Disclaimer: The views expressed within this article are entirely the author’s own and are not attributable to Wessex Scene as a whole.
We seem to live in a world that is conflicted, some would say. Others would say absolutely mental. It used to be that history would work in slow-buildups and massive climaxes. Satire was rife and subtlety key. This comparative golden age was the same as we have now, but for a veil of decency.
Somewhere in the last few years, there came a moment in which the veil was ripped from the mirror, the gleaming crystals turned black and our own ugliness stared back at us through the stained glass. Dorian Gray lost his Snapchat filter. Lying became not just commonplace, but unapologetic. Gone are facts and arguments, primitive emotions now reign. Where did it all go wrong, and why can’t we agree on anything anymore?
The obvious place to start is with Donald Trump. The rhetoric he mastered in his presidential campaign set the tone for misinformation across the Western world. It was a scale of bullsh*t that the media just wasn’t ready for. A landslide of insults, lies and corruption from the Twitter president. The media, instead of calling out his blatant fabrications, simply reported all the lies, otherwise known as “mistruths” or “alternative facts”. A journalism analogy springs to mind here. If one man says it’s raining, your job is to look out the window and report the truth. It isn’t enough to just report that it is raining. A combination of complicity and incompetence meant that the American national media gave Donald billions of dollars’ worth of free airtime, largely unchallenged.
By the time he’d emerged as a serious candidate, it was too late. The formatting of the Republican primaries contributed to this too. There were 17 candidates to start with. 17! In such a crowded environment, the man with a short, simple, emotive message was king. There was no time for complexity, because there was no time at all. “How will you solve immigration? Build a wall!”, “How would you solve climate change? It’s fake news!”, “How would you build the economy? Tax cuts!” Everything had a simple, clear message. In this world of chaos and confusion, simplicity is gold.
This rhetoric was mirrored in the Brexit campaign. The ‘Take Back Control’ mantra reflected ‘Make America Great Again’ in its utter meaninglessness. It didn’t matter that we subscribe to the vast majority of EU law because we agree with it. It didn’t matter that we have the power to veto many decisions (a right that we have made use of). It didn’t matter that immigration (a central issue for many Leavers) would likely increase after Brexit rather than decrease to cope with our consequentially weaker economy. None of this mattered. Because that feeling of powerlessness, the lack of control millions feel when they’ve had communities decimated by austerity, a world around them failing and a society collapsing before their very eyes, had already taken hold. Here was something that offered hope. Two fingers to the establishment. Finally, a solution to the problems we’ve all had for so long. This is what Leave promised. What did Remain offer? A message of fearful projections, patronising comments, and pitifully weak leadership. Cameron’s arrogance in calling the referendum in the first place was only surpassed by his incompetence at campaigning. It allowed the Leave Campaign to run riot, and run they did.
When the results were in, and Brexit was a genuine likelihood, they fled the scene. They were always going to. It was always Tory in-fighting, a battle for Conservative superiority with the nation’s future as the ultimate political football. Boris Johnson wrote two columns pre-referendum, one for Leave and one for Remain. Jacob Rees-Mogg explored the idea of a second referendum in the House of Commons not so long ago. However, this reality does not matter. The message was powerful enough to obscure it.
The UK has a very stringent immigration policy, it has done for decades. But, phrases like “uncontrolled mass immigration” and “open borders” provoke such a knee-jerk reaction that their vapid nothingness is irrelevant. This rhetoric also blurred lines between EU immigration and immigration in general. This is incredibly useful – you can get people to vote to leave the EU due to their opposition of immigration from the Middle East.
This is not to blame anybody who voted Leave at all. There are many rational arguments for leaving the EU – none of which were even mentioned in the referendum. It’s no wonder so many people voted to Leave when this is what their elected representatives are telling them. Yet an even more damaging consequence of this Trumpian form of debate we’ve crossed into is the destruction of what was left of political discussion. How can we possibly agree with each other on anything when the base standard of argument is so poor? In Britain, climate change is still barely mentioned in general elections or as a central focus of our main parties. The Green Party remain a reclusive bunch of hipsters in the eyes of the general public. Similarly, in America climate change denial is not just common, but is institutionalised as the state policy. Yet this is the single greatest threat to humanity we have ever faced. When this is how our politics works, it is no wonder we can’t agree on anything.