A weekly digest of thoughts on fiction, non-fiction, and all the news I see fit to print.
Only Thought: Brexit Stage Left
Though I’ve proceeded at my usual weekly reading pace, it feels like I have done nothing but read, think, and discuss Brexit since the results came in this past Friday. As an American, seeing a similar kind of xenophobia-infused, anti-establishment fury drive the people of one of the world’s most respected superpowers to act so counter to their own interests… well, let’s just say it hit a little close to home. Whatever the initial motivations of the Leave voters, whatever the end result of the referendum, this has exposed, legitimized, and emboldened a hideous underbelly of racism and xenophobia—just as the Trump campaign is doing here in the US, and it troubles me greatly.
Feeling worn out over this latest upsetting news cycle (June’s been an odd month, eh wot?), I’m going to keep this week’s digest short. Here’s a few links to some of the best-written, and most affecting, Brexit commentaries I’ve seen and read…
The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice…
Now some pundits are suggesting that the real lesson of Brexit is that ordinary Britons are bearing an unacceptable economic cost from immigration, and that elites should heed that lesson and think about restricting immigration to other Western countries to prevent a similar populist backlash. There’s just one problem: this narrative isn’t actually true. Data shows that Britain wasn’t suffering harmful economic effects from too many new migrants. What Britain was suffering from too much of, however, was xenophobia—fear and hatred of immigrants. Bigotry on the basis of national origin. That’s not something you give into, and close the borders. It’s something you fight.
I didn’t think one vote would make a difference. And besides, I wasn’t particularly motivated to use my vote anyway. Brexit, supported by some very bad people, would definitely have some bad consequences, but on the other hand, who knows what positive effects it might have? I wasn’t willing to endorse it, but, hey, I certainly bought the argument that it might be a worthwhile shake-up to the system. My complacency lasted until June 16, when Jo Cox, a Labour member of Parliament and a vocal defender of immigration, was killed; the man charged in her death, Thomas Mair, had ties to far-right groups and introduced himself in court by the name “death to traitors.”
There are structural economic issues that have left both Leave sympathizers and Trump voters with real grievances, and it will be disastrous if bigoted nationalists are the only ones who engage them. The political institutions are very different: we don’t worry so much here about the labyrinthine regulations put out by Brussels bureaucrats; they don’t quite have super PACs. But the word “rigged,” or its local variations, is probably the key one on both sides of the Atlantic.
I’ll be back next week with a regular installment of comics, fiction, and process talk.