There will shortly come a time, next year in five years maybe ten, when many Americans who voted for Donald Trump and the Brits who voted for Brexit will try to deny they ever did so. This phenomenon will be directly linked to a thing political commentators call plausible deniability where people make promises or do or say things that turn out to be false but the speaker or doer believes there is just enough wriggle room to escape blame, deny they ever did it or better still place the blame with someone else if it turns out to be a big fat lie. Donald Trump’s team now seems to spend most of their time using plausible deniability to ensure when most of the ridiculous things he says or tweets prove to be false, some kind of spin can be put on it so that the blame goes away or is at least mitigated.
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The same can be said about Theresa May’s minority government stance on the impending catastrophe of Brexit. Whilst most people in Britain now accept Brexit, particularly a hard Brexit will reap havoc with the economy and affect society in a very negative way there are still some people who cling to the lies in favour of Brexit put forward during the Leave or Stay referendum of last year. This despite almost every champion of the leave campaign now deploying plausible deniability to distance themselves from many of the lies they peddled at the time including such whoppers as: “We send £350 million a week to the EU let’s fund the NHS instead.”, just one of many massive false claims. The problem of course with Brexit, unlike the Trump cartoon time presidency is that it has not yet happened. So its full effects beyond a collapse in the value of the pound and a steady migration of jobs and agencies to Europe have been delayed thus far.
We are left wondering at what point the misled, ignorant or basically downright racist voters, who made both things possible begin to deny it? It can’t be too long, weeks maybe months before many if not a majority of people who put Trump in the White House deny they ever voted for him. Brexit voters will do the same but it will take a little longer, months or years perhaps because the process of implementation has barely begun. But deny it many of them will as it gradually proves to be such an enormous error of judgement? After all it is human nature to want to back a winner – no one wants to back a loser.
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Polls taken before Trumps recent meltdown over his implied support for Nazi’s and White Supremacists and the departure of his Alt-Right advisor in chief Steve Bannon show a serious drop in his popularity ratings particularly in the rust belt states that delivered him the presidency in last year’s Russian hacked election. In the UK there has also been a steady decline in people who will publically admit that they actually voted for Brexit. A trend that saw its biggest spike in the weeks after Theresa May’s disastrous election gamble at the official beginning of the EU departure negotiations. It suddenly dawned on people that her Brexit team had barely a clue about where to even begin to the point that the chief UK negotiator David Davis turned up metaphorically naked with barely an idea, which meant he had to concede most of the details, structure and even the timeline to the EU negotiator.
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Plausible deniability is a politicians best friend. It’s something they seek to maintain in most circumstances by giving broad and vague statements that will offer future wriggle room. Although for President Trump plausible deniability has become a way of life and the screen onto which he projects the lie that he is doing great things when he has actually achieved virtually nothing. The ability to pretend he didn’t actually say what he seemed to have said is something the Trump team have weaponized and exploited. It is something he wields against opponents in an effort to constantly muddy the water and rally his shrinking base of supporters against a common enemy. This was seen to great effect only last week in Phoenix, where he all but denied anything he had said on camera just a week earlier.
Trump once famously admitted that he’s a big fan of Vladimir Putin, who is perhaps the grand master of plausible deniability. Brandishing it to deny helping Bashar al-Assad kill hundreds of thousands of innocents in Syria or to interfere in places like Ukraine and Georgia. Also denying Russia’s proven involvement in manipulating national elections in an effort to sabotage liberal democracy in favour of candidates like Trump. Putin is driven by an obsession to move the global balance of power further to the right in the hope that corrupt nationalistic and populist veneer democracies (dictatorships) like his will one day no longer be the exception but become the norm.
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It isn’t hard to predict that one day the word Trump will become a byword for fiasco or something dangerously out of control and inherently dishonest. In the same way “he’s a Boris” as in Boris Johnson has already started to replace town crier in London as cockney rhyming slang for liar. But the big question is this: at what point will a critical mass be reached? At what point will a majority of the misled, ignorant, open or closet racist voters who made both Trump and Brexit possible begin to plausibly deny it or say they didn’t bother to vote? Yes a majority… Impossible? History is littered with examples of events that went from being inexplicably popular to being hugely unpopular.
Until 1943 in Germany a huge amount of boys were christened Adolf and many girls were given the name Adolfa as either a first or middle name. Nuremberg rallies were so full that the streets around the Nazi propaganda events were always packed with people trying to get a glimpse of Hitler of just hear one of his rants on the speakers. Fast forward to a survey carried out in 1948 just 3 years after the war ended and 93% of German respondents said that they never ever believed Hitler was a good Leader. They could plausibly deny it of course, because there were people around who always hated him. A similar response was seen when most civilians, mainly women told the interviewer that they had no idea about the depravities and extermination camps existing all around them. But of course there are still some limits to deniability.
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Staying with World War Two. Neville Chamberlin’s trips to meet Hitler in Munich and his declaration that “we have peace in our time” are now looked back on as the actions of a weak man, the appeasement of a dictator. But at that time – just 20 years after the calamity of the first World War, memories were still so fresh that hardly anyone wanted war with Germany. Only a few individuals notably Winston Churchill were prepared to openly call it appeasement at the time because most people were behind Chamberlin and wanted peace at almost any cost.
The Vietnam war was another example. In the mid 60’s a majority of Americans had bought into the theory of the domino affect of communism – if it was not stopped it would soon knock on the door of the next country in line until it eventually knocked on your door. Barely 10 years later in a 1975 survey hardly anyone openly admitted that they ever supporting Presidents Johnston or Nixon’s decisions to prosecute that pointless war.
I make no apology for using 3 examples associated with war or national emergency situations. What is it but an emergency when a narcissistic American President who colluded with the Russians to win power threatens nuclear war one day, supports Nazi’s and the KKK the next and then threatens to close down the US government if they don’t fund his ridiculous wall with Mexico. In the UK The effects of Brexit may not yet be felt but once the reality of any hard Brexit kicks in the nation may come close to a similarly ruinous almost bankrupt state that it found itself in 1945 after the war that may make the struggling Greeks seem as rich as the Swiss, compared to many of the Brits.
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So when the sun finally rises on that day when plausible deniability has become the default reaction of most people to distance themselves from the reality that their vote once helped facilitate either Trump or Brexit it will give me no satisfaction to say I Told You So… I would much rather America woke up before it’s too late and junked a ridiculous president who brings shame on the office. And if Brexit could be greatly softened or even cancelled that would make me even happier. If both things happened, who knows It might actually help some of the people who made these self inflicted disasters possible shed some guilt and sleep a little more soundly at night.
All that said – I expect there will need to be a few more observations like this one before any positive changes finally come. So go on raise your own voices or simply re-tweet this as your contribution to getting our normal world back again. And if some of you who do rise to my challenge plausibly deny that you ever read this piece or even claim that my idea for this blog post was actually stolen from you… I really won’t mind at all.