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[Cartoon by Poland's Paweł Kuczyński]

[Cartoon by Poland’s Paweł Kuczyński]

Some Brexit thoughts here, as I’m preparing a longer article for publication. There are two separate themes, the Brexit vote itself, a majority of British voters choosing to leave the EU, and the wide range of responses in the aftermath of the vote. The populist, nativist, and occasionally openly racist support for Brexit became the dominant trend early in the campaign. It quickly overshadowed the empty rhetoric about “independence” and short-sighted economic rationales that ignored that stability and unity matter far more in a globalized world. Brexit scratches the phantom limb of the lost British Empire for a moment, nothing more.

The core problem, with Brexit and in the ongoing American presidential election that has seen similarly irrational populist responses to legitimate grievances, is that the establishment has not provided solutions. The anger and frustration people feel is legitimate and the lack of real engagement makes it easy for demagogues preaching easy solutions, no matter how ridiculous or horrible they are. With no long-term planning, no ambitious positive agenda from their leaders, people will move toward anyone providing any answers at all, any agenda at all.

People want to be heard and to make a difference. That can mean voting for Brexit because it means “change!” even if the consequences will be negative. It can mean supporting Donald Trump because he promises immediate action even if his course of action would be catastrophic. it can mean voting for Bernie Sanders, whose socialist rhetoric is just as utopian and just as impossible. It can mean joining ISIS because changing the world in a negative way becomes far more attractive if you see no opportunities to change it for the better.

People have legitimate worries about security, immigration, jobs, and much else. None of them will be cured by Brexit, Trump, or Sanders, let alone ISIS, but they offer solutions where our establishment politicians refuse to admit there is a problem.

Go back to the financial crisis of 2008, when the elites papered over the causes and bailed out the banks and crooks who caused it. Go back to Cameron conceding to a parliament vote not to attack Bashar Assad in Syria in 2013 (leading to Obama to break his “red line” vow), leading to millions more refugees pushing toward Europe and strengthening the Brexit campaign and every far-right group. Go back to Europe and the US refusing to send military aid to Ukraine to defend the first invasion and annexation since World War II.

All of this complacency and cowardice has shown how little our leaders care about the big picture, the long-term, and the future of Europe and the world. They have ignored that they are under real attack from political and religious extremists in their own countries, from radicals abroad, and from a wealthy dictator in Russia. This has left a vacuum to be filled by the demagogues, the hateful, the ignorant, the dream-sellers, and the jihadists. They have plans and they have purpose—and they are winning.

Those who care will always have an advantage over those who don’t. So I hope Brexit is a wake-up call for Europe and America and not only more inspiration for other agents of chaos.

– Garry Kasparov

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