The stage is set for Brexiteers' stab in the back myth
PUBLISHED: 16:00 13 February 2018
Brexit is on its way to becoming a mystical entity and a sign that the UK has gone mad suggests BONNIE GREER.
Brexitarianism – we are now at the One True Faith stage – could soon achieve full convergence with that other True Faith: Trumpism.
Just as one of the writers of The Simpsons recently explained the show’s uncanny prediction, years ago, of a President Trump (“It was... consistent with the vision of America going insane”), so Brexitarianism can be seen as the UK gone mad. And things are moving apace.
The two chief nativist/protectionist movements in the anglophone world may have had their first summit in the reported recent meeting of backbench MP Jacob Rees-Mogg and former Trump advisor Steve Bannon. Both men are sartorial and vocal examples of a Mel Brooks’ movie about the ‘special relationship’ that ends with the Brit and the Yank being undone.
Rees-Mogg, with no portfolio and a promotion to head an arch-Eurosceptic pressure group within the Tory Party, has become one of the characters in the infotainment universe of 24-hour breaking news. His recent dust-up at a university event received far more coverage than the march of thousands of people in support of the NHS. After all, they were just ordinary people.
That a man with the look and airs of an assistant to a Victorian undertaker, with views to match, has gained such prominence shows us what is going on.
It’s called a constitutional crisis and is wrapped up inside a national loss of direction. It is becoming increasingly clear that Brexit, as imagined by both main parties, is simply undeliverable. Which does not mean, according to Brexitarians, that it will not/cannot be delivered. It will come in a kind of magical way.
And watch how Brexit and Trumpism, too, morphs more and more into a mystical thing, a thing of will and dreams. And destiny.
For example, notice how Trump uses the word ‘sacred’. Since what he does on Sundays – that is visible to us – is play golf, what could ‘sacred’ be referring to?
Trump uses it to tweet about the election process, as un-sacred an exercise as can be imagined. He does this in order to bind the 39% to 43% of the American electorate who approve of him closer to the ‘mission’ (himself) in a kind of holy bond.
The phrase ‘will of the people’ has that kind of tie, too. Something mystical and sacred that neither parliament nor our hard-won tenet, the rule of law, dare violate.
Gina Miller and others can go back and forth to court in an attempt to uphold parliament all they like, the Brexitarian doctrine proclaims, because there is something higher.
Now, that ‘something higher’, Brexitarians allege, is being undermined by a cabal. It is a ruthless and ubiquitous one: the Civil Service. It is they, particularly those at the Treasury, Brexitarians claim, who are undermining the great cause. This is an old one known as ‘the stab in the back’.
To understand its roots, we must turn to that Gesamtkunstwerk of music: Wagner’s Götterdämmerung. Siegfried, the hero and ‘golden boy’ of the story, is deceived by Hagen, chief minister of the court, by a series of manipulations. These cause Siegfried to believe something when actually something else is true. This leads him to make a statement that gives Hagen the cover he needs to execute him. Which he does by stabbing him in the back. The truth and the light is destroyed by the darkness within.
Decades after the opera premiered, the Dolchstoßlegende or ‘stab in the back’ theory appeared. It was spread around the German population, immediately after the end of the First World War: the idea that the German army had not actually lost, but had been betrayed on the home front.
By the enemy within. General Ludendorff and others blamed the government in Berlin; the civilian population for not believing enough; socialists; the Jews; foreigners. All had conspired from within Germany to defeat Germany itself.
This is not to compare Brexiters or Brexitarianism to Hitler. Any one who makes that link should go back to school. Rather, he is the supreme example of the consequences of ‘the stab in the back’.
Trump is using this theory to discredit the Mueller investigation into Russian influence in the US election. Dolchstoßlegende is designed to make us look the other way; to lose faith in our institutions; to designate; to denigrate an ‘other’. It is gaslighting to the highest degree.
One way to combat the ‘stab in the back’ narrative is to form a community. And tell the truth. Trumpism, and Brexitarianism, succeed when they can make reality look dark and murky, convoluted and confusing. They control the narrative when they can create the spectacle of we Remainers as the UK’s version of the US’ ‘coastal elites’. We are headlined as gilded, highly-educated, privileged, metropolitan types who know nothing of the travails of the poor.
This is clearly a powerful narrative. It explains why Trump supporters, many of them desperately poor, are OK with a President who has cost them millions in his personal flights to Florida every weekend to the upgraded golf resort taxpayers are subsidising. It explains why old Etonians, peers who live in France, and MPs moonlighting as financial experts advising their wealthy clients to sell Britain, feel free to speak on behalf of the people of Hull.
I started the hashtag #OrdinaryPeople Remain last December to gather and to share the stories of those of us who did not grow up well-off. Like Rees-Mogg.
To let others on social media see that we are them. And that there has always been a move by many driving Brexit to disconnect and break the nation in the cause of their true faith: leaving the European Union.
We do not worship at the church of Brexitarianism.