In the United States, the Republican Party has mastered the exploitation of fear, trading on the insecurities of working- and middle-class white people and scapegoating people of color and immigrants, among others, to deflect attention away from their own destructive policies. Brexit is a perfect, terrible example of how US conservatives don’t have the market cornered on exploiting the power of fear.
As John Oliver meticulously detailed in his segment on Brexit, many of the ostensible reasons underwriting the Leave campaign were bunk:
And a report from the Washington Post today highlights the widespread unawareness about the nature of the vote: “The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it.” Google reported that searches for “what happens if we leave the EU,” as well as “basic questions concerning the implications of the vote,” more than tripled around “1 a.m. Eastern time, about eight hours after the polls closed.”
If large numbers of voters had no comprehension of the fundamental issue on which they were voting, then on what basis were they casting their votes?
The answer, in many cases, is fear.
In Scotland, Donald Trump – who is running a campaign based on exploiting the fears and insecurities of voters, while advocating a ban on Muslims entering the country – welcomes the chaos and volatility of Brexit, declaring that it is a “great thing.”
At MarketWatch, Brett Arends details how the Leave campaign devolved into “racism and xenophobia,” playing on white Britons’ fears of swarthy immigrant hordes descending on their shores. “Media here,” writes Arends, “are suddenly being dominated by scare stories of a ‘secret plot’ to ‘flood’ the country with ‘1.5 million Turks’ immediately if Britain should vote to stay in the EU.”
And Patrick Harvie, the Scottish Green party co-leader, described the Brexit campaign as “deceitful, manipulative, and at times downright racist.”
Labour MP Jo Cox was killed in the street ahead of the vote by a white man with ties to British nationalist, pro-Apartheid, and neo-Nazi groups, who reportedly shouted “Britain first” as he murdered her.
The power of racist and/or Islamophobic fearmongering is that it can overwhelm reason. There are, undoubtedly, people of color – as well as white people – who voted to Leave for reasons other than racial and/or cultural insecurities (like cynically exploiting the expected market turmoil for financial gain and personal enrichment), but a chilling number of voters (as well as white Americans and Europeans who advocated for Brexit) are unabashed about their support of the campaign for reasons ranging from fear of terrorism from Muslim refugees to uncloaked white supremacy.
This is not just a Britain problem. It is not just a United States problem. It is not just a continental Europe problem. It is a global problem with which we must begin to reckon – quickly and unyieldingly – lest the outcome of this international reactionary fearfulness produce the same outcome it has twice in the past: A world war.
For Americans, this means those of us who are attuned to the power of fear and what it engenders must spend the next five months pushing back against it. We must not let Donald’s exploitation of this fear amount to anything but defeat. In November, we must show up and forcefully repudiate this movement.
Truly, our collective future depends on it.
(AP Photo/Matt Dunham)