Glenn Greenwald - The decision by UK voters to leave the EU is such a glaring repudiation of the wisdom and relevance of elite political and media institutions that – for once – their failures have become a prominent part of the storyline. |
The Los Angeles Times‘ Vincent Bevins, in an outstanding and concise analysis, wrote that “both Brexit and Trumpism are the very, very wrong answers to legitimate questions that urban elites have refused to ask for thirty years”; in particular, “since the 1980s the elites in rich countries have overplayed their hand, taking all the gains for themselves and just covering their ears when anyone else talks, and now they are watching in horror as voters revolt.” The British journalist Tom Ewing, in a comprehensive Brexit explanation, said the same dynamic driving the UK vote prevails in Europe and North America as well: “the arrogance of neoliberal elites in constructing a politics designed to sideline and work around democracy while leaving democracy formally intact.”
In an interview with The New Statesman, the political philosopher Michael Sandel also said that the dynamics driving the pro-Brexit sentiment were now dominant throughout the west generally: “a large constituency of working-class voters feel that not only has the economy left them behind, but so has the culture, that the sources of their dignity, the dignity of labour, have been eroded and mocked by developments with globalisation, the rise of finance, the attention that is lavished by parties across the political spectrum on economic and financial elites, the technocratic emphasis of the established political parties.” After the market-venerating radicalism of Reagan and Thatcher, he said, “the centre left” – Blair and Clinton and various European parties – “managed to regain political office but failed to reimagine the mission and purpose of social democracy, which became empty and obsolete.”
Though there were some exceptions, establishment political and media elites in the UK were vehemently united against Brexit, but their decreed wisdom was ignored, even scorned. That has happened time and again. As their fundamental failures become more evident to all, these elites have lost credibility, lost influence, and lost the ability to dictate outcomes.
Just last year in the UK, Labour members chose someone to lead Tony Blair’s party – the authentically left-wing Jeremy Corbyn – who could not have been more intensely despised and patronized by almost every leading light of the British media and political class. In the U.S., the joyful rejection by Trump voters of the collective wisdom of the conservative establishment evidenced the same contempt for elite consensus. The enthusiastic and sustained rallying, especially by young voters, against beloved-by-the-establishment Hillary Clinton in favor of a 74-year-old socialist taken seriously by almost no DC elites reflected the same dynamic. Elite denunciations of the right-wing parties of Europe fall on deaf ears. Elites can’t stop, or even affect, any of these movements because they are, at bottom, revolts against their wisdom, authority and virtue.
In sum, the west’s establishment credibility is dying, and their influence is precipitously eroding – all deservedly so. The frenetic pace of online media makes even the most recent events feel distant, like ancient history. That, in turn, makes it easy to lose sight of how many catastrophic and devastating failures western elites have produced in a remarkably short period of time.