensured the longest period of peace and mutual prosperity for Europe since the collapse of the Roman Empire in 476 CE, or leave in order to “take back control.” On the Remain side, economic arguments based on facts; on the Leave side, infantile lies, overt appeals to racism, and more infantile lies.
Naturally the Leave side won, much to the surprise of those promoting it who’d assumed it was a risk-free way to bathe in publicity and advance their personal brands. Those who ran both the Leave campaign and the Remain campaign had equally made the fatal mistake of over-estimating the intellectual capacity of their audience. Infantile lies and pure racism naturally triumphed over real-world facts and reason.
The UK is now facing decades of weak currency, massive unemployment, and generalized poverty that will further cripple not only much-vaunted military capacity but also the adored National Health Service. In other words, Brexit will deliver the precise opposite of what was promised. This doesn’t come as a surprise to people who (a) have a functioning brain, and (b) aren’t totally ignorant. And for the majority of British citizens who lack a functioning brain and are totally ignorant, it will be the EU that they blame for their self-created disaster because that’s just easier than admitting they were duped with absurd ease by blustering charlatans that anyone with a measurable IQ would have ignored without hesitation.
After the Leave side won, everyone scrambled to pretend that Brexit wasn’t purely about xenophobia, nostalgia, and sheer ignorance. The standard narrative became that despite all appearances to the contrary it was really about trade.
Yes, post-Brexit Britain would Stand Alone again and Win The (trade) War.
Despite the obvious fact that the EU actually facilitates trade rather than impedes it (Germany, in the heart of the EU, is one of the world’s largest exporters) and that trade is about mutual benefit rather than conflict and that when you trade you have to conform to other people’s standards otherwise they won’t buy what you’re trying to sell, the British pretended that once the nation freed itself from the dead hand of EU bureaucracy the country could enter into all manner of exciting new trade deals entirely on British terms and unfettered by anyone else’s requirements and standards.
Teresa May duly (and dully) headed off to India, sure that the former colony would fall over itself with eagerness to increase trade with the old Imperial overlord. Apparently no one had explained to the earnest dullard that India can’t even trade with itself, never mind with any other nation. Furthermore, the Indian government made it abundantly clear that any deal would have to include freedom of movement for Indian citizens to live and work in the UK.
So poor dull Teresa May and her entourage returned empty-handed.
Now that Teresa May has retreated to well-deserved obscurity, the Official Clown of Britain (aka Alexander Boris de Pfeffer Johnson) is back on the same hobby-horse pretending that Brexit is honestly truly all about trade and that Britain will, despite the collapse of the UK pound and mass unemployment, prosper post-Brexit. Instead of repeating the India ploy, Boris & chums now pretend that the USA will be the White Knight. After all, the UK has long claimed a “special relationship” with the USA, especially since Bretton Woods and the Suez crisis showed clearly that the UK is totally subject to US desires under all circumstances. What could possibly be more “special” and wonderfully fulfilling than a master-slave relationship? Just read Hegel!
Unfortunately for the delusional British, the “special relationship” is a one-way deal. When the USA tells the UK to bend over, the UK obediently bends over. When the UK asks, pretty-please, if the USA can at least use a little lubricant this time, the USA chortles and proceeds, as always, robustly and without lubricant. The British then grin and bear it and pretend this shows how mutually beneficial and consensual the relationship really is.
As people never, ever, learn anything from experience it’s not surprising that this dominant-submissive relationship continues to play out post-2016. Despite all Teresa May’s obsequious subordination to the Trump Administration, the Bombardier affair showed once again that even begging on bent knee is insufficient to persuade the USA to use even a drop of lube. And this week we see another example of the “special relationship” in all its glory: US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is insisting the UK bend over for another dose of ritual submission to US interests.
For years, the USA has been subsidizing its major domestic airline manufacturer Boeing through “military research contracts” while the EU has been subsidizing Airbus more overtly. This has, naturally, led to each side complaining about the other’s subsidies. Boris & chums hit upon what they imagined to be a splendidly clever ruse: shout loudly that post-Brexit Britain would no longer apply tariffs to Boeing aircraft! The fact that the UK doesn’t actually buy many aircraft is, of course, entirely beside the point.
This would be a Grand Gesture that surely the USA would reciprocate by cutting some sort of tiny face-saving trade deal that Boris & Co could claim as evidence that Brexit isn’t purely and entirely about racism & backwardness.
Alas, even when very small and rather dull-witted children have totally convinced themselves that their cardboard cut-out guns are potent dealers of death, their little pretend weapons cannot kill real rabbits or even real snails.
And so it was that Lighthizer made a statement this week that the UK’s Grand Concession was meaningless. Pointing out that post-EU Britain had no authority to continue to impose tariffs on Boeing anyway, Lighthizer made it very clear that a wide range of real and significant concessions will be required in order for any slender tiny deal to be agreed. Or, to put matters more crudely: the USA told the British, once again, that they need to remain in bent-forward position and can expect no lube this time either.
As for private-sector activities, US corporations are ready in the wings to snap up once-in-a-generation bargains that can be asset-stripped to return value to US shareholders while throwing even more hapless Brits out of work and onto unemployment benefits the UK government will be unable to pay due to a collapse of tax revenues.
Ultimately the UK will fall apart, with Northern Ireland voting to unify with Eire in order to reap the many benefits of EU membership and Scotland voting to go it alone because, frankly, anything will be better than remaining chained to the incompetence and poverty of Brexit-voting England.
Brexit supporters, naturally, understand nothing of this. In what passes for their minds, Britain will be Great Again. Britain will be Strong and Respected. All the self-inflicted pain will be a necessary but temporary inconvenience to be ignored as much as possible.
But in the real world, the UK faces a very bleak and very painful future for decades to come, and from which it will never recover. Which, no doubt, will all be presented to the ignorant masses as a Glorious Victory.
Which makes a perverse kind of sense: if you’re going to be forced to take it for decades to come and always sans lubricant, you may as well tell yourself it’s what you wanted all along.
Because otherwise you’d have to admit what a total chump you’ve been.