Tag Archives: politics

The Imagined and Actual Geography of Brexit: Topologies of Social Anxiety

What sort of precedent did the Brexit vote sent for the validity of the demonization of immigration, and the growth of a firmly anti-globalist impulse?  The combination of a growing state security apparatus and economic insecurity on European boarders has created a fear of hordes and the arrival of migrants moving on foot that has created the now-dismantled migrant camp known as the “Jungle” near the port of Calais, not far from the Ferry Terminal for ships leaving for England.  This settlement became a site emblematic of the proximity of migrants to Britain in the summer of 2016, and helped to embody the fears of immigration close to the shores of England, giving a concreteness to the fears of immigration that deeply divided Britain on the need to protect its borders, and the dangers of doing so.  It was a debate about what being British meant, and where we draw our borders, which the Calais encampment, as the posters of refugees from Eastern Europe and Syria, illustrated with increased proximity.

Crossing to Calais on the Eurostar this summer, I looked out intently out of the rapidly moving train window for migrant camps who had been so central to the “Brexit” referendum by which  England recently left the European Union, that has held up to 6-8,000 refugees hoping to move to England–and some suggest the number reached as high as 10,000.  Indeed, as “Leave” seemed so successfully cast as an imperative, and “Remain” as the honest commitment to “Remain” seemed to have decidedly less media presence and staying power, the haunting residents of the camps, filled with refugees and migrants from Syria, Eritrea, Sudan and Afghanistan, if often left out of most maps of the election, provided a compelling if faceless specter for many.

 

f-calais-a-20160119.jpgReuters

_83530338_83530337.jpgBBC

 

The haphazard and improvised constellation of lean-tos, make-shift huts, and tents were ordered in streets beside orderly rows of fenced-off white metal shipping containers relocated to Calais to provide temporary forms of housing after their arrival.  Although there were not any migrant camps in evidence from my position in the train, the camps were in the past few weeks increasingly in the news, as the UKIP party that predicted an England inundated by refugee influx that social services and health could not accommodate, all because of England’s membership in the European Union, on the eve of Britain’s vote on the European Union Referendum–as “Leave” parties conjured fears of what belonging in the European Union would mean for the everyday Englishman in an age of increasing global displacement of refugees and cross-border traffic of men and women seeking work, education, and safety.  When the rapid train suddenly paused for unforeseen difficulties due to people on the tracks, one couldn’t but wonder how the halt related to those risking lives to enter the tunnel running beneath the Channel, whom local police quarantined in semi-permanent “homes” of converted shipping containers.

While the Eurostar connected two railway stations, and half of London and Paris was glued to the European Cup, the “Brexit” vote revealed a hiving off of about a third of Britain similarly eager to separate itself from the European Union–as voters voted, probably unaware of the consequences, in a plebiscite that trumped parliamentary politics in anti-democratic ways.  For Brexit became a performative mapping of a severance from Europe, in ways to manufacture an imaginary boundary between England and a refugee crisis.  The precarity of living in shipping containers now seems to be about as great as that of the European Union.  What was Jungle is largely destroyed, rendered uninhabitable save for the 1,200 unaccompanied minors who reside in the complex of huts, tents, and containers, as 4,403 migrants bussed to refugee centers across the country, to seek asylum, the settlement provided an effective threat of migration and effective specter of fear in the EU Referendum.  Indeed, it helped to ensure the surprising and unexpected success of a referendum designed to keep refugees at bay and finally withdraw the country –at significant national monetary cost–from the European Union for the foreseeable future.  As multiple fires began to burn in the Jungle after workers moved in to begin dismantling the camp, while some pointed the finger to refugees seeking to dismantle and erase the structures where they lived others pointed to British anarchists, even with the clearance began, so strong was the fear of migrants that the fate of 1,000 children seeking entrance to the UK is unknown, suspended by the post-BREXIT government of Theresa May.

