A lot of people in the USA are focusing on the 2020 Presidential election in the hope of replacing Trump in the White House and returning the country to some semblance of normality. Meanwhile a lot of people in the United Kingdom are attempting to ensure that a semi-coherent approach to the issue of Brexit can over-ride the mindless blundering of Boris Johnson (the UK’s unelected Prime Minister) and his coterie of rabid anti-Europeans.
The underlying assumption being made in both of these cases is that Trump and Johnson are somehow anomalies, weird blustering incompetents who inexplicably reached the pinnacle of power and who can ultimately be replaced so that we can return to things as they used to be.
This assumption is wildly incorrect. The real significance of Brexit and Trump is dark and dangerous. In reality there is no way to turn back from the lesson these phenomena have so amply taught.
Prior to Brexit and Trump even the most cynical politician believed there was a limit to how pathetically obvious one’s lies could be. There must be a limit to the degree of impossibility of one’s pre-election promises. Surely the electorate would see through wild claims of free ice-cream forever and twenty-meter tall unicorns delivered to every home?
What Brexit and Trump showed conclusively is that there exists within every nation a very large number of people who are so intellectually constrained and indolent that they will swallow whatever you feed them. None will have the capacity to evaluate those lies and none will expend even a tiny effort to conduct fact-based research. Furthermore, if you look like someone who will undermine your nation you will receive a significant helping hand from Russian troll factories which will manufacture endless memes your supporters can repeat ad infinitum, so they can imagine they’re being “smart” and “patriotic” as they assist in the destruction of the country they imagine themselves defending.
Brexit and Trump showed that no matter how pathetically inadequate are the lies you tell, provided they have atavistic emotional resonance and you tell them using simple sound-bites repeated endlessly, you will garner an enormous number of supporters who will thereafter follow you uncritically, accepting with enthusiasm each descent into further lies and each additional step towards absolute ruin.
This lesson, once taught, cannot be unlearned. In the Czech Republic Babic explicitly modeled his campaign on the Trump Playbook, as did Bolsonaro in Brazil. Salvini in Italy is using the same approach, as is Le Pen in France. PiS is upping its game by applying the lessons of Trump. Not coincidentally all these politicians are also receiving significant materiel support from Putin’s Russia precisely because all are in the game of destroying former norms that aided social stability and cohesion.
In the case of Brexit, Johnson has over the last three years seen how Trump has ignored the rule of law and every rule of custom and escaped without consequence; thus Johnson is now following the same path: bypassing Parliament (whose sovereignty he claimed to be restoring) in order to crash the UK out of the EU and precipitate the nation’s greatest social and economic disaster since the Great Depression. He is doing this secure in the knowledge that his supporters will continue to cheer his every action and that the inevitable disaster can be blamed on others simply because Brexiteers are so gullible they’ll believe literally anything he tells them.
The real significance of Brexit and Trump, therefore, is that they have changed Western political life forever. Of course, there will remain those who want to play by different rules and there will be brief moments of semi-victory for less venal and morally bankrupt politicians but the trend line is ineluctable. The future lies in the hands of those most willing and able to exploit the simple-minded, for these people comprise the largest and easiest bloc to capture and retain.
Representative democracy has always discriminated against the intelligent and thoughtful (because their votes are too “expensive” to win and such people may change their minds as new evidence comes to light) but today we see a hard swing towards the intellectually incapable simply because this is the most effective strategy any politician can pursue. As no one wants to lose an election, the conclusion is inescapable.
P.T. Barnum once said, “No one ever lost money under-estimating the intelligence of an audience” and today that dictum has shown to be equally applicable in the realm of politics. Plato said essentially the same thing more than 2,500 years ago when he observed that democracy will always end in tyranny because it’s so easy to capture the simple-minded with a few empty promises, an emotional appeal that plays on fears and ignorance, and plenty of lies to round things off.
We have entered the Age of Morons and there is only one way this will end.