One my favorite panicky post-Brexit talking points comes from liberals who feel the need to warn Americans about the hazards of emotional appeals in a democracy. It goes something like this:
Brexit will be a good case study for American on what happens to your economy when you let policy be dictated by paranoia and fear— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) June 24, 2016
Yes, because the Left never uses emotional blackmail or stokes cultural anxiety to dictate policy. Because the only conceivable reasons Brits might vote to regain sovereignty and free themselves from a stifling bureaucratic superstate run out of Brussels are paranoia and fear. For years now, the only reason one can have for disagreeing with the Left is either irrationality or bigotry.
It’s understandable that the American Left wants to link the Brexit movement to Trumpism, but it’s a facile comparison. While propelled by similar economic instincts, the libertarian-ish populism of Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage, and Daniel Hannan is ideologically coherent in a way the anti-“elitist” populism of Donald Trump, Mike Huckabee, and Ben Carson will never be.
But even if we conceded that the two movements are identical, you don’t have standing to complain about paranoia and fear when it’s dominated your political message for years. You don’t have to look further than #Remain proponents whose apocalyptic rhetoric warned that every aspect of contemporary British life was in mortal danger should #Leave win. David Cameron claimed that exiting the European Union (EU) could spur World War III.
You want policy dictated on paranoia and fear? Last week, while Republicans were making a case for the Fifth and Second Amendments, Democrats were accusing their fellow Americans of selling weapons to ISIS. As far as I could tell, not one politician at the congressional sit-in acknowledged that the GOP was offering a good-faith argument. Instead, Democrats — and I mean every one of them — accused the GOP of being bought by the omnipotent National Rifle Association. While gun violence has precipitously dropped over most of our lifetimes — nearly twice as many people die on bikes every year than they do by “assault weapons;” gun homicides are at a 50-year low, etc. — Democrats would have you believe America is living “The Purge.”
This goes on every day. Conservatives want to take away your right to vote. They want to ban birth control. Ban mammograms. Control your bodies. Social conservatives are the reason an Islamic terrorist slaughters 49 gay Americans. The ones who claim they care about religious freedom — people who have served and hired gay Americans for years but don’t want to participate in a same-sex wedding — are accused of trying to institute a new Jim Crow. Democrats regularly liken social conservatives to the Klan because they want sex-specific bathrooms for their kids.
If Joe Biden doesn’t like Paul Ryan’s budget — a budget that would have increased spending to its highest levels ever, incidentally — he warns an African-American audience that Republicans are “going to put y’all back in chains.” Why wouldn’t he? There is no blowback for demagoguery. For decades now, if a conservative mentions entitlement it means they want to push an elderly woman off a cliff. If Obamacare is replaced, thousands of Americans will die in the streets. If we don’t sign onto the Democrats’ economic agenda, we’ll plunge into another depression. If we don’t pass a car bailout, we won’t have cars anymore. If we shut down the non-essential parts of the federal government for a few days to haggle over a budget, we are putting American lives at risk.
If we don’t sign a deal helping the Islamists in Iran build a nuclear program, it means another war is imminent. If we say “radical Islam,” we’re creating terrorists.
And, of course, if we don’t pass something to stop global warming this very second, our children will live in subaquatic dystopia. With this, environmentalists have stumbled upon the perfect, open-ended scare-mongering racket. Naturally, you can’t disprove the future. You can only continually debunk long-forgotten predictions of the past. Not that it stops anyone from coming up with new terrifying forecasts. There is not a single crisis on earth — from terrorism to recessions to prostitution to every weather event — that some liberal hasn’t blamed on climate change.
Now, inherent in phrases like “paranoia and fear,” which we hear all the time in some form or another, are a host of assumptions about the world that are meant to circumvent debate. Many Europeans, for example, are legitimately disturbed by the massive, unregulated importation of people from lawless terror states, who not only often struggle to assimilate but bring with them many illiberal ideas. Now, one could argue these fears are unwarranted because of A, B, and C. Instead, so much coverage and punditry works from the assumption that the confused bigots who voted to leave the EU made some huge mistake driven by narrow-minded apprehensions about the world around them.
This is how every debate plays out stateside, as well. No one is innocent when it comes to manipulating voters with emotion. And no one includes a lot of Democrats. For those who see government as the font of all well-being, every political issue is transformed into a great moral crusade that allows scare tactics as justifiable. Unless, that is, liberals really believe all their accusations — which would make them paranoid.