Although I am mildly disappointed by Great Britain’s decision to leave the EU, I am not at all surprised by it. Cooperation among Britain and the EU will continue on key projects and concerns; the markets will settle down after they deal with all the automatic “sell” algorithms and the hedge-fund operators who are coping with margin calls as a result of the vote.
I am disappointed in the vote because it affirms what most of us already knew: Europe is fragmented, far beyond anyone’s ability (or any party’s) ability to unify it. What I don’t like, however, is the mischaracterization of the vote, the sensationalizing of it in the left-of-center press, particularly the Washington Post. The EU was not developed “to prevent World War III,” whatever the hell that means. It was developed as a means to redistribute wealth among the poorer countries of Europe in the hopes of providing greater security. The union has largely failed in its goals. Greece and Italy have major problems with debt and unemployment; none of the countries has dealt well with humanitarian and refugee crises.
Through all of this, Great Britain’s economy, stagnant since the brutal but necessary expenditures of World War II, has been unable and largely unwilling to foot a large share of the bill for Europe’s social experiment. The working class are tired of seeing their already low-paying jobs outsourced to Germany or India or France, and they believe–with some justification–that Britain was losing too much self-determination by being in an economic marriage that wasn’t working out.
The same anger that animated the “leave” vote in Britain animates the conservative vote in this country. I must stress that I am not referring to the crazy, assassinate-first and ask questions later politics of the Nazi who murdered Jo Cox. I am referring to the millions of voters who have the quite reasonable desire not to be killed in a terror attack by the militant group of the week; who would prefer that the corporations they sweat for be less taxed by a federal government seemingly more concerned with international social engineering than domestic prosperity; who would like controls on immigration policy that don’t require the construction of a wall; and who would like a law-enforcement system that is focused more on holding those who break the law accountable for their actions than it is in trying to make law-abiding citizens feel guilty for “fostering” crime by desiring to keep the paychecks they’ve worked for.
This is the way most conservatives (and a great many Democrats) would frame their discontent. That discontent is real, and it won’t go away after Brexit, and it won’t go away after the November elections in America. Those who are left-of-center politically have had a lot of good laughs at the conservatives’ expense this spring and summer. That’s ok; it’s part of the game. But no one should be laughing now, on either side of the Atlantic. What everybody forgets in the all the clamor over the “European Union” is that all the countries in that Union remain sovereign states. They have their own problems to solve. If collective action won’t solve them, then there’s only one choice left: go independent. In America, we are not bound to collective actions in Europe, either, although several administrations–Carter’s, Bill Clinton’s, and Obama’s–have tried to prepare us for the day when that might be possible.
That time, however, is not now. Our own house must be put in order. No matter who wins the White House in November, ways must be found to energize our economy, and give back to people the sense that they really do determine their own future through the work that they do. That sense has been lost. It’s why we truly do need leadership out of the President, whomever it turns out to be.
As for Europe, look to Germany to stabilize things; France, too. Both will meet with Great Britain in the coming days. They will act as most divorced couples do: they’ll agree on what is in the best interest of the projects they most care about; they’ll decide which programs and assets should remain under British control and which can continue to go to Europe; they’ll also decide where, when, and if they’ll meet again as friends.