Monday 4 July 2022

Roe v Wade and Brexit

 A is for anti abortion. B is for Brexit. C is for chaos.

The anti abortion movement in the States and Brexit here in Britain are the same thing, wedge issues chosen by people with right wing authoritarian tendencies with a long term plan for asserting control over an entire body politic. They are on the surface utterly different issues, but they each performed the same function. In each case it took their proponents forty years starting in the 1970s to get their way. Each was chosen because of the characteristics of the country concerned. In the States anti abortion could be made to appeal to powerful and rich right wing fundamentalist churches. The churches’ views had to be nudged into shape, but that too was part of the long term project. In the UK Brexit / sovereignty was particularly powerful because of the gentle but tenacious grip imperial nostalgia had on large numbers of British people. The fact that Brexit became Russian policy is tangential to the main thrust of native and global right wing forces. Arguably Brexit only became Russian policy after twenty years of tabloid headlines convinced them that it was possible.

A key feature of a wedge issue is that it divides people. Abortion in the States and Brexit in the UK have divided the population so fundamentally that the kind of broad alliances that sweep megalomaniacs from power have become much more difficult.

In each case the headline issue itself was not the main point. Each in a way was a staging post, a symbol of what was wanted. The main issues were what was needed to achieve each and what was the overall purpose. The aim was for right wing policies to be embedded in the governance of the country concerned, and for the temper of that governance to be gradually altered so that policies which tend towards the fascist became acceptable. Some things were done differently and some similarly. In both countries right wing media were very important, and very compliant. Regulators, if not already powerless, needed to be rendered so in order to enable media to peddle lies. Gerrymandering and the capture of elected office were used in the States, in the UK the revolving door between government and business, and the favouring of donors.

Both strategies in the end hinged on the fortuitous* appearance of a maverick – Trump in the States, Johnson in the UK, both people for whom principle and the rule of law were meaningless. But the mavericks are just the icing on the subversive cake, they are by no means the whole story – they could only get to where they got with the support and nurturing of many other people, and they could only achieve their ends with the active involvement of others, eg Trump’s packing of the Supreme Court aided and abetted by the house republicans’ abuse of procedure. And in the UK, the number of people still willing to pay Johnson's bills is astonishing. Principle and the rule of law had already become meaningless for many; they were just not quite so egregious in their rule breaking.

*I'll stick to "fortuitous". Some would argue that the development of political and media culture in our two countries made the elevation of mavericks inevitable. I would say more likely, but not inevitable.

And in both cases, that is not the end. The right wing justices on the Supreme Court have made it clear that they will be moving on further rights, and in Britain the government have moved on to dismantling our very effective human rights apparatus. This was always intended; the aim is to concentrate power in the hands of a few, and to demoralise and disaggregate the rest.

As I see it, the way back may be easier in the UK than in the States. Movement away from fascism requires an alliance of the centre and the left groupings which are usually fragmented. Fortunately, British voters are on the whole more sensible than the parties that represent them. Anti Tory tactical voting is now well established when circumstances require it, and Johnson has become a liability. One election may change the temper of British politics, though there would still be a very long way to go to root out the corruption that has been seeping into the UK’s system for several decades. But I fear the road back for the USA is much longer and much thornier.

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