When Nigel Farage and Donald Trump describe the events of 2016 as a ‘political revolution’, they do so not to paint an informed picture, but to massage their own egos. For them, the idea of revolution cements their place in history. It validates their importance to the political arena, even in the face of adversity and massive public criticism.
Various alt-Right claims concerning the magnitude of last year’s political changes are at best dubious and at worst insulting lies. 2016 was not the year of political revolution. It was a year in which swamps were drained with swampland and a year in which the public relations industry worked its magic in ways never seen before to create the false perception that we now, more than at any other time, live in a post-truth political environment.
Yes, it is true that startling alliances were exposed that sent powerful signals to government, and that the public mood seemed to defy even reputable polling, but one only has to take a look at the manoeuvring of the chess pieces currently on the board to examine that the effects of 2016’s groundbreaking votes haven’t been as profound as commonly thought.
Take, for instance, the new cabinet of president-elect Donald Trump. After promising to ‘drain the swamp’ at the White House for many months, Trump’s new cabinet picks are more than a little eyebrow-raising. The combined wealth of Trump’s cabinet, excluding the president-elect’s $3.7bn fortune, is a staggering $4.5bn, and not all positions have been decided upon.
It can be a little easy to forget that the establishment often branches out far wider than politics itself. What we call the establishment is in reality an intricate web of political figures, banks and multinational corporations, media, owners atop strategic industries and international institutions. Many of Trump’s cabinet selections, like ExxonMobil chief Rex Tillerson or Wilbur Ross, who made millions dealing with subprime mortgage’s during the 2007-08 crash, reek of establishmentarianism.
They are deeply engrained within an economic elite, and despite Trump’s plan to draft in figures that will revolutionise America’s negotiating skill and allow it to do business his way, the establishment stench will linger so poignantly that even many of his voters will be able to smell it. If by ‘swamp’, Trump was referring to establishment figures, then swampland has undoubtedly been replaced with swampland. It is, too, worth noting that the ‘anti-establishment’ candidate received more than 2 million less votes than the firmly established Hillary Clinton in last year’s presidential contest.
I am always suspicious when a political figure claims to be waging a war with the establishment. It tends to be a war cry, designed to rally a specific kind of voter; whoever the disillusioned and marginalised voter of the day would appear to be. It makes sense, as the thirty year period of neoliberal capitalism has, for all its successes, brought about a deep-rooted marginalisation of the working man. Anger is understandable. The question therefore should be: “How do we deal with this frustration constructively?”
Similar trends were noticed during Britain’s EU referendum. As the arguments intensified, established politicians like Boris Johnson and Theresa May played their cards close to their chest, one choosing to use the campaign to fight a proxy war with David Cameron, the other choosing to campaign mildly in order to take advantage of a fallen Prime Minister. The script read like a west end play.
After Cameron’s resignation and an underwhelming Tory leadership contest, Remain-backing Theresa May took the helm and entered Number 10 as Prime Minister. The government she formed featured campaigners on both sides of the referendum, and once again the Conservatives found themselves strapped with the task of carrying out Brexit. Thanks once again to some clever manoeuvring, the party that for years had supported Britain’s membership of the European Union was in charge of withdrawal.
The same politicians, with a few exceptions, are calling the shots, and Britain seems both reluctant to reveal its negotiating cards and content to stretch the process out for as long as possible. The very same pattern has emerged on both sides of the Atlantic: the anti-establishment types, camouflaged as defenders of the working man in a bid to attract widespread support, were so zealous and deceiving in their pursuit of power that they forgot almost entirely how to deal with it when it came.
In 2016, the establishment launched a coup unto itself, disguised as its sworn enemy. It managed to harness the anger of forgotten communities and mould it into a brand new mandate; with which it will trot confidently into what is deemed to be the new political era. And what’s worse? Even our populists, who ceaselessly present themselves as anti-establishment, are starting to look every bit as careerist and every bit as bubbled as those they claim to oppose.
 Peterson-Withorn, C. (2016). Here’s What Each Member Of Trump’s $4.5 Billion Cabinet Is Worth. Available: http://www.forbes.com/sites/chasewithorn/2016/12/22/heres-how-much-trumps-cabinet-is-really-worth/#e7a9676f0219. Last accessed 2nd Jan 2017.