Chaos prevails in British politics, the European Union is at sea after the Brexit referendum, Donald Trump is dominating politics and news cycles in the United States. These are, in themselves, grave developments. Yet they are not the culmination or the end of a process – just stations on the road to the unknown. We ought to realize the dangers so that we may all think of how to avoid them – whether we are EU decision-makers, member-state governments or individual citizens.
In Britain, after a resounding victory in just last May’s elections, the Conservative Party is headless and divided; on the other hand, Labour is a bodiless head, with the vast majority of MPs rejecting freshly elected leader Jeremy Corbyn; only Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party got what he wanted and had no qualms about saying that this was achieved by guile. The Conservative who lead the “Leave” campaign, Boris Johnson, surprised everyone yesterday by declaring that he would not contest the leadership of the party after Prime Minister David Cameron was driven to resign. Johnson’s flight was derided as a bid to escape responsibility. Johnson, however, apart from his cynicism, his humor and his bulimic attention-seeking, has a degree in Classics from Oxford. He knows the bad end that befell the conspirators who killed Julius Caesar. Perhaps this is a tactical withdrawal, so he can emerge later like Octavian, dispatch his bloodied and exhausted rivals and claim the throne. Caesar’s murder, ostensibly to prevent one-man rule, opened the way to empire.
No one can guess how Britain will go, nor how today’s ferment will shape the EU. Will member-states’ governments concentrate solely on domestic problems so as to avoid Cameron’s fate or will there be a collective leap toward more functional cooperation? The second option looks less and less likely: Germany swings between cautious observation and imperious demands for rules to be obeyed; France is rocked by protests against labor reform; in Italy a referendum on political reform this fall could lead to a new domestic and European crisis. Brexit provokes a sense of uncertainty and may set off a chain reaction that could lead either to a strengthening of the Union or disintegration.
Trump is the most dramatic proof of the dangers that arise when something cracks in politics and society. The sudden proliferation of Tea Party activists and voters after Barack Obama’s inauguration in 2009 – with the clear purpose of obstructing the new president’s policies – created conditions for the rise of such a candidate. Whether he is elected president or not, the haughty billionaire who claims to speak for the common man (for a very specific “common man”) has opened the way for even more extremist candidates in future. Rage, lies and hyperbole have become everyday tools of politics of the extreme right and left. It is becoming ever more difficult to prevent the slide to continual conflict.