English voters on the Referendum were presented with almost dizzying fears of immigration and declining social services that were impossible to visualize adequately.  In an onslaught that dominated the news and challenged voters’ attention spans and moral compass, “Leave” flyers used fear to mobilize against remaining in the European Union.  In a canny onslaught and bid for attention, reminiscent of right-wing politicians, flyers of  “Leave” raised the specter of fears of immigration policies out of control  and wrested away by a European Union whose member states stood only to escalate.  The eventuality of remaining in the EU was seen as an abdication of responsibilities, and a misplaced trust in Brussels to control the entry of refugees and Eastern Europeans seeking jobs into the UK:  if migration to the UK had grown to above a quarter of a million–“the equivalent of a city the size of Newcastle“–the arrival of two million over the coming decade mandated by “free movement of people”  conjured a suitably dystopian future.  Voting to Remain in the European Union was to accept this lack of control, and the subordination of British law to an over-reaching European Court; expanding the myth of foreign oversight of Britain, Leave claimed to offer the opportunity to check the flow of migrants to restore control to British hands.  The argument of empowerment may have been deluded.  But the powerful promise to return £350 million in taxes flowing to Brussels, and the prospect of immigration growth once such “candidate countries” as Turkey, Serbia, Macedonia, and Montenegro joined Romania, Bulgaria, and Croatia, to the tune of a cost of nearly £1.8 billion, provided a compelling rationale to vote “Leave” and to identify interests with the possibility of controlling the fair of the expanded borders of globalization alone, and rather than in the European Union.  As a movement of “faux populism,” carefully orchestrated to be effective at the ballot, the Brexit supporters stirred up fear into a central role in the election that attracted a growing range of supporters to the ballot.

The dizzying expansion of a region without frontiers was joined by a cry “to take back control” of England’s future.  The Referendum was presented as “our last chance to take back control,” a virtual mantra of the Leave campaign, and control “our borders” and international “influence” lest the nation be filled with immigrants against who one can draw no clear border.  With the Turkey, Serbia, and Macedonia joining the EU, ran the implicit message, Syrian refugees were bound to be waiting at the gates as well, without a compelling way to turn them back.

 

EU-523932.jpgDaily Express

 

Such a compelling framing of the debate about the nation’s compromised future in a landscape of expanding “rights” fostered fears of an end of public futures, “without handing our permanent control to people we cannot vote out”–as if the vote presented the last attempt at independence, ignoring the special relation of the UK had long insisted to the EU.  To be sure, the Leave campaign also increased regulations that the EU introduced, without suggesting other financial benefits.

The mapping of the response to the Referendum released a new plethora of maps in hopes better to explain the final vote of the plebiscite that precipitated the break from the EU.  Can these maps–and the mapping of social divides in England’s complicated tapestry of islands which integrate immigrants and regions where they still remain unknown, provide any insight in the difficulty to create consensus about the growing population flows that globalization has produced?  The question is important, because it suggests a new problem of political consensus not only in Britain and the European Union, but also in the United States.  For the unprecedented misinformed plebiscite gave voice to a deep unease with parliamentary deals that brokered the terms of England’s membership in the European Union, and with globalization, that dangerously undermined the responsibilities that the EU has gained to respond to the global threats of refugee crises–a role that has been foisted upon it by the economic promise Europe continues to offer as a zone without apparent national frontiers.  While we’ve been told by informed voices that the EU “had it coming,” whatever that means, or that the current European Union compromised British demands, or warned that the creation of social and political affinities could ever follow from enforced economic union, or give rise to public confidence, rejection by plebiscite of membership in the European Union subverted democracy, by a campaign bred from xenophobic fears and assertions the EU “has failed Britain” as a whole.

The recourse to demographic polling, hex bin maps sought to go beyond easy dichotomies, and unpack what seem deep-running fault lines within the country, and the difficulty of reconciling the nation given the increased political fault-lines attempted to process and reconcile divides in political parties that plagued the land.  But rather than suggest the complex lines of fracturing between the political mosaic of Conservatives, Liberals, Labourites, UKIP and Greens in England’s new political landscape, the Leave/Stay dichotomy revealed new divides in the body politic.

.

independent.png

 

Despite the many tired dichotomies that have been extracted ad nauseam from data visualizations of the EU Referendum–from old v. young, north v. south, working class v. metropolitan elites; educated v. non-graduates; identifying as “English” v. cosmopolites–the complexion that has redefined the country reflects a growing retrograde tendency of rejecting the status quo and belief in the benefits of hiving off that was undemocratic and displayed  a perverse nostalgia of deeply conservative roots.

