DOES BREXIT MATTER TO US?
YES AND NO AND MAYBE
We are being flooded with warnings about the impact on the United States of Great Britain’s exit from the European Union. Forget the economic and political fallout for us, which are likely to be minimal to none even in the short term, the only one that we need to be concerned about is the “Trump Effect.” The public referendum that was put to the people of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, was about immigration. Sure, there were lots of “we need to get out from under the yoke of the EU,” “the EU has too many rules and regulations,” “Great Britain needs to stand on our own two feet and be independent” but no issue in Great Britain had more traction than immigration. The waves of Middle Eastern refugees fleeing Syria, Iraq and Libya and flooding Europe caused a massive crisis from England to Turkey with seeming no end to the flow. The flow has since been cut off. Europe’s immigration crisis has since disappeared from the American media.
Great Britain – despite decades of incoming brown and black people from the former British Empire made easier post World War II by welcoming immigration policies from the Commonwealth nations – is still 81.9% White. Compare this figure to the United States with our 62% Non-Hispanic Whites (your classic Whites) one would think that White Brits have little to worry about from being “overrun” or “diluted” by their immigrant population. But you would be very wrong to conclude such.
If you listen to the rhetoric that came out of the mouth of prime Brexit mover and shaker, Nigel Farage, and if you didn’t see his face you could mistakenly assume that it was Donald Trump speaking. Sure, Farage was a bit more polite, as Britishers often are compared to us loudmouthed Americans and the name of Mexico never left his lips, but his appeal was exactly the same xenophobic, nativist, isolationist – close the borders – rhetoric that The Donald has been spewing forth endlessly since he entered the Republican Presidential race. Looking ahead to November, it seems that with this one Trumpian theme, we could wind up with a Donald Trump presidency. Six months ago, literally no one gave Trump a snowball’s chance in hell of becoming the Republican nominee. Same with Great Britain’s Brexit referendum. Both, surprising as each might seem, have landed on the world stage like stink bombs that no one saw coming and, now, no one seems to able to figure out how to dispose of them.
I think the parallels and the danger are real. As things go in what can only be called the most surprising Presidential campaign in many decades if not all American history, I’d say that anything goes. Anything is possible. So none of us should dismiss the threat that Trump represents or assume that in the general election he will be defeated. There is no question that Trump has tapped into a fundamental strain of dissatisfaction among his supporters who feel as if they have been ignored for decades. But it’s the same disquiet, the same feelings of being ignored that energize Bernie Sanders supporters as well. Both supporting groups could not be more different in age, character, color and world perspectives. And even though both camps cite dysfunctional governments, corrupt political processes, lack of attention to their needs and complaints, Sanders supporters place the blame for their predicament on policies that favor the rich, privatization, conservative economic policies by both Republicans and Democrats and a lack of attention to the needs of ordinary Americans like them.
Trump supporters on the other hand, richly egged on by their candidate, blame immigrants, political correctness, government that has ignored them, China and Mexico for their plight. And the solutions could not be more starkly divergent with one side promoting protectionism, militarism, isolationism and "better deal making" while the other side is calling for a wholesale restructuring of America’s economic, social and political structure. Bernie calls it “Democratic Socialism” a term Donald Trump is probably totally unfamiliar with.
So given the popularity of both Trump and Sanders it is reasonable to assume that there is a sizable portion of the American public who share a whole range of feelings about their respective conditions. As for solutions, the two camps could not be farther apart about how to “fix” America.
As a Daily Kos piece points out [BREXIT NOT A WARNING THANKS TO OBAMA]
we have one significant reason for why it is that there will not be a similar breach from reality here as there was in Great Britain: Barack Obama. Here’s why. As Republicans and conservatives were screechingly demanding austerity after the crash of 2008, Democrats and Obama were pushing for a Roosevelt New Deal type intervention to rescue the economy. Obama and Democrats won. A partial victory to be sure, since Republicans in Congress would not enact his full recovery package. You may have forgotten, but Obama proposed establishing an “infrastructure bank” to fix our roads, grids and bridges. Republicans, at the time, were having none of this foolishness although eight years later our crumbling infrastructure is one of Trump’s recurring themes. (One could successfully argue that had Obama’s sheath of proposals been adopted, our economy would be in better shape today). Even so, our unemployment rate is 4.7% which, under every other administration except for our current Black one, would be trumpeted from the skies as “full employment.” Yes, the economy is lackluster in recovery, not growing as fast as it might otherwise be if people actually had more money to spend rather than facing decades long declining incomes.
But the situation in Europe is quite different. Unemployment in the EU overall is 8.7% nearly twice that of the United States eight years after the 2008 crash. Currently, unemployment in Greece is 24%, Spain 20%, Italy 11.7%, France 10.2%, Ireland 8.8%, and Great Britain 5%. Only Germany and the Chez Republic have lower rates than the U.S, with Germany at 4.3%. Why do Western European countries have such greater unemployment rates than the U.S today? One word: AUSTERITY. It’s as simple as this. Following the Crash of 2008 the EU and individual European nations adopted austerity measures as a means to rescue their economies just as the Republicans here in the United States were urging upon us. This approach simply failed. If fact, somewhere along the way – around 2012 – the EU and the European Central Back faced with even worse economic conditions than today’s actually reversed course and began pumping up economies with infusions of government funds. But Great Britain has the second lowest unemployment rate of all the EU nations. As a result, one could reasonably conclude that the Brexit outcome was not a reflection of the economy.
We are - and were - lