Fasten your seatbelts. The ride’s going to get even bumpier. A word that few on this side of the pond had heard six months ago may portend greater troubles in the United States. Brexit, shorthand for the United Kingdom’s vote to exit the European Union, drives home the anti-globalization rise of nationalism, a nativistic fear of immigrants, stagnating incomes, an anti-elitist resentment of rising inequality, and even racism. As editors of The Daily Chatter wrote, “the sky may really be falling.”
The drivers of the surprisingly strong (52-48) vote to exit the European Union shouldn’t surprise us. The UK’s United Independent Party has echoes in Germany’s right-wing, anti-immigrant party Alternative for Germany (AfG), Greece’s Golden Dawn, Hungary’s xenophobic Jobbik party and others, even in liberal Sweden and Denmark. These dark forces are also at work in the growing strength of Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France where an even greater percentage (61 percent) disapprove of the European Union. These movements echo the same themes that motivate the always-underestimated support of Donald Trump and other movements across Europe.
If you have any doubt, consider how quick Trump was to hail the outcome of the Brexit vote. As Howard Fineman wrote, “Trump, if he is anything substantive, is a scream of defiance by white America — married, traditional, commercial — against the new multicultural and global country and world.” For those of us who aspire to be rational, it would be tempting to think that patiently refuting the lies routinely voiced by Trump would lead to his defeat in November. But the insanity of this year’s election season is that facts no longer seem to have weight.
Whether you get your news from The Economist or John Oliver, there are plenty of examples of why the UK’s arms-length relationship with the European Union should have continued. The IMF, the OECD, the London School of Economics, Price Waterhouse Coopers and scores of other entities have done projections on the damage to the UK economy from leaving the EU. The British Treasury said leaving would bring on “a do-it-yourself recession.” In the short term, there could be a three percent cut in the UK’s GDP. A drop in the value of the pound (which has already started) will make imported goods costlier for the Brits. Long-term, the inexorable shift of economic power from West to East, which will become an even greater reality in the lifetime of our children and grandchildren, will not be solved by the UK’s leaving the EU – or staying with it, for that matter.
The Leave group vastly overstated the benefits of exiting the EU. UK’s financial obligations to the EU, as well as the regulatory burden that membership imposes. The Leave group has also said the exit would allow the UK to limit immigration (“get control of our borders”), but immigrants have been a net plus for the economy. Just one example: according to the Economist, 10 percent of doctors in the National Health Service come from the EU. Plus, if Britain wants still to do trade with the EU, it will still have to abide by EU rules governing the free flow of labor, even though it would no longer have any role in shaping them. There are serious implications for international security as well.
The information was out there for anyone of a mind to weigh it. But this was a facts-optional election. Brexit’s worrisome lesson for us here is that all the serious studies were dismissed by the Leave side as being merely the word of the elites. The facts and cost-benefit analyses were over-powered by emotions and sloganeering. Anything reasonable just gave fuel to the antis, further inflaming those who, indifferent to the consequences, want to deliver a swift kick in the teeth to their real and imagined enemies. Sound familiar? You bet, and it’s scary as hell.
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