Much as we may not want to, we have to accept the validity of polls saying that the success of the leave vote in the June 23 referendum on Britain’s ties to the European Union was largely due to its ability to fan the flames of xenophobia. But that doesn’t mean xenophobia was the only consideration nor does it mean that alternatives to xenophobia could not have been better presented. In fact it is interesting to see how inept the stay campaigns was –most especially—on presenting any kind of stay rationale other than “stay because it is good for business.”
Clearly the ruling elites–right, left and centre–in Britain have lost the ability to talk—certainly not convincingly– of a societal value outside economic growth with its disproportionate value to those who are already taking a much better than fair share of the economy. If there were voices that could have spoken for greater values in the European Union than enhanced trading, they remained silent or were drowned by hysterical voices hyperventiling over the trade advantages.
It makes me sick thinking of this massive victory for the forces of xenophobia, but I also find it rather titillating that the whole idea about “the economy is all there is” failed—big time in the Brexit vote.
And—tell me this—isn’t it wonderful—well doesn’t it warm your heart—to be Canadian in a Canada that just, so boldly and clearly said No! to xenophobia?
Doesn’t it just make you proud to be part of a Canada where our newly elected prime minister—in the heat of the election–not only said no to xenophobic hatred of those who are “different” but turned the whole fear of others upside down and fashioned an election victory out of proclaiming that Canada—at its greatest– is in its celebration of unity and diversity?
For example—from the Trudeau campaign trail:
“We believe in our hearts that this country’s unique diversity is a blessing bestowed upon us by previous generations of Canadians,”
“To me, pluralism means diversity, and diversity is at the very heart of Canada. It is who we are and what we do.”
“Canada is the only country in the world that is strong, not in spite of our differences, but because of them.”
From Trudeau’s victory speech:
“My friends, we beat fear with hope, we beat cynicism with hard work. We beat negative, divisive politics with a positive vision that brings Canadians together.”
“We have proven that a country—an astonishingly successful country—can be built on, and defined by, shared values. Not by religion, language, or ethnicity, but shared values.”
“One of the most difficult and urgent global problems is how to develop societies where people of different cultures can live together and build common ground.”
“In Canada, freedom is not just an aspirational value. It is a lived reality. It is woven into the fabric of our most important institutions, from the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, to our uniquely successful approach to immigration, to our cities’ excellent public schools.”
“Mr. Harper and I disagree fundamentally about many things. None perhaps more so than this: Leading this country should mean you bring Canadians together. You do not divide them against one another.”
“We can see now that they(Conservatives) were categorically wrong. That’s because working to gain freedom for our fellow citizens is a bedrock traditional value in this country. It is in large measure what it means to be Canadian.”
Unfortunately for the British stay in the European Union there was no European Trudeau to represent the European Union of vision of different peoples working together for the benefit of all. Leaders of the European Union are so deeply immersed in squeezing member countries into the market is everything juggernaut of privatization, fiscal austerity, deregulation, free trade and reductions in government spending to serve the interests of the 1% that none could put a positive case for the European Union other than it is good for business. It was a simple task for the UKIP to fill the void with fear of minorities. There was no one in the European Union, right left or centre, who could stand up like Nelson Mandela to proclaim: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”
And that’s the problem today with the European Union, big corporations, large governments and a long parade of big trade pacts is not a social vision. Worshiping at the foot of corporate bigness and financial freedom to loot member governments the EU promised solidarity, mutual benefit and democracy, but failed on every account. Though the “Leave” campaign was able to capitalize on overt xenophobia, it was the relentless imposition of austerity, deregulation, globalization that corrupted the basis of calling the electorate forward to a renewed vision of working together for the benefit of all.
Scariest of all the consequences of the Brexit vote is the implications for the coming American Presidential election where the unthinkable: a win for the viciously xenophobic , nuclear war touting presidential candidate Donald Trump now seems eminently possible—perhaps even likely. And, like the Brexit, those who might have spoken out for a greater social vision are saddled with a leadership that has been proven to represent/speak for Wall Street and its focus on trade rules that favour the few, with little interest in limiting corporate greed or protecting the environment. Already the Clinton team is staying true to their corporate donors by supporting the corporatist TPP agenda while backing away from meaningful reform on a carbon tax, college tuition, fracking, Single Payer healthcare.
Just when the world seems to most need leaders to call us to work together on solutions based on good will and cooperation, the world—outside Canada –seems to be sinking under a tsunami of our worst instincts. However, just as the Canadian Conservative Party promotion of seemingly self serving xenophobia created the opportunity for a leader like Justin Trudeau to envision a different ethic, so the current crisis over the disunity of the European Union may yet be the stimulus to call forward a new leadership that will speak for citizens rather than just voice the interests of banks, multi-national corporations, their think tanks and lobbyists; a leadership that will promote the value of communities based on shared values and commitment to our common good.