Over 100 students crammed into the Trent House Pub to hear Martin Farr give a lecture,organised by the History society, on ‘Brexit and the Age of Trump’, with almost 200 watching a live stream.
Charities officer, Glenn Foster, introduced Farr and he dived straight into explaining what has made 2016 the most topsy-turvy year since 1940, whatever your political views.
Indeed, although Martin confessed “I’m simplifying all this for the purposes of a pub lecture”, he noted “2016 will be discussed for decades, perhaps even centuries, to come”. The audience enjoyed his witty and engaging presentation which historicised how these events came to pass.
Farr argued that Brexit and Trump are a culmination of long-term trends, with Britain and the U.S. now moving from neoliberalism to neonationalism. Voters in both countries are experiencing a sense of decline, and only radical change can arrest decline. Voters were told relentlessly that Brexit and Trump were risks, but when the voters feel like they have nothing left to lose, they’re not afraid of risks.
Trump ran his campaign based on ideas including the notion that the white working-class, socially conservative voters have been largely ignored in the culture of political correctness and the nanny state. Hence appealing slogans such as ‘Make America Great Again’ and ‘Take Back Control’, which hark back to the past.
Making matters worse, voters’ confidence in politicians and ‘experts’ has also been considerably eroded. Martin cited the Iraq war, financial crisis and expenses scandal, in particular, as exposing politicians as incompetent, selfish and dishonest. In times of uncertainty, Martin said, right wing parties succeed because they offer people familiar reassurances, leading to Thatcher in 1979 and Reagan in 1980.
“How can history help? It’s a sort of group therapy session to make sense of the trauma of this year.”
Martin theorised that the centre-ground has become an ‘echo chamber’, “the buzzphrase of 2016”. Trump and Brexit are “crude clubs with which to beat the establishment, but not instruments of governance”. Martin quoted the Irish poet W. B. Yeats, “the centre cannot hold, mere anarchy is loosed upon the world.” He mentioned the “tyranny of small margins”. of the audience. Maisie Dodds, a third-year history student, told me she was doing her dissertation on the gendered representation of Hillary Clinton. When I asked her about the allegations of corruption which undermined Hillary, she replied that “abuse of power is certainly not an issue specific to Clinton in such a corrupt system.”
After the lecture, the audience gathered around for Q&A, which looked to the future. “The future isn’t a historian’s field,” Martin joked. “It’s a cliché but it’s too soon to say”. For the implications of Brexit and Trump to become apparent, we’ll have to wait.
Martin emphasised, “you campaign in poetry but you govern in prose, when faced with the enormous complexity of a sophisticated democracy”, suggesting the reality may be very different from all the campaign promises. “It’s not a year I’ll remember fondly. It’s been a bit of a shitshow.”