Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and one of the founding editors of The Intercept. His most recent piece is headlined “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit.”
Early Wednesday morning, the shock of Donald Trump’s victory spread across the world, sending stock markets tumbling and media organizations scrambling to cover an outcome to the presidential election that most had predicted was impossible. But was a Trump victory really so hard to foresee? We speak with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Glenn Greenwald, whose recent piece is headlined “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit.”
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. Our guest is Glenn Greenwald, who wrote the piece, “Democrats, Trump, and the Ongoing, Dangerous Refusal to Learn the Lesson of Brexit.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Glenn Greenwald, in that piece, you write, quote, “that prevailing institutions of authority in the West, for decades, have relentlessly and with complete indifference stomped on the economic welfare and social security of hundreds of millions of people.” You point also to the many analogies between Brexit, the decision by the British public to exit the European Union. So could you say a little about those analogies and how Trump fits into wider public sentiments, not just in the U.S., but also in Europe?
GLENN GREENWALD: It’s incredibly striking, but also very alarming, how similar the path of Brexit was to the election of Trump, because just like with the U.S. election, in the U.K. during the Brexit debate referendum, British elites, outside of this kind of circle of populist, right-wing Murdoch types, pretty much were unified across ideological and party lines. You had the Liberals and the Labour centrists and the sort of more establishment Conservatives united in opposition to Brexit. And they essentially stayed online all day on Twitter telling each other how smart they were and praising each other’s columns, saying that Brexit was this grave threat and this unique evil. And the opinion class that is considered respectable, meaning not the right-wing tabloids, essentially unified, just like the opinion-making elites in the U.S., outside of Sean Hannity and Fox News and Ann Coulter, that wing of Fox News and that right-wing circle, were unified, as well. You had leading neocon intellectuals and establishment Republicans and then the sort of establishment liberal pundits all in agreement that Trump was this grave evil, constantly praising each other and citing each other in this endless echo feedback chamber.
And so, the people who were supporting Brexit and the people who were supporting Trump weren’t really ever heard from; they were just talked about in very contemptuous tones. These were the troglodytes. These were the uneducated idiots. These were the people motivated by malice and racism and xenophobia. And so they were sort of looked at like zoo animals, like things that you dissect and condemn.
And because this opinion-making elite was so unified, it led so many people, in both cases, to believe that their victory was certain. Nobody thought, in the opinion-making elite classes, that Brexit would win, and the same is true of Trump.
And then, both before and after you had this result, what you saw is not any notion of accountability. Why are there so many people wanting to leave the EU? Why are there so many people supporting this person so far outside the norm? No accountability, no self-critique. Only a way to distract attention from their own responsibility by just spouting hatred and disgust for the people who are being insubordinate.
And what you have as a result are these decades of trends that we began by talking about, that Senator Sanders described, in which tens of millions of people have been trampled on by these policies of Western institutions of authority, who are essentially invisible and ignored. And the more you ignore them and the more you scorn them and the more you tell them that their grievances are invalid, the more they’re going to be susceptible to scapegoating, the more their bigotry will be inflamed, and the more they’ll want to destroy the systems and the institutions that they believe are responsible for their suffering. And so, a lot of people who voted for Brexit, a lot of people who voted for Trump understand exactly all the arguments that were made about why each of them is potentially destructive and so dangerous, and they did it, not despite that, but because of that, because they want to punish and ultimately destroy the institutions who no longer have any credibility with them and who they believe are responsible for the suffering and the lack of security that they experience in their lives without anyone really caring about it at all. And until we start to address that and until institutions, elite institutions, take responsibility for it, those things are going to continue to fester and grow, and it very well may be the case that Trump and Brexit are just the beginning of this very alarming cycle, rather than the peak of it.