Since I wrote my last blog entry, I’ve been shocked and unimpressed by the media coverage of Brexit. The two major newspapers I read, WaPo and the NYT, have seemed to delight in mocking the apparent stupidity of the voters who voted to leave. This article captures my thoughts perfectly, and much more intelligently than I can.
WaPo has had a series of headlines like the following:
1.) The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it
Are you kidding me? While there was an uptick in googling “What is the EU?”, if you read the article, you’ll note that this is one of the top five search topics about the EU. I would expect this is true all of the time and for most topics. In other words, it’s a red herring and pure mockery of Britons, and in particular those who voted to leave. Condescension much?
2.) Voters in one fading port town wonder if they were misled
In addition to being too stupid to know what the EU is, impoverished Brexiters apparently also can easily be swayed by wily politicians.
3.) Brexit is a reminder that some things shouldn’t be decided by the people
Demoracy is only good as long as those pesky voters vote the way you want. Don’t let them get too uppity! (I know, I myself argued that it was sketchy to decide this by referendum – and I stand by that.)
4.) After residents voted for Brexit, this British county realized the E.U. might stop sending them money
Could this headline possibly be more condescending?
ALL of the above headlines are from WaPo, which essentially has been reeling at the thought that the stupid, xenophobic, racist, don’t-know-what’s-good-for-them voters of the UK have rejected almighty globalism. Globalism allowed me to buy a lovely outdoor sectional for $500 instead of $1500, but what about the people in SW Virginia who used to build the sectional, had healthcare and regular hours and a pension, and now work in food service if they work at all?
I love some of the quotes from the article I linked:
Media reaction to the Brexit vote falls into two general categories: (1) earnest, candid attempts to understand what motivated voters to make this choice, even if that means indicting one’s own establishment circles, and (2) petulant, self-serving, simple-minded attacks on disobedient pro-leave voters for being primitive, xenophobic bigots (and stupid to boot), all to evade any reckoning with their own responsibility.
It’s not just media reaction – many people’s reactions can also be classified as above. Don’t fall in category #2!
Gary Younge similarly denounced “a section of the London-based commentariat [that] anthropologized the British working class as though they were a lesser evolved breed from distant parts, all too often portraying them as bigots who did not know what was good for them.” Ian Jack’s article was headlined “In this Brexit vote, the poor turned on an elite who ignored them,” and he described how “gradually the sight of empty towns and shuttered shops became normalized or forgotten.”
The American media, at least WaPo and NYT are doing the same to the “working class.” (They’re only the working class when they’re voting for Trump – when they vote for Clinton, we call them the middle class and talk about how tough they have it.)
It’s natural — and inevitable — that malignant figures will try to exploit this vacuum of authority. All sorts of demagogues and extremists will try to re-direct mass anger for their own ends. Revolts against corrupt elite institutions can usher in reform and progress, but they can also create a space for the ugliest tribal impulses: xenophobia, authoritarianism, racism, fascism. One sees all of that, both good and bad, manifesting in the anti-establishment movements throughout the U.S., Europe, and the U.K. — including Brexit.
The point shouldn’t be to rail against Brexiters or Trump supporters for being racist and/or stupid, but perhaps to ask why they might have voted differently than we would prefer them to. I am frightened at the thought of a Trump presidency, and we are one major Clinton health event away from having it. But we deserve what we get.
As Bevins put it, supporters of Trump, Brexit, and other anti-establishment movements “are motivated not so much by whether they think the projects will actually work, but more by their desire to say FUCK YOU” to those they believe (with very good reason) have failed them.
INDEED, MEDIA REACTION to the Brexit vote — filled with unreflective rage, condescension, and contempt toward those who voted wrong — perfectly illustrates the dynamics that caused all of this in the first place.
The same is true of academic elites, financial elites, and political elites. Elites love the status quo that has given them, and then protected, their elite position.
I freely admit to loving the status quo. It’s why I like Hillary. But unlike some other liberals, I can comprehend why some people who are not doing as well as I am might want a change. And voting for the Democrats is not voting for a change – and please don’t blame the Republicans for that.
In general, the Democrats talk a lot about inequality – but their drumbeat solution is to raise taxes. How much does that help my former sofa-maker food service worker in SW Virginia? Not bloody much, I’d warrant. This person needs a job, and the fact that Trump is actually talking about jobs is shockingly novel. In some lights, Obama has done well with regard to employment, but in other lights not so much.
Something is rotten in the U.S. economy. Poor men without a college degree are disappearing from the labor force. The share of prime-age men (ages 25-54) who are neither working nor looking for work has doubled since the 1970s.
I’m getting off topic here, but please WaPo, no more articles about the low IQ of Brexit voters.