As a Brit in America, I am keenly aware of my obligations.
For one, I have a duty to pronounce words like “zebra” and “trousers” and “pasta” in ways precisely calibrated to sound amusing to the American ear. Then I must smile warmly when those same words are parroted back to me in a Dick Van Dyke accent.
I must have an opinion on the Royal family. Sometimes that opinion must be shared on television, like the time in Vegas when the local NBC affiliate declared me an expert on the wedding of Kate and William and allowed me to make up facts for 45 mins. (“What can you tell us about the man in red standing beside the altar?” / “Well, that’s actually very interesting. According to feudal law, if William fails to show up for the wedding then that fellow is obliged to step in and marry Kate.” / “Incredible. What a wonderful tradition. We’ll be right back.”)
I am obliged to have terrible teeth, to drink tea by the gallon, and be willing – at the drop of a hat – to discuss the cultural significance of Doctor Who with someone for whom the entire franchise began with Matt Smith. I must “explain” Jimmy Saville.
And now, of course, I must have an opinion on Brexit.
I understand completely the American fascination with Brexit. For one thing, it is objectively fascinating. It’s so rare these days that you get to see a first world democracy simultaneously punching itself in the face, shooting itself in both feet, and dashing itself on the rocks, again and again, in slow motion. Also, it’s strangely comforting: Brexit is the only clusterfuck in the world that’s more clustery and more fucky than the decision to elect Donald Trump.
Well, since you ask, my opinion is much the same as everyone else’s: Brexit is a clown show. A disaster. An unprecedented humiliation even for a country which is world famous for its bumbling, and whose citizens live in a constant state of embarrassment and apology.
To end the madness, the only logical next step is for the government to declare a second referendum, for the British people to vote a decisive no, and then pretend the whole mess never happened. Another thing British people are very good at: Pretending things never happened. (It was we Brits who invented that awkward little jog you do when you trip in the street and don’t want anyone to realize.)
(Update: Since publishing this post last week, a formal petition to cancel Brexit has gained so many signatures from the British public that the UK parliamentary website has exploded.)
And yet, for all the voting and rejection and yelling and confusion and major banks relocating to Ireland, a second referendum remains the one thing which neither of the two major parties is willing to consider. A second referendum, we’re told, will lead to blood on the streets and to the Prime Minister being ousted and replaced with Nigel Farage. The far right will be frothing at the mouth, they warn us, apparently unaware that right wing mouths are already frothing, and have been for a very long time.
The same logic explains why Republican senators stubbornly refuse to halt the destruction of their own party by a crazed orange bigot, or why Evangelicals continue to abandon every single lesson Jesus ever taught about love, forgiveness, tolerance – never mind their own church’s prudish teachings on divorce, adultery, blasphemy and porn stars. It’s why Lindsay Graham sounds like he’s been possessed. Don’t anger the base! Beware the base!
As a result, in both Britain and America, the levers of power are now in the hands of men (mostly men) who, when faced with anything resembling a moral decision, appear to ask themselves only one question: What would a total fucking asshole do?
We are living in an assholistocracy.
Sometimes those men in a power have a very specific asshole in mind when asking their What would a total fucking asshole do? question. For Republican lawmakers, the asshole constantly on their mind is the 45th president of the United States. The Supreme Dalek of Assholes.
More often, though, the fictive asshole is actually a group of assholes. In Britain, as in America, much of the current idiotic, self-destructive lawmaking around immigration, economics, Supreme Court nominees, and – yes – Brexit is driven by politicians (themselves assholes to a man) wondering how best to pander to the large (but minority) mob of bigots, misanthropes and proud ignoramuses who still cling on to the notion that anything that reduces the number of foreigners will provide a commensurate increase in jobs and opportunities for the working class.
(Important note: That mob <> the working class. Sure, Trump’s base is built on what pollsters call “white men without college degrees” and Brexit is most popular amongst those low paid workers who could stand to benefit most from European jobs and subsidies. But throw a rock in Silicon Valley or on Wall Street and chances are you’ll hit a racist or misogynist who not only shares Trump’s worst impulses, but has the resources to fund them. Bigotry, like intelligence, respects no class divide.)
We can’t have a second Brexit referendum because, simply put, the assholes won’t allow it. We can’t defend the constitution because the assholes won’t allow it.
Worse, we can’t even easily vote out the assholes and replace them with non-assholes. Not when the system is stacked so heavily in favor of the assholes. I don’t just mean the electoral college system, or gerrymandering, which allowed Trump to win and maintain control of the White House while losing the popular vote. Nor do I only mean the fact that the assholes who gave us Brexit – Farage, Johnson and the rest – were willing to lie and even cheat to get the outcome they wanted, while the Remainers couldn’t cobble together a coherent counter-argument, hobbled as they were by fidelity to the truth.
I’m also talking about how the assholes control the tools of information and communication. Tools like Facebook, which we know was used by the Russian government to help turn public opinion against Hilary Clinton and the EU, towards Trump and Brexit. Mark Zuckerberg’s unwillingness to put a stop to it, despite a direct personal appeal from Barack Obama, puts him firmly in the asshole camp (never mind his tolerance of Nazis on his platform, and the fact that he’s packed his policy team with right wingers as a sop to frothing conservatives.) Meanwhile the longest serving Facebook board member, Peter Thiel, is a Trump donor who famously said that the worst thing to happen to “capitalist democracy” was women getting the vote.
It ain’t just Facebook though. Over at Twitter, Jack Dorsey refuses to enforce his company’s own rules against Trump’s tweets, and in his spare time pals around with anti-vaxxers. Google recently $135m to two executives accused of sexual harassment and assault.
Social media is a matryoshka doll of assholes, as of course is the Murdoch press, and…
…12 hours later…
I drafted the first part of this post (everything you’ve just read) a few hours before news broke of Thursday’s terror attack in Christchurch. You’ve likely read the same coverage of the attack as I have: The white supremacist murderer, radicalized via adolescent Internet forums and lolzing his way through the livestreamed slaughter. The rambling manifesto using copy-and-pasted memes to frame the senseless snuffing out of human life as just another way to stick it to liberals and anyone else who supports multiculturalism, sensible gun control, and basic human decency. Mass murder as epic trolling.