Is it just for the moment we vote?
My views on the UK’s python-worthy referendum are summed-up in this brilliant magazine cover. Brexit is a self-inflicted wound that has little prospect for near-term healing, as well as a warning for All of us on this side of the pond.
Departure from the EU (now, and if/as/when it actually happens) will damage the British economy, with that burden falling heaviest on those who voted for it out of frustration with their diminished economic circumstances. The unintendedly weaker Pound currency will help tourism and any exports to the US (scotch, mini-coopers, fish, chips, border collies?). It will hurt everywhere else, including trade with the EU, talent acquisition, and higher prices for imported-anything that is denominated in another currency (read: everything). The people most vulnerable to economic vicissitudes, who were also those who voted overwhelmingly to leave, will be slammed. Piece of nose – meet your face.
The recent Ministers most guilty of silly-walking are each headed briskly for their own exits, including leading ‘Leave’ campaigners Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, as well as resigning PM David Cameron – who made the blunder of calling for the advisory vote when he thought it’d be a slam-dunk win for the ‘Stay’ side. It seems that nobody wants to deal with the very current consequences of the country’s very dead parrot.
Cameron’s culpability goes deeper. As Prime Minister since 2010, he has been the architect of an economic austerity approach that gave primacy to reducing the rate of deficit spending. In the post-Great Recession era, what was needed, in the land of Keynes, to address its economic malaise was precisely the opposite. Any fault of Keynesian economics lies not in government pump-priming in lean times, but in the inability of politicians to rein-in spending during the fat years. The continued poor performance of the British economy since 2008 sowed and nurtured the seeds of its current discontent. There have been no fat years to counter-cycle.
The Brexit campaigns, however, found easier targets to blame for the plight of the proletariat. Immigrants and Belgian bureaucrats became its whipping boys, as Britons sought to cope with the loss of control they felt over their lives and times. “Others” are convenient bad guys, despite the fact that neither group bore significant responsibility for the changes that seemed to have overrun the country. Voters were goaded in that direction by rodent pols who are now doing-what-they-do when the ship of state takes-on water.
So, this was a protest vote against things as they are, or might be made to seem – a lashing out in anger against a changing world. There is precious little of a plan for how to implement the Brexit, or what will happen next, now that the bulldog has actually caught the car. We DO know that t’wont be pretty.
It’s worth noting that the Brits may get a do-over in the long run. The poll was formally ‘advisory,’ the vote was close (52-48%) and there has been much teeth-gnashing regret expressed, even among prior supporters. Mr. Cameron has also dodged responsibility for pulling the trigger, by resigning instead of invoking irrevocable Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon to formalize the departure. Cooler heads may yet prevail as it becomes clearer that the other EU members are not amused, or inclined toward any special dispensations for their prodigal in-laws. We do know already that a lot will have been lost by all concerned, regardless of the eventual outcome.
So, what are the lessons for we Yanks in all this, then?
First, for the Trumpistas, raising hell and sticking it to The Man is fun, and there may even be catharsis in casting that protest vote. The problem here is that the guy they’d be voting-for has not the first clue how to ‘make America great again’, and the political party he represents is really the party of the Big forces that have wrested perceived control of their lives from them. It’s not Hispanics, or Muslims, or regulators in Washington that deteriorated and exported the manufacturing sector, and limited the horizons of those thrown out of work.
Globalization is a big business phenomenon, and the GOP is traditionally the party of big business, as well as the ‘unshackling’ of the poorly-policed tycoons of Wall Street and Finance. They are also the enemies of taxation and public sector spending (except on defense) that could renew and extend infrastructural investments. ‘Starving the beast’ of government is exactly the wrong medicine for what ails the stagnant parts of the US economy.
Similarly, the EPA did not cause the global warming that has doomed coal. Bloodless, faceless ‘bureaucrats’ are thus an easy target, but when you ask folks to point to specifics, those replies become sparse. The parallels to the Brexit vote are thus pretty clear – and ought to be sobering. ‘Wrong targets’ and ‘no plan’ are as much a recipe for disaster ‘here’ as they are ‘elsewhere’ in the world.
For the Dems, the lesson is no less clear, and the need to respond intelligently is no less compelling. Lefties have tended to be dismissive of the desperate frustration of the Trump rabble-rallyers, replete as they are with wrongheaded anger and numerous superficial hostilities. Libs have missed the reality of the pain, and the need to truly be the party of working America.
There was a comment to an article in the NY Times that captures the concept: “… I am a liberal, and well educated (Stanford) and understand the intellectual arguments. But until the elite comprehend the social impact of globalization on the 24 year old in London that can't get a job as a waitress, or the 45 year old factory worker in Ohio -- you will continue to see populists like Trump gaining support. Hand wringing and intellectual arguments will not carry to day. Explain to the factory worker what he should do to feed his family, and perhaps we can push back this awful tide of populism.”
I would substitute ‘hucksterism’ for ‘populism’, but the meaning is the same.
In other words, the Left clearly must form policies that address the unrest of the archetypal coal miner or assembly-liner, as well as the next generation of workers for whom ‘career’ is a pipedream. If government is not ‘the problem,’ and it’s not, then it must become seen as an engine of solution. Progressive tax policy (somebody has to pay, and The Fortunate have gotten a very easy ride since the 1980s), massive support for re/training and education, and investment in infrastructure of the scale (if not the same kind) that helped underwrite the post WW2 boom would be a good start. Politics and business as-usual just won’t do – folks need hope, and actual, well-targeted solutions.
In a way, the Dems are fortunate that they are opposed by such a deeply flawed candidate. That won’t always be the case, and if they wander too close to the cliff, we’ll all join the Brits at the bottom. That wouldn’t be just silly, but tragic.