Editorial: Brexit, the F-U Vote and US

Author’s Note: I often editorialize in posts. This is a blog and by nature the coverage is subjective even when the topic is strictly factual, or another way, sticking only to the facts would be of little value to the reader who can then do better by other news outlets. Some readers snap that I should stick to my knitting. In their view, travel is travel, nothing more. I side with Rick Steves that travel is a political act and as those fortunate to travel we have a duty to engage with the world at home and abroad. Going forward, from time to time I will publish editorials.

Recently I made my first visit to Brussels, staying at the new Radisson Red in the heart of the EU district. Ringed by quaint neighborhoods loom this cluster of faceless, alphabet-soup acronym EU buildings. Three weeks a month traffic is gridlocked, while farcically, one week a month the EU decamps to Strasbourg to mollify the French. That is enough, without going into the supposed 26,000 pages of Cabbage regulations (here debunked), for many to think Britain should hit the ejector button on its membership in the EU. Then there are those Polish plumbers and the rest of the bogeyman washing up on Britain’s shores.

Today the British vote in the so-called Brexit referendum, a crisis of their own making that will have tremendous consequences, predicted and unpredictable. In my recent travels in Africa and the Pacific I have given much thought to the issues that preoccupy our polity. Countries such as the US and the UK have the luxury through their tremendous wealth, resources, goverance, tolerant societies, stable neighbors, and on through the list of advantages, to engage in political folly and survive and still thrive. How many countries in the world, if they magically could be an EU member, would ever think of ditching it?

There are serious arguments for or against Brexit. In the aftermath of the murder of MP and humanitarian Jo Cox, there was a lament that political discourse in the UK has turned too impolite. Pick any episode of Pieenar’s Politics and even the most extreme politician, even Nigel Farage, come across as both more frank and generally more reasonable than what we have in the US. They even answer the question that was asked!

I see in the Brexit debate parallels with the ever-descending US presidential election. Brexit has long been a hobby-horse of a wing of the Conservative Party, mixed with left-wing elements of Labour and smaller parties such as socialists. They forced it on the agenda and in a bit of short-term politicking Prime Minister David Cameron boxed himself in to holding this referendum. Now the cause has been adopted by many who may or may not benefit, but surely know they want to extend the middle finger to everyone.

Chris Patten (Chancellor of Oxford, former Conservative Party chairman and last governor of Hong Kong) lamented the split referendums cause:

Referendums, alas, are not about the search for an accommodation. That is why I have always hated them, and opposed their introduction…This referendum campaign on the EU, however, has delivered nasty divisiveness in industrial quantities. As always happens when nationalist sentiment is whipped up, sooner or later the whole debate turns on conspiracy and race. Identity politics slithers on to the agenda.

The public debate for the Remain vote has been directed at the head, not the heart. Politicians, businesspeople, academics, even celebrities have made a rational case to stay in the EU. The middle finger does not have ears. The case is not made for why that finger should retract.

Eight years ago the US a presidential election became a referendum. Unparalleled in modern US times, a party and many of its members decided that the result was so detestable that they spent the ensuing eight years working solely to defeat the president rather than work for the betterment of the country in ways broadly acceptable to the country. Where would we be now if the mantra had been “Better America at all costs.”

Now every election is couched as a referendum, yet once it happens, the goal stick is moved to the next election and all affairs must stop until that election. Judicial and regulatory appointments, some open since prior to Obama taking office, right up to the open Supreme Court seat, we are told, must wait until the next election. Or 2020? 2024? Now that the line is crossed, the other party may well follow the same course if and when roles are reversed. The people who sat out the Obama terms already dusted off their Bill and Hillary files, while many on the opposite will regard any action of a Trump presidency as illegitimate. We have the riches to muddle through, but we have no excuse to muddle along.

In March I sat in the lobby of the Sierra Leone High Commission in Ghana waiting on a visa. No one knew I am American. They were browsing the papers and laughing about our campaign antics. ‘Hey, they have politicians like ours!’

America is still a beacon and all our seemingly huge problems pale in comparison to what much of the world endures. We need not inflict folly upon ourselves. We must put the finger down and reclaim the heart of this bounteous land. Stretching out a hand with all five fingers across the party line would be a start. All of us deciding to work for what is best for us Americans, not political parties and their machinations, would be nice, too. A politician who does that will have my vote.

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  • Carl P

    I hear the London bookies have it 4 to 1 against Brexit.

  • @Carl P – from my following of the coverage, the alleged motive for the murder of Jo Cox, galvanized many out of complacency. What forces have they unleashed for political indulgence?

  • NB

    I don’t think anyone really has any idea how it will go, since the pollsters have nothing solid to go on. They got it spectacularly wrong a year ago in the General Election, when they had all the necessary demographic data: in this referendum, demographics are irrelevant as each side is a coalition of the strangest bedfellows, with both main parties completely split on the matter, and both campaigns trying to produce arguments that work for both sides of the political field. And then there are large numbers of voters who have made their mind up on reasons which have nothing to do with the main issues which the campaigns are pushing.

    However, the one thing which foreigners don’t understand about all this is that the British don’t like being told what to do. Obama’s preaching visit went down like a lead balloon, and every time Junkers opens his mouth and threatens the UK with unspecified “consequences” if it doesn’t obey his wishes, the Leave vote goes up.

    The sad thing about the whole sorry episode (well, one of the many sad things) is it has been incredibly badly handled by the Government. If Cameron had stood up and told the truth – that he doesn’t much care for the EU, but its advantages outweigh its disadvantages, then we might have had a sensible argument and the Leave side might have appeared to be unreasonable. Instead, he pretends that the EU is perfection itself, and nobody believes him.

  • john

    you knit?

  • @NB – Obama did not learn the message of when the Brits tried to advocate against Bush. And the EU guys amazingly don’t understand that like a husband with an upset wife, the beat thing to do is lay low, smile, nod, keep doing chores.

  • Phoenix

    Stefan: like you, I have no dog in the fight, except as a fellow Commonwealth (I’m Canadian).

    Yes I am disgusted at the identity politics in both the US and GB. I have never believed in “us vs them”. Inflammatory and hateful comments from people like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump not only validates wrongful preconceptions and prejudices, but gives carte blanche to extremism and violence a la Jo Cox’s murder (whose family I am absolutely heartbroken for, as well as families of the Orlando, FL massacre victims, an incident also stoked by intolerance and hate)

    You are also right that many voters will vote with their heart rather than their head, even to their own conscious personal detriment, just “to prove a point.”

    I will also admit I’m not completely informed on all the issues surrounding Brexit, beyond a small scattering of editorials on the web plus John Oliver’s piece on Last Week Tonight, but all I know is while GB may not be a guaranteed “winner” if they choose to Remain, but will surely lose if they Exit.

    Good for you for keeping your eye on the ball, and voting for common decency and the greater good. We can never have too many “better angels of our nature.”