Well, it's happening: The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union, and British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his resignation. Roger Cohen isn't pleased: "My nephew wrote on Facebook that he had never been less proud of his country. I feel the same way about the country I grew up in and left." Cohen describes Brexit as "a leap in the dark," but it is not, he concedes, a bolt from the blue: it is the expression of a resentment that has been building up for some time:
This resentment has its roots in many things but may be summed up as a revolt against global capitalism. To heck with the experts and political correctness was the predominant mood in the end. A majority of Britons had no time for the politicians that brought the world a disastrous war in Iraq, the 2008 financial meltdown, European austerity, stagnant working-class wages, high immigration and tax havens for the super-rich.
Christopher Caldwell of the Weekly Standard takes a much more sanguine view: this was, he insists, about democracy—and about the refusal of ordinary Brits to be cowed by elites in London and Brussels. It will be a costly refusal, he acknowledges, but that does not make it a bad one:
Britain is, as David Cameron said in his resignation statement, a "special country." Its citizens are going to pay a price for flouting markets and European bureaucracies. They have gambled that what they now recover—control of their own laws—makes that price worth paying. Look at their history. They are probably right.
The British economist Simon Wren-Lewis disagrees. He regards the outcome of the referendum as a product of fear and irrationality, and blames the British press for having given the Brexiteers a free pass:
The tabloid press has groomed its readers for Brexit. If any good is to come out of this, it will involve defeating most of the tabloid press, and then forever reducing their influence.[...]
There is also a very big warning here for the US. Clinton may be ahead now, but do not underestimate the power of the media (which is still giving Trump much more coverage) to turn that around.
(As Caldwell points out, one of those grubby tabloids, the Mail on Sunday, said in an editorial exactly what Wren-Lewis wanted the press to say: "The great chorus of economists, businessmen, educators, historians, scientists and others who have urged that we remain in the EU cannot simply be brushed off as if their opinions are so much babble." One lesson to be drawn from the referendum: be careful with those cannot's.)
Finally, Owen Jones, a British journalist on the left who opposed Brexit, writes in the Guardian that his fellow Remainers should avoid demonizing, or condescending to, those who voted to leave the E.U.
Many of the nearly half of the British people who voted remain now feel scared and angry, ready to lash out at their fellow citizens. But this will make things worse. Many of the leavers already felt marginalised, ignored and hated. The contempt—and sometimes snobbery—now being shown about leavers on social media was already felt by these communities, and contributed to this verdict. Millions of Britons feel that a metropolitan elite rules the roost which not only doesn’t understand their values and lives, but actively hates them. If Britain is to have a future, this escalating culture war has to be stopped. The people of Britain have spoken. That is democracy, and we now have to make the country’s verdict work.
If the left has a future in Britain, it must confront its own cultural and political disconnect with the lives and communities of working-class people. It must prepare for how it responds to a renewed offensive by an ascendant Tory right. On the continent, movements championing a more democratic and just Europe are more important than ever. None of this is easy—but it is necessary. Grieve now if you must, but prepare for the great challenges ahead.
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