An astounding vote today has expressed the will of a majority of the English people to leave the European Union! I say the ‘English’ people rather than the ‘British’ people because both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted strongly to remain in the EU. The vote really should have been called ‘Englexit’ rather than ‘Brexit.’
Absolutely no one knows what this will mean. It will take up to two years to negotiate their way out of the 47 year old trade and immigration agreement. Already the British pound has fallen and world stock markets are in for a roller coaster day. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, who bet his career on arguing for the UK to remain part of the EU, has resigned.
Some are calling this English “Independence Day” and, as an American, I can see the appeal of regaining a kind of national sovereignty and no longer having to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops Brussels (the EU headquarters) regularly puts them through. In fact, in my worst moments, I could actually be a Libertarian!
In the early stages of the American presidential campaign, I was actually quite drawn to Rand Paul. He was an attractive, articulate figure, an eye surgeon who did mission trips to Latin America. He spoke of a more isolationist foreign policy which would keep us out of wars. He advocated a simple, flat tax which would simplify all our lives. And he was far from the racist xenophobe so many other Republican candidates appeared to be.
But, the more I heard him, the more I realized that his brand of libertarian isolationism is actually contrary to everything I believe. The last thing we need in this world is to retreat behind our “safe, secure borders” and let the rest of the world go to hell. (As appealing as that can be on some days.) We need broader coalitions (like the EU) not narrow nationalism in the 21st century.
One of the scariest things about the Brexit vote is that it shows that a grass roots, populist message, fueled by racism, xenophobia, and perceived economic insecurity is present in virtually all Western democracies today. And they can win! As unlikely as it might appear, Donald Trump and his brand of blue-collar, white male populism could actually carry the day come November. If we are not very, very careful and do not work very, very hard for the alternative.
The Brexit decision flies in the face of a philosophy of global cooperation and internationalism that is our only way forward in the complexities of the post modern world. It flies in the face of this wonderful little poem by Edward Markham that I have returned to again and again when faced with decisions such as led well-meaning people in the UK to vote against their own self interests. It reads like this:
“He drew a circle that shut me out,
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle that took him in!”
May we all continue to draw circles…not build walls!