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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.