 

Queen Backs Brexit!.png

 

The referendum that former Prime Minister David Cameron presented as a panacea or safety valve to staunch opposition to the EU in Great Britain encouraged one of the most badly informed electorates in memory to protest the entrance of eastern Europeans into the country, and the perception of economic malaise and overburdened public services, and erase the benefit of free trade accords and that led to considerable economic growth.  The economic amnesia Brexit provoked led to a massive rejection of the national government and indeed political elites, even when undermining their economic interests, producing the increasing likelihood that many wish to leave Britain even among working class groups in England and Wales, and many voters more angry about the EU government than aware of the actual impact on trade relations to Europe or manufacturing and health standards.  Although turnout was in general quite high, with 30 million expressing their opinion at the ballot box, or some 72%, the vote was predicted to be determined by turn-out, and the distribution of votes varied.  If most in Scotland turned out, many in London and in northern Ireland voting less, and many of the regions who voted to “Leave” turned out to vote intensely–and turnout markedly lower in areas with greater numbers of younger voters–who tended to vote to Remain in reflection of their economic futures, especially in areas with greater student populations in relative to their size.  But the appeal to the nation and national independence deeply obscured the issues on the table.

 

TurnoutBBC

brexit-map-1-1371x1200

 

What was Cameron thinking in opening up this question to a plebiscite that gave greater voice to those with stronger opinions, and indeed in opening up a question of particular complexity to a public yea or nay vote that hinged on turn-out?  Democratic “consent” to membership in the EU was long been “wafer thin” in much of Britain, and low turnout among the young gave a greater share of the vote to Brexit.  But the opportunity that the vote offered many the chance to decamp from the EU in ways few intended.  For during a refugee crisis, the cards were steeply stacked the party reduced to take “Remain” as its slogan, although the very passivity of whose construction suggested an absence of cogent arguments to respond to false promises of helping England’s shaky economy, persistent low wages, growing waiting times at National Health Service, and rising rents–all of which were represented as stretched thin by serving migrant workers and their families, and rising rents.

Partisans of “Leave” tapped such concerns so effectively that despite the value of data visualizations in anatomizing and describing the broad distribution of adherents mobilized behind a “Leave” mandate, the vote seems little understood or analyzed for its appeal as in its ramifications, and has created an ongoing puzzle about what place of England will now occupy in relation to the EU–or how the EU will look.

 

Brexit?.png

 

Continue reading

2 Comments

June 28, 2016 · 11:26 pm

Mapping the New Authoritarianism: Trumpism, Tampons, Misogyny and the Volatile American Electorate

It seems, goes the popular wisdom, Donald Trump stunned the country by being able to make up for the lack of a party organization by followers he developed on Twitter.  But Trump was able to tilt against a candidate he was able to identify with an establishment, and an establishment that he convinced voters had not served a plurality of states, as a salesman of something different than the status quo, adopting a highly mediated populism that was rooted din claims to reorganize the state and its effectiveness.  The bizarre combination of an outsider who promised a range of constituencies that the state would be remade in their own interests–defending American sovereignty; returning jobs to depressed regions; defending anti-immigrant interests–may not be able to be aligned directly with the appeal of a fascist state, but provided a collective identity for many that gave meaning their votes, at the same time as dropping voter turnout across the midwest and new restrictive voting laws, including in Wisconsin and Ohio.

Trump gave a greater sense of urgency to the crucial number of undecided in his favor–before a broadly declining turnout nationwide, but also decreased turnout in many states where differences in the popular votes were small, as Michigan, Wisconsin, and Iowa, and pronouncedly higher in the “deep south,” based on estimates of the U.S. Elections Project.

 

bialk-turnout-21U.S. Elections Project

 

The extraordinary effectiveness of Donald Trump’s affective appeal to voters in the 2016 Presidential remains particularly difficult to stomach for many, moving outside of a party or any civic institutions, but rooted in the adroitness by which he branded himself as a political alternative.  Trump’s uncensored comportment was central to the success of that campaign, many have noted, as it lent cathartic license for exposing emotions of fear, hatred, and anger rarely seen in political discourse–and seemed to run against reasoned discourse.  The performative orchestration of a wide range of emotions–tilted toward the red end of the spectrum market by fear; resentment; indignation; anger; disorientation–which drew lopsidedly from an atlas of emotions.  If the range of emotional responses were triggered in a sense by the prominence of social media, which allowed a quite careful orchestration of retweeting and public statements designed to trigger emotions to make political decisions, it was orchestrated carefully more from Reality TV than Reality,–orchestrating its audience’s attention by means of quite skillful editorial manipulations of footage, fast cuts, and clever stagecraft to create the needed coherent story from declarations, angry accusations, and assertions.  Trump’s campaign touched on issues of fear and anger, hopping between nearby sectors of the below map, but focussing attention on a fear of women and scapegoating of others to manufacture an actually illusory model of strength.

