choreographed hysteria

Brexit ballot by PRO(Mick Baker)rooster

Broadcast news coverage of the BREXIT Referendum has been nothing short of catastrophic. So bad is the quality of the journalism that, in keeping with the portmanteau usage, it should from here on be known as JOURNOCAT. Or perhaps INFOSTORT for ‘information distortion.’ Maybe NEWSCHLOCK or FUBARPROP would be more appropriate. You get the idea.

Beyond ‘the end of the world as we know it’ panic, the BREXIT news coverage and commentary is flawed because it retails one of four risible narratives. Let’s dive in:

  1. Class bias presented as anti-racism
    Accusations of racism and xenophobia are being leveled at the Leave Campaign, which no doubt played some role in some Leave corners. However these accusations try but fail to obscure the reality that the Leave Campaign pulled most its support from the victims of the neo-liberal European Project, not a majority of backwards progress-hating racists. Lower income Britons, especially those living outside of London, voted for BREXIT less because they resented the presence of immigrants than because they resented having to pay for the European Union when it does not benefit them much. The UK was not only one of the handful of Northern European countries like Germany that are net donors of funding for the EU (in contrast to the net recipients in Southern and Eastern Europe) but it was actually being soaked worse than the other net donor countries. From that perspective, it looks like German post referendum outrage at the British has everything to do with anger at victims who have awoken to the swindle! How dare working class Britons refuse to help the Germans subsidize Polish and Spanish participation in the European Project? Yes, the money managers in the City of London have been distressed by the change. Yes, wealthy Britons might now have to pretend to be Irish to use an EU passport, no doubt deserving of the sympathy of unemployed Britons worried about cuts to funding for hospitals and schools and living a daily life that is increasingly bleak. Working Britons used their agency and the wealthy class, who won’t benefit, are on the attack. The anti-progress dipped in xenophobia pill is a great weapon for them, thus far being easily swallowed by the public.
  2. Because Scotland
    That BREXIT may occasion another referendum on Scottish independence is hardly a surprise. The Scottish National Party is more than willing to make the good people of Scotland vote until they get it right and riding off the energy of BREXIT is almost inevitable. But there is a more interesting question to be asked. Would an independent Scotland be allowed to join the EU as a net recipient of EU funding like Poland or as a net donor of EU funding like the Netherlands? A good guess is that Scotland might be offered and decline the latter privilege. In either case poor old Scotland would be taking orders from Berlin rather than from London. How long will it take before the patriotic Scots begin to groan when they hear the “Ode to Joy” of Ludwig von Beethoven’s Ninth? How long before they rediscover the sense of betrayal by fellow Scots that is expressed in “Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation?”
  3. Because Trump
    Viewed through the lens of American broadcast journalists the greatest significance of BREXIT is to be found not in its implications for Britons, or even the Germans, but in its possible impact on the 2016 U.S. Presidential Election. Seemingly unable to think and speak except in terms of horse race U.S. election news coverage, British voters apparently got it very wrong because BREXIT success can be seen as a win for presumptive GOP nominee Donald Trump. And the endless questions begin: Is this a seismic shift that western civilization will be incapable of surviving? Will populists take over all lands and destroy modern frameworks as we know them? Most timely, if a majority of British voters voted their anti-immigrant prejudices, might a majority of American voters do the same? The media tends to forget the differences between a national referendum that gave British voters a simple, unambiguous choice and a U.S. presidential election with the multiple filtering distortions of the electoral college (freebie: that’s a real news story). What matters is whether a few sound bites about Trump can be broadcast along with droning commentary to garner higher ratings, even if viewers have turned into zombies at this point.
  4. Because Texas
    If it is not about Trump then perhaps BREXIT was bad because Texas might attempt to secede from the Union. A TEXIT if you will. From the perspective of many patriotic Americans, the admission of Texas to the Union has long been thought of at best a mixed blessing and at worst a historic blunder. You can often hear laughter when Texans bluster about secession but there is bitterness buried in that laughter. Didn’t Texas saddle America with Lyndon Baines Johnson and George W. Bush? (Thanks, Texas, for the War in Vietnam and the Iraq War.) In any case, let’s consider the possible post-TEXIT territorial settlements. What part of the Lone Star State would Mexico or the Comanche be entitled to reclaim as their own? Nicer people will try to reason with the secessionists by pointing out that their state is a net recipient rather than a net donor of funding for the Federal government. Rather like Poland in the European Union. A TEXIT would thus actually be the opposite of a BREXIT. Still isn’t it amusing to consider the prospect of a Texas reborn as the sovereign nation-state it briefly was in the early 19th century? We should remember that the Republic of Texas even won diplomatic recognition from Britain and France before bankruptcy persuaded Texans that being Americans was probably wiser.   Perhaps, like an “independent” Scotland, an “independent” Texas could even apply for membership in the European Union! Because let’s face reality here – Texans are going to need someone to subsidize them. Imagine with a smile the new nation exchanging their resentment about Federal regulations issued by bureaucrats in Washington for resentment about EU regulations issued by Eurocrats in Brussels.

Generally, the one narrative largely missing from the commentary about BREXIT is its historical and geopolitical meaning. Thus far we’ve heard a furious outpouring of repetitive sounds bites on current stock market plunges, the close-mindedness of the Leave campaign and the possibility of infectious referendum taking. But the bigger picture is important here and is being impressively overlooked. Rewind: Napoleon Bonaparte’s European Project was constructed around a hegemonic great power commanding an international alliance of client states that were small, disloyal, resentful and free-riding, and did not include England. Adolf Hitler’s European Project was also constructed around a hegemonic great power commanding an international alliance of client states that were small, disloyal, resentful and free-riding, and did not include England. When the UK escapes from the clutches of the EU two years from now, that same description will also capture the essence of Germany’s European Project. The one important difference is that the Anglo-Saxons and the Russians will probably be content to let the Germans lord it over their continental client states. Hopefully BREXIT will compel them to begin reforming the fundamentally undemocratic decision-making institutions of the EU. But don’t bet the farm. And in the meantime, look not to the media to supply anything beyond choreographed BREXIT hysteria.

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John Hickman with Sarah Bartlett

John Hickman with Sarah Bartlett

John Hickman is Professor of Political Science in the Department of Government and International Studies at Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where he teaches courses on war crimes, comparative politics, and research methods. He holds both a PH.D. in political science from the University of Iowa and a J.D. from Washington University, St. Louis. Hickman is the author of the 2013 Florida University Press book Selling Guantanamo.Sarah Bartlett is a tech specialist for public health projects in Sub-Saharan Africa by day and likes to think about other things by night. She is based in New Orleans.