Will Brexit Survive the Bureaucracy?
The other day, I awarded the palm for the single most emetic piece about Brexit to Simon Tilford's inadvertently comical essay for the Centre for European Reform. It was a sentimental piece pleading, tongue-only-half-in-cheek, that the EU be kind and patient with a doddering UK that had the senile temerity to vote in a way not sanctioned by the elites in London and Brussels.
Never mind that, as the eurosceptic MEP Dan Hannan put it, "more people voted to leave the EU than have voted for anything else, ever," in Britain. The numbers themselves don't count, you see. It's all a matter of who voted. Was it our sort of people? Or was it just the angry, knuckle-dragging, ill-educated bigots who live in the wrong postal codes?
That's a meme that is making the rounds, and if Simon Tilford gets the prize for the single most stomach-turning column to date on the phenomenon of Brexit, the prize for the stupidest column (so far) goes to an American, Joe Klein.
Writing in the posthumous organ Time, Klein courts honorable mention from the Godwin's Law Prize Committee, arguing that the Brexit vote "heralds the return to the grim 1930s." And if invocation of the 1930s — the era of you-know-who in Berlin — were not bad enough, Klein really rubs his readers' noses in it by raising the truly horrifying specter of Donald Trump.
No, it's not original with Klein. But by the time he got around to weighing in on the subject, the idea that Brexit was somehow Britain's equivalent of Donald Trump had congealed into an Crisco-like oleaginous mass. "The passage of Brexit," Klein writes, "and the presence of Donald Trump are the results of a massive lowering of standards [!] that has been promulgated over the past 20 years by the media and the leadership of political parties in both countries, in the pursuit of popularity. This is what happens when democracy grows flabby. The people, when uninterested, must be entertained, and if they can’t be entertained, their fears must be exploited."
Unraveling all the condescending assumptions packed into those few sentences would provide apt material for a lengthy disquisition. Ponder, to take just one element in Klein's effusion, the implications of his suggestion that the reason people voted for Brexit was because democracy had grown "flabby." You can turn in your reflections after the weekend. Typed and double-spaced, please.
So let’s make no bones about what happened in Britain. This was not so much a vote against the bureaucratic depredations, real and imagined, of the E.U. It was a vote – by elderly, non-college-educated Brits – against the wild flow of immigrants, most of them benign and excellent workers, but many of them reluctant to assimilate and more than a few of them embracing a faddish, lethal Islamic extremism.
"Faddish"? Extra credit if you include a paragraph on that.
The critical point, however, is snobbery. Who are those "elderly, non-college-educated-Brits" and why is anyone paying attention to them?
A couple of observations. First, the instant recovery of the stock market in the UK and the U.S. has made the Chicken Little diatribes of the Remainers look pretty silly, as have the conciliatory noises emanating from Germany, for whom free access to the British market is an "existential" necessity. Brexit may negatively affect the EU; it will be a huge net positive for the UK.
Second, let me advert to a piece of mental hygiene the Jesuit fathers imparted to us young scholars in high school: "Never deny, seldom affirm, always distinguish."
"Always distinguish." The rise of populist movements in the U.S. and in Europe is no doubt important. Neither Donald Trump nor the campaign for Brexit is intelligible without taking account of that populism.
But when one compares the phenomenon of Donald Trump and Brexit, the differences are at least as important as the similarities. For one thing, the Trump candidacy is all about Donald Trump. Yes, he is riding a large wave of discontent. But he is the focus of the phenomenon.