The emotional integrity was more important than the language–leading to bizarre debates as to whether his supporters took him literally, or if his references were serious in content even if the actual utterances he made were not in fact as central his appeal as the feelings of antagonism and alienation that he so successfully seemed to tap.

xxlama-web2-master675-1

As a creature of the airwaves, Trump used emotions as a way to orient voters to the changing world of globalization by emotional venting that appeared to defend a past order:  despite his lack of qualifications to serve as President of the United States, the defensiveness created a source of validation for his candidacy that few expected, but are so familiar to be available to install as browser extensions via Reaction Packs.  The recognition of Trump’s display of emotions are so familiar that they convert easily to downloadable Reactions as emoji, so iconic has been Trump’s animated orchestration of anger, fear, and resentment across the body politic, in ways that remain difficult to map.

trump_4a9a1da0f8c6c50fc9cdad257d94ee4c-nbc-ux-2880-1000

The popularity of such “rage faces” recouped the repeated registering of emotions in Trump’s campaign.  Indeed, Trump’s–or the Trump campaign’s–active retweeting of 140-character declarations defaming individuals or amping up socio-economic antagonisms prepared the way for the recognition of these emoticons which, although not released or sanctioned by Facebook, had first become recognizable in American political discourse that summer in much of the American subconscious.

The animated reactions engaged many online not politically active or voted in previous elections, redefining the political landscape outside of red versus blue states, and mirroring tools of psychometric profiling–first successfully used in political settings to mobilize support online for “Leave E.U.” in the Brexit campaign–first framed by researchers at Cambridge Analytica, developed by an psychologist Aleksandr Kogan, before changed his name to Dr. Spectre, sold to the MyPersonality tools of Cambridge University’s Psychometrics Centre to the shady Strategic Communications Laboratories, who in 2013 established Cambridge Analytica in the United States.  The tools had indeed boasted the ability to measure voters’ personality from their digital footprints, decrypting psychological criteria for emotional stability, extraversion, political sympathies, able to predict sexual orientation, skin-color, and political affiliations by using FB likes as an open-source psychological questionnaire based on an OCEAN scaling of personality traits that rank the positive-sounding values of Openness, Conscientiousness, Aggreeableness, and Neuroticism, all the better “to understand [their] unique personality type” in order better to define their decision-making process–each letter can be clicked to reveal a face registering individual emotions on their website, in ways that creepily echo emoticons as tools to achieve “better audience targeting” by “better audience modeling” through 5,000 data points per individual.

OCEAN.png

 

 

Through such data profiles and the pseudo-scientific claims of “audience insight” or “targeting”, Trump was helped to orchestrate emotions to construct a sense of belonging.

For despite his lack of political qualifications, if in part because of it, Trump represents the victory of the unqualified–“the people”–and an illustration that someone outside of a political system can assert their importance in government, and to discredit the political system itself.  While Trump’s campaign had not been data-heavy, the use by Democratic strategists of big data analysts from BlueLabs had perhaps encouraged the Trump campaign to turn to Cambridge Analytica, whose boasts of a huge ROI for political campaigns would be wildly boosted by the June success of “Leave” in the Brexit vote.  The orchestration of emotions most familiar from the production values of Reality TV have little precedent in politics, but was honed against those assumed to be part of a political class and designed to refute any notion of scientific expertise.

The particular targeting of emotions of dislike, fear, and resentment increased in the Trump campaign from mid-August 2016, about a month after the marquee event of the Democratic convention celebrated diversity, with the entrance of Stephen K. Bannon, serial wife-abuser of Breitbart fame, and he who invoked the “church militant” to explain the need to bind together church and state in fighting for the beliefs of the West as campaign chief of the Trump campaign, united a deep fear of refugees, terrorism, and “Radical Islam.”  The accentuation of such a call to militancy was tied to an accentuation of misogyny in the Trump campaign, as Bannon joined Trump’s new campaign manager pollster Kellyanne Conway,to play to the lowest common denominator of voters through their economic and social fears, in ways that particularly distorted the campaign that benefited Trump and tilted to the unique brand of misogyny.  In ways that shifted the logic of the campaign for U.S. President after both conventions had concluded, the expansion of Team Trump helped direct a model of behavioral sciences–already used by NATO in Eastern and Central Europe as propaganda against the dis-information released by the Russian government–as a rallying cry uniting many ranges of hatred–the “deplorables” Hillary Clinton famously and perhaps fatally invoked–within the highly charged emotional language of Trump’s campaign.

