It should not be hard to understand why at least some Brexit voters did what they did, and are not sorry about it even after being told about the disastrous effects it would have, and is having, on the British economy and the stability of world order. Let’s say you are someone living in the Midlands on barely enough to get by, and with little prospect for anything better. Or suppose you are living in a tiny, overcrowded apartment in a big city with little hope of joining the ranks of the well off. So what if the British economy tanks? You are already in recession, if not depression. How much worse could it get? Not much. Maybe it would do some good for the high living swells in London to find out what it’s like to hurt a little. So what if the stock market takes a dive? You don’t have any stocks to worry about. If imports become more expensive, what does it matter? You can’t afford them anyway. If it’s more difficult to export, so what? How can that hurt you? If the Pound sinks to rock bottom, well, you don’t have many in your pocket as it is. Who cares? World order? What the heck is that? Just read the papers or watch t.v., there doesn’t seem to be much order in the world as it is. What you want is protection, security, and a better chance at a better life.
The politicians who run the country have never cared one way or the other about you, and you don’t care about them either. Conservative, Liberal, Labour, some goofy Green Party, what difference does it make?
Pay attention American political leaders. That same attitude infects a very large segment of the American population as well. It’s one reason Trump is doing as well as he is. If nothing else, he’s sticking it to the political elite, and blasting away with atrocious political incorrectness that echoes the underlying prejudices of a public that knows how morally disreputable they are, but they feel that way anyway. They know they should change, but they don’t want to, and they aren’t going to.
I read the Facebook entries of people I know well as otherwise decent people, but their posts are filled with unrestrained vitriol for President Obama and Hillary Clinton. Why? Because Obama is the visible sign that their place at the top of the race and power pyramid is collapsing under them right in front of their eyes, and because Hillary represents everything they hate and distrust about the political establishment, regardless of party. Since these Facebook friends have never expressed any outrage over, or knowledge about, real and egregious crimes and misdemeanors by officials in previous governments, it suggests that something else is at play. What might that be? It’s classical scapegoating related to a profound disconnect between the conditions of their lives in the communities where they live from the parts of the economy that are doing well for a select few. That’s combined with a deep distrust of elected representatives whom they believe are bought an paid for by big money interests. Oddly enough, the part of the country in which I live has a history of electing representatives who run as conservatives on social values, but whose legislative records do serious damage to the economic issues most important to the people who are being elbowed out of the American Dream. Yet they get reelected by large margins. It is a disconnect of stunning proportions. Even odder, they are aided and abetted by substantial numbers of relatively wealthy folks who have done quite well these last few years, but who, I suspect, are disappointed that they are poor millionaires instead of rich millionaires. They are also angry at the prospect of no longer being recognized as having the legitimate, rightful power and position that they believe is their birthright. It’s a strange business. Some will vote against their own best interests because they don’t understand the consequences of their actions, or because they figure they can’t be hurt much more, and besides, maybe it’s time to take the corporate and political elite down a few notches. Others will vote to protect their place on the top of the pile. There are scapegoats in abundance to justify it.
What to do? More than anything, I believe that centrist candidates must be willing to talk with them, not to them; respect them as important members of the community; and demonstrate that informed constituents can have genuine access to the legislative process with real influence. That, at least, has to be a start. The next part is harder. With calm words of certainty, thought leaders need to be forthright about taxes as investments by the community in the community, and it’s time for serious talk about what we want to and need to invest in. We have to get over the delusion that taxes are bad, lower taxes are better, and no taxes are best.
With equally calm words of certainty, thought leaders must make it clear that the nation is not going back to some mythical (whiter) better time. If we are to be true to our American Dream we can only go forward into a future that embraces a more diverse population that is less divided, offering more equitable opportunities, and from which new social values will emerge that will strengthen the fabric of society in new ways. That’s a hard sell. It won’t be easy.
What about the folks whose birthright gave them precedence over all others for access to the rewards of the American Dream? It will no longer be theirs alone, and they are not inclined to want to share. That’s an even harder sell.