If you’re asking how we persuade the Brexity Trumpkins — you’re asking the wrong question
In the context of Brexit and Trump, well-meaning types keep asking me ‘how do we persuade people to change their minds’.
I question the assumption behind that query.
It presupposes that there was a ‘making mind up’ process in the first place. It assumes there was a rational weighing of evidence and argument, followed by a calculation. Like the process of choosing a house or a car or maybe a job. Possibly even a government.
It further anticipates that there actually exists evidence or argument that might be brought to bear in the task of turning these people.
But where’s the evidence for that?
I understand the rationale around persuasion. Show understanding, display a bit of empathy, go in gently, explaining why the Brexity Trumpkins might somehow be mistaken. Ramp it up politely as the evidence of Brexity Trumpthink’s negative consequences begins to reveal itself. Calmly gesture toward the unfolding shit.
Yeah, right. How’s it been going when you pointed out how much sterling has fallen? Or how the number of international applications to British university research posts has plummeted? Or how gleefully Trump’s initial Muslim travel ban was greeted by Islamic State?
People who want Brexit and Trump don’t care. As is their right not to care. You’re just assuming they think like you.
I think ‘how do we persuade people to change their minds’ is the wrong question.
The real question is ‘how do we outvote them next time’.
In Britain last June three million people who never voted before turned out to vote Leave. That vote was carved out using a lot of money and energy. We’re lucky, because the two main campaigns have explained exactly how they did it. The weird lonely svengali, Dominic Cummings, who was responsible for the brain work of Vote Leave even shares how they did it on his blog these days.
I was on a train going to Dartford when I saw a tweet, around 7pm on June 23 last year, from a Brexit activist account. It breathlessly reported that people were pouring off a council estate somewhere in the north east and heading for a polling station. A kind of army was mobilised that day. It isn’t mobile now. It has gone back to whatever it does the rest of the time, when there isn’t a vote on setting fire to everything.
By 5am the next morning I was gazing gloomily across a grey dawn seascape in northern France, knowing it was all over. That tweet was haunting me.
Since then Brexit (and it looks from here, Trump too) has become a zero sum game. To the victor, the spoils. A knockout tournament. Despite a slender margin of 3.8% for Leave, it’s all about how ‘the people have spoken’. The people are defined as the majority, leaving the rest as spectators.
And at the heart of ‘the people’ is that group who never voted before and will no longer have a clue what is going on, now that the leaflets have stopped arriving. You’ve just got to outnumber them next time by gouging out your own voters more effectively.
I suspect the reason ‘What is the EU’ was the biggest UK search on Google on June 24 wasn’t Leave voters checking to see what they’d just voted to reject. It was probably people who hadn’t voted at all, trying to work out what the fuck was going on that had made the prime minister resign and the cost of their holiday currency shoot up.
They’re the people who need to be mobilised next.
As the demographics of the respective voting positions show, hundreds of thousands of Leave voters will already have died. Add a bunch of extra voters to the pro-European side and Brexit is going to have to be pretty good to maintain that 52:48 ratio we saw that sunny June of 2016. It won’t be.
I sometimes wonder why I play at identity politics on social media. Well-meaning types challenge me about it and share articles from bleeding heart commentators persuading their readers that we should feel more empathy. I do it because instinctively I know that there can be no battle for hearts and minds in the face of Brexity Trumpthink. So you need to keep your own side motivated.
That’s what the other side does. They did it for nearly 40 years. I don’t see them, in the months since their victory, doubting themselves and wondering if us centrists and liberals and soft left-wingers might be right about the benefits of the EU after all.
So when you ask me how we are to persuade committed Leavers to our perspective I will just ask you to consider this: what would they have to say to persuade you that Brexit and Trump are good things? Not going to happen, is it.
Here’s why. It’s about values, not evidence. No one cares about the evidence. Eric Kaufmann explains more here http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/personal-values-brexit-vote/ and here (in the case of Trumpthink) http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/trump-and-brexit-why-its-again-not-the-economy-stupid/
And here’s the clincher. No one changes their mind anyway http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2017/02/27/why-facts-dont-change-our-minds