As the news-of-the-world breaks on the news cycle, Trump and Brexit continue to play up to ideas of fixed identities, exclusion and self-interest. 2018 may be over, but we are all in the waiting room, bracing for another gripping episode of "taking our countries back".
“Repent and Brexit” was apocalyptic imagery that awaited me in front of the British Parliament on December 12, 2018. Jetlagged from a transatlantic flight from Washington DC, I entered the House of Commons just in time to watch from the gallery Theresa May answering parliamentary questions. On the same day, she was about to face the results of the “no confidence” vote by her party.
In person, the Prime Minister comes across as strong and resilient, which really should not come as a surprise given that she was the longest-serving (i.e., longest-surviving) Home Secretary in modern British politics.
December 12, 2018, history will remember as a clamorous day for Britain, an island in the European Union that is still severely torn on a fundamental democratic principle called “referendum.” Sitting with the British journalists in the middle of “deal or no deal” political drama facing a possibility of a second referendum, I raised a simple question: “And what would that new question(s) in the second referendum be?”
Britain is struggling with the harsh realization that it is a little bit too late to argue against what people have already voted for. Whichever position one takes, the fact is, people voted to leave, and no one asked them if they wanted to do so with or without a deal. “Leave means Leave,” the Brexiteers will tell you, but in a political divorce from European Union, things are not quite that simple.
Trump in Britain
While British journalists are aware that Trump is constantly breaking on the news cycle, they think that the biggest news is Brexit. After all, they made it to Saturday Night Live, which was a clear sign of a brief departure from American-centred news coverage.
Standing in the middle of history that will affect Europe and generations to come, it is clear that the remaining member countries of the European Union will be more emotionally and possibly politically and economically affected if the UK leaves without a deal. European citizens slid into a meltdown after Home Office told them that they would have to pay sixty-five quid to settle their immigration status after Brexit.
It is interesting to watch how the European Union feels entitled to free movement, living, working, and studying in the UK while at the same time they did not mind that for years non-EU members of the Western Balkans had to apply and pay for visas to almost any country they wanted to travel to.
The European Union is an excellent political and economic project, but it also is an elite, protectionist club Britain does not want to be a part of anymore. Deal or no deal, deal with it.
While the British government is making a contingency plan for leaving without a deal in early 2019, on the other side of the Atlantic, the American president is making sudden, half-baked political decisions that destabilize America on the global stage and is creating internal instability. From pulling out troops from Syria to the government shutdown over the wall with Mexico, Trump is obsessing over dismantling the political legacy of his predecessors. His political decisions are more aligned with the ideology of the Kremlin than what always was the geopolitical pathway of the United States. That is confusing as if not influenced by Putin himself, the logical question that continues to linger is where Trump acquired such anti-western political ideas? How could someone growing up in New York as a ruthless real-estate player with a Wharton degree ideologically align with a former KGB agent who grew up in Russia? Is what we are missing here the conversation Trump and Putin had behind closed doors in Helsinki?
“Mad Dog” Mattis has finally resigned. We all had a chance to read his resignation letter explaining why he had to leave the Trump administration. His act of resignation was not straight out of the military playbook. Mattis’s “hit the wall” stipulates the frustration and strategic misalignment with Trump on America’s role in the world.
On Parliament Sq in London, a handful of Trump supporters hold big signs on “taking our country back,” a populist slogan that stands for isolationism and fear-mongering that reflects from America to Europe and back.
Good Old Chelsea and Balenciaga
Michelle Obama broke the twitter with her thigh-high Balenciaga boots, explaining to Sarah Jessica Parker how she only wears designers with a “good spirit.” Interestingly, riding the elevator of the Harvey Nichols bar on Knightsbridge, I found myself next to two British teenagers dressed from head to toe in Balenciaga, not because of any spiritual reasons, but mainly because their parents are filthy rich. Unlike the Queen, they do not need to apologize for their gilded piano and eating cake for Christmas.
Europe is divided between the radical right and left-wing socialists who enjoy all the privileges of the establishment but rhetorically despise the rich. Republican internet outrage over the Queen’s Christmas message in front of the gold piano is symptomatic of the larger world project to abolish the political center.
The new 2019 will only be more dramatic. Years are flashing forward in the days of our lives, but the political mindset of the establishment did not evolve to modern times. Trump understood that perhaps better than anyone else. You do not need to invent the wheel to run for a political office. The more you polarize the nation over identity, the greater are the chances that voters will respond to you. Thus spoke Hitler, Stalin, and every other autocrat.
As the new political hell breaks loose, we’ll still be in the waiting room of Brexit and Trump’s third year in the Oval Office. A new gripping episode of “taking our countries back” is just around the corner.
As Theresa May likes to say, “Nothing has changed.” Cheers, and welcome back to the same old New Year.