A Painful Lesson From Brexit: Why DiEM25 needs a simpler message
For years the signs have been on the wall. The Tea Party in the United States. Golden Dawn in Greece. The Alternatif für Deutschland. UKIP’s inexorable rise in the UK. Etc. etc. We saw these signs. We analysed their historic and political causes. We developed a cosmopolitan narrative of how ‘another’ Europe, ‘another’ world is possible.
But, unforgivably, we missed the most important thing about all this: that those on the bottom of the social heap are consumed by Deep Discontent that leaves them in no mood for complexity – they have no time for sophisticated, complicated analyses, or for lofty political agendas.
Where we failed, the Right succeeded: Right-wingers found a way to exploit the Deep Discontent. And their solution was simple:
Simplicity! What the nationalist, nativist Right offer is exactly this: SIMPLICITY
Millions of working Americans feel they are destined for the scrapheap, discarded, despised, neglected. We saw how they need nothing more than a big Trumpian wave of the hand to imagine it is possible to get rid of all that is pressing them down and once again hope for the future. It’s so totally understandable that they want that hope, and that they flock to anybody who says they can restore it with a simple sentence:
TAKE BACK CONTROL OF YOUR COUNTRY!
MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!
In a media-saturated age, that sort of sound-bite sticks like shit to a shoe…while all the whiffle and whaffle of us liberals, democrats, Marxists, utopians etc. is just too vague and too conditional.
Things have got so bad for the bottom end of society that they feel free in Janis Joplin’s and Nikos Kazantzakis’ sense: Freedom as another word for nothing left to lose. Indeed, they are prepared to lose whatever they are left with if they can, in the process, express their rage by voting for someone who will piss off those they consider responsible for their loss of control.
It’s a revolution all right, but not as we know it, not the one we wanted, envisaged, or have any idea how to ride.
The facts are simple but have never really been stated simply: For the past three decades, 80% of the people are taken to the cleaners 95% of the time by the top 20% of society. Since the mid-1970s, once the first post-war capitalist phase ended (with the collapse of the New Deal-inspired Bretton Woods system), those relying on wage income to live have fallen off the escalator. Most of the gains from technology, productivity, globalisation, have gone to the top 1% and none to the bottom 80%. People can put up with poverty, but not with humiliation – not with having their noses rubbed in their poverty by people in yachts, golf clubs and Mercedes Benzes, telling them that their poverty is self-inflicted.
Worse still, all conventional parties are offering slight variants of the system that has failed this 80% of the people. We need to be much more radical than that to entice them back, away from the sirens of the xenophobic Right.
What can we do to reach those people? They are the foot-soldiers and we need their energy and anger. But they’ve been corralled by lethal buffoons of the Right, like Boris Johnson, Marine Le Pen, Nigel Farage and Donald Trump, who directed their righteous anger at the wrong targets.
How can WE re-engage those people?
For now, this is an open question. Not one to be answered lightly or in haste. Brexit should give us pause.
One thing that is clear is that DiEM25 is now more important than ever. Our message from the beginning was simple: The EU will either be democratised or it will disintegrate! Brexit has confirmed our point.
But our message needs to be simplified further.
We need to explain exactly what we mean by democratisation.
We need to explain to those drawn by Trumpian/Brexiterian simplicity why democratising Europe matters to them.
We need to counter the Trumpian/Brexiterian simplicity with a simple (but not oversimplified) message of our own.
In short, we need to pitch progressive simplicity versus regressive oversimplification.
But, as we all know, simplicity requires lots of (often complicated) work.
Let’s get down to it.
Brian Eno & Yanis Varoufakis
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