Explaining Trump and Brexit

by Ray Grigg

Things are never quite as they seem. As political pundits and commentators try to explain the extraordinary decision of Great Britain to leave the European Union and the bizarre rise of Donald Trump as the Republican’s candidate for the US presidency, they consider only the surface issues.

The gist of their conclusions is that a growing distance between the rulers and the ruled has allowed the empty space to be filled by the unusual and eccentric. In essence, they contend, the political elite are not communicating with the common people, so strange positions and characters have an appeal that would otherwise be dismissed as irrelevant or fringe.

But this is only the surface explanation. Beneath it are far more profound and disturbing issues that are much more uncomfortable to confront and articulate — issues that politicians are reluctant to explore lest they be deemed radicals. And, perhaps, many voters may not be clearly aware that the actual source of their discontent is the system itself.

The stunning events occurring lately have been a vote of non-confidence for the whole socio-economic structure that is the foundation of our modern materialistic culture, a collective reaction against a way of thinking and behaving that is usually unquestioned. Put succinctly, the system is not delivering and distributing its promised benefits, the frustrated and disillusioned citizens are searching for change, and the best they can do is to reject the status quo.

The only way to understand their collective psychology of protest is from a distance that gives perspective to the cumulative effects of the system’s many failures. Local communities everywhere are haunted by the sorry necessity for food banks, by the sad plight of the homeless, and by the rising rates of poverty. If the system is so successful, what explains these social injustices? Profound income inequities are shrinking the middle class and bifurcating society into isolated classes of the odiously rich and the struggling poor. These are not the signs of a just and viable system.

Free-trade agreements and the corporate forces of globalization are crippling the autonomy of governments, destroying employment security and disenfranchising voters. The methodical collapse of a reasonably compassionate social structure into an impersonal economic machine of engineered winners and losers makes for a disquieting place to live.

Then add to this corrosive pall the demoralizing effects of ubiquitous pollution, a world-wide energy structure in upheaval, the intractable malaise of the Great Recession, the insanity of terrorism, record numbers of refugees, and a rising human population that is crowding into cities, more places which are becoming progressively more difficult to organize as convenient, comfortable and affordable locations to inhabit. And hovering over these shadows is a warming planet with all the concomitant threats that come with it. So the optimism that fuels public contentment is becoming increasingly scarce. The total social effect is an immense anxiety and uncertainty that expresses itself in unpredictable and aberrant ways.

Perhaps many people haven’t carefully analyzed the litany of circumstances that are making them uneasy, or they can’t clearly articulate exactly what is amiss. But they know how they feel. And they want change — although the change they get may not be what they want.