Many refused to label Trump as recognizably fascist in his political thought, despite his outright xenophobia, manipulation of fear, and cultivation of a rhetoric of crisis, refusing to recognize the roots of his strong authoritarian characteristics by a name that has long been identified with utmost evil, in an attempt to explain Trump as something else.  Most notably, historian Robert O. Paxton allowed that Trump only openly took a selective rehabilitation of the anti-modern fascist movements, whose strongly authoritarian character offered “echoes of fascism,” rehabilitating the sanctioning of social violence, suspension of rights, and dehumanization from fascist movements in his assertion of openly extra-judicial rights he asserts as a leader.  Yet in its open aggression motivated by a the violence of urgency–and in its turning in from the increasingly complex world that Obama attempted to navigate, and rejection of globalism, as in its rejection of civility and disdain for women, Trumpism closely rehabilitates fascism in its doctrine of prerogatives of the protection of the state that transcend constitutional law, or the subordination of constitutional law to Staatsrecht.  Whereas fascism arose in response to international communism, Trumpism seems an open response to globalism of the twenty-first century.

While not a direct descendent of fascism, Trump has defined himself as a man of action–together with Bannon–in his proliferation of executive orders as a form of decisions, creating the relation of individual to state in his own oratory and the security of America that he claimed to guarantee.  The championing over urgency and privileging of emotions and accusations over issues–a hallmark of fascist politics–serves to fabricate public consensus, cast in Trump’s tacitly gendered assertion “America needs a CEO,” as if to call into question the existence of a historical authority in the state. While Paxton rightly lamented increased usage of “fascist” as an accusatory epithet, able to be applied interchangeably to the intolerant authority of the Tea Party, the intolerance of the Islamic State, or Donald Trump, but failing to discriminate its actual target, Trump’s near-consent courting of the limits of Freedom Speech led him to launch attacks that test the limits of Free Speech and First Amendment, shocking many neighboring countries,– “I’m so tired of this politically correct crap”–labelling political correctness as “the big problem in this country” to which he claims his own authority will create a long-awaited corrective.

His campaign, notwithstanding serial unrepentant falsehoods, his campaign promised to rectify confusion by the ability to Make America Great Again, invoking an idealized notion of country to which he invited all to rally behind and stigmatizing the most vulnerable scapegoats–the undocumented; the refugee; the poor–as targets of collective anger, albeit without racialized theorization of a subordinate status or staking openly ethnic claims.  Trump sewed a steep set of divisions in the nation that were concentrated in non-urban areas in “swing states,” but which corresponded to the emotional aesthetics of and a deep feeling of abandonment–a deeply declining distrust of government across the nation not adequately mapped a full year before the election, far deeper among Republicans than Democrats but at  record low–but supported by a broadly declining belief in government fairness, across “red” and “blue” states.

Trust-2.png

In many ways, the vote was the victory of a performative model and the emotional satisfaction that that model of performance offered.  Trump’s victory made sense to those who bought the promise of those who believed that America Needed To Be Made Great Again–and who entertained the importance of time-travel to do so, and entertained  a delusion of going backwards in time.  For Trump appealed precisely to those areas and regions that entertained return to a past, conceived of often as a rebirth of a lost economy, peacefulness, and prosperity, but concealing an era of small government, and proposing the myth that there was indeed a chance of returning to a bygone of the imagination:  many saw a rejection of globalism and of multiculturalism or of a disturbance of a past gender politics, and they saw it as best embodied in someone himself moored in an earlier, whiter era,–and a civil society in which charges of Trump’s gender could not be made to stick.  Trump’s performative model seemingly surpassed logical contradictions  inherent in his words or person, making it all the more difficult to comprehend, even as we have repeatedly turned to maps to do so–even as we were frustrated by them:  Trump’s wealth papered over the huge contradictions of someone whose wealth was apparent, as he performed the role os a man of the people; his age was apparent, even if his improbably marriage to a younger woman could conjure an image of apparent potency; his lack of political convictions was concealed in a patriotism that few saw the need to question; his lack of political expertise affirmed the lack of relevance of expertise to getting the job done, as it only confirmed a belief in the failures failures of a political class and distrust of government already at historic lows across the country.

trust.png

 

1 Comment

Filed under 2016 Presidential election, 2016 US Presidential Election, data visualization, Donald Trump, Reality TV