Monthly Archives: March 2017

What I learned from listening to Nigel Farage: Brexit, Trump, and the future he sees

farage

Photo credit: World Affairs Council of Atlanta

Nigel Farage emerged as one of the most important figures in the last year, both for Britain and the world at large. While it’s hard to gauge what direct impact Farage himself has made on history, it is by no means a stretch to say that this man very much championed a new form of conservative(ish) populism the modern world had yet to see.

Farage is one of the main Brexit architects. His rhetoric and political philosophy provided much of the intellectual thought needed to successfully take Britain out of the European Union, and, arguably, he gave the momentum necessary for Trump to take the American elections. In addition, we have yet to see what is in store for the French elections.

So when it was announced that Farage himself would speak a mere few blocks from my work, I had no choice but to hear what he had to say. On 3/21/17, I went to the Commerce Club to hear him speak at a sold-out, closed-door discussion. The audience size was around 150-200. There was a mixture of attorneys, business persons, professors, high school and college students, and generally a mixed bag of professionals. I sat at a table with an HR consultant, an attorney, and a representative from the Dutch economic consulate here in Atlanta.

Farage was late because of traffic, but he arrived 15 minutes post start time, and wasted no time discussing anything. He’s a highly energetic, bubbly bloke of a Brit. Quite a fun person, I must say. He has very defined positions, and is very entertaining about how he conveys those views. I for one would enjoy conversing with him off the record if it were possible. He doesn’t seem to apologize for any overgeneralizing and wasted no time criticizing the status quo. And while I would personally challenge much of his theorizing, I still wouldn’t hesitate at a chance to talk about politics with him.

Why Brexit?
This was most certainly a central question. Why not simply reform the EU, or Britain’s EU relationship?

At first, he pulled out his passport, as he said he does at many interviews. He highlights the fact that it says he’s a member of the European Union before stating that he’s a British citizen. Farage takes issue with the EU’s role over states. He simply is not comfortable with the notion of a “superstate” body governing those of countries. Rather than a governing body that regulates countries, he wishes there to be free trade among them. He places a lot of faith in the fact that bilateral trades are superior — a distinct echo from what Trump says. Farage believes that 2016 will go down as a revolutionary year; one where state-centric identity regained momentum. He thinks that creating superstate organizations is an act that fundamentally misunderstands human nature. And while he has deep disdain for the EU, he seemed rather neutral on the UN — an organization he views as too weak to impact individual states in any meaningful way (and I would say he’s right).Additionally, he seemed to think that the EU overall, ironically, was created to hinder German ambitions, and yet Germany is at the center of the EU now. He additionally insisted that old, French elitist bureaucrats are clinging on the EU because they’re happy to tell the poor, uneducated peasants what to do.

In addition, he has issues with modern politics in democratic states in general. He doesn’t think any of the candidates are all that different. He thinks that all the candidates are centrists, or in his words, are part of the “mushy center-left” of the political spectrum. His essentially arguemntw as that there is no difference between Obama and McCain, or Obama and Romney — that they’re all part of a corporatized political class, and views vary only in minor ways. Rather than this, he prefers open opinions and more-intense political exchanges rather than the gradual construction of institutions and structures meant to foster global cooperation.

Interestingly, towards the end of the discussion, a professor in the audience (whom he delightfully decried as a “lefty”) asked how he proposes to fix global problems such as poverty, racism, genocide, famine, climate change, etc. if he doesn’t believe in “superstate” organizations. Farage, interestingly, sidestepped the question by offering no real solution. He also immediately stated his deep skepticism of climate change, and even at one point insisted that it was a manufactured threat meant to extract more tax money to superstate organizations such as the EU (the UN as well, but to a much lesser extent).

Farage complained that the British bureaucracy is no longer skilled at most anything because the British state handed most administrative tasks to the EU. He does seem to take particular issue that most specialization and skill is deferred to the EU rather than to workers themselves. He also took the position that the EU wanted to create its own cultural identity by creating a flag and a constitution. Farage additionally derided large-scale trade policies that treat tarrifs as mere points in a larger package.

He’s very proud of his role in pushing Brexit, no doubt. He’s pleased with the fact that the people “took their country back” and he is now free to share his ideas on Fox News. And people outside cities “taking their country back” is most certainly a theme for Farage. He mentioned it several times.

And when asked about the prospects for global political populism, he thinks that if Marine Le Pen wins the French elections that the EU is essentially done — although right now he’s not sure if she’ll win. And when asked if he actively supported her, he seemed to say yes with general reluctance. I believe part of his Le Pen skepticism derives from her father, Jean-Marie Le Pen. Farage sees Jean-Marie as the last of a fascist, Vichy France, anti-semetic advocates, thought he insisted that Marine was “cut from a different cloth.”

Trump
Interestingly, Farage himself had a dinner with Trump and his family about 3 weeks ago, he said. It was a Saturday evening. And while he didn’t discuss the details of the inevitable political conversation, he did convey one thing that Trump brought up. Trump, Farage is convinced, is trying everything possible to keep his campaign promises, no matter what they be. I thought to myself that such a mindset could, ironically, be Trump’s downfall. But Farage found it admirable that Trump follow that trajectory be it good or bad for him. At this point in the talk I felt like he quietly shifted to being a pro-Trump cheerleader, as expected. After all, I wouldn’t expect anything less from a man interested in proliferating populist sentiments.

And the general discussion about Trump started, though the talk didn’t focus as much on Trump as I assumed it would. At one point, former Ambassador Shapiro (head of the World Affairs Council in Atlanta), asked him to assess the Trump Administration’s first 60 days. Amid low-rumbling laughter, and some intense silence, he said he thought Trump gets too caught up in details and Tweets. He highlighted the fact that Trump can’t be told what to do; Farage, not-so-eloquently, said he can’t tell a 72-year-old billionaire what to do. But, in Farage’s view, he said Trump does get big picture approach right — something I would hotly dispute. He highlighted that while Trump may have literally thousands of ideas, that’s all they are; ideas. And, at the end of the day, most get thrown away. And Farage always went back to how media portrays people — a fairly constant theme for him. I don’t think Farage respects journalistic outlets, which is always an indicator that he has authoritarian tendencies. However, he was never openly hostile to press like Trump is. He also joked and flirted with authoritarian ideas rather than openly advocate them — again, an opposite of Trump’s strongman approach.

Farage also thinks that the Republican Party necessarily hates Trump because he’s not a Republican and instead hijacked the Party — something I absolutely agree with. Trump himself used the Republican Convention to shape the Party into what he wanted it to be. Anything post-convention is Trump’s party, Farage said — although, I would argue it’s a combination of Trump’s and Bannon’s party, with particular emphasis on Bannon.

In any case, Farage also highlighted his role in Trump’s campaign, and explained that the darkest time for Trump was after the second debate. At that time, the TMZ videos were released (Farage called it “Pussygate”). Farage was working in Trump’s “spin room,” as he called it, and him and Rudy Giuliani were deeply contemplating quitting the entire campaign. A very interesting piece of insight. He also excused Trump’s remarks by asking the audience if they’ve ever said something stupid. To which I mentally replied: perhaps, but not on national television.

NATO and China

One thing is for sure. Farage does not view China on any friendly terms. And he finds Putin to be an enemy of the Russian people, but in global terms, he doesn’t see Putin as a national security threat to Europe or the US.

The biggest gripe he has with the Chinese is how they’ve developed over the past decade or so. Farage highlighted that the Chinese are flooding world markets with their steel and buying up all kinds of commodity assets in Africa — both of these factors are in fact true. Not to mention China unilaterially build islands in the South China Sea. Farage sees a China that is actively trying to undermine any form of global coherence and instead the Chinese are singlehandedly, and forcefully, trying to become the major global power. He took issue with how they treat Tibet (by extension the Dali Llama) and Tiawan, and he supported Trump’s initial approach to ignore the One China Policy. In his words, he said that it’s time that the Western world “tell China what we really think of them.” Farage is by definition a China alarmist.

With regards to NATO, he believes the organization’s purpose needs to be rethought. He doesn’t find value in NATO as a security organization … but I’m not sure what other purpose he propose NATO be. This raised further speculation from myself that he is generally a Russian sympathizer.

Angela Merkel

My god he hates her, the German chancellor. His words were “she’s the only person I know who is more miserable in person than she is in public,” or words that strongly resembled that. And while he finds her to be a horrid person, he did concede that she’s the only leader who is capable of holding the EU together — perhaps a primary reason why he hates her. He conceded that she is an effective leader. And then, he relished in the recent diplomatic meeting between Merkel and Trump — bellowing for a few moments.

Judaeo-Christian Values

Admittedly, Farage does have a point in advocating for these values in the UK, where the government is in fact tied to a religious denomination. This is the same in France, so the argument holds more weight.

But the conversation on this topic is obviously more complicated in the American context.

Farage is of the opinion that all Western civilization has Judaeo-Christian values behind any intent or action, and that the West should rightfully keep in mind such values in policymaking. And these views also exist in the United States, most notably in political organizations like the alt-right, or neoreactionary philosophy. And this is perhaps where Farage is most conservative and most controversial.

In Farage’s view, the greatest challenge to domestic security is learning to live with outside individuals who may, or may not, intend harm to others. He offered no advice or guidance on the issue, but left it to the audience and offered it as one of his primary political points. And the underlying fear of the Muslim religion is, I believe, a very large part of why such populist ideas are successful in the first place.

All in all, the man is an unapologetic political force with unmovable political opinions. He spent years trading precious metals, years in Parliament, and got very tired of dealing with the EU, and thinks his country was on track to outsourcing all specialty to a larger political  structure — one he saw as a threat. He’s happy to see the world shaken up, and gladly awaits a return to a world where countries deal one-on-one with each other, and retain their distinct histories and heritage. And while he didn’t seem to necessarily have a problem with Muslim religion itself, he most certainly emphasized Christian-ness and British-ness.

And in the end when he describes the Europe he wants it looks like this: A Europe where countries trade freely with one another and each state retains it’s character. And, in this world, I’m quite certain he wants workers to work, and wants a world that isn’t over-intellectualized, and instead a world that goes back to basics. The question, however, is: Is that possible in a world of globalized communication and connectivity? A question that will play itself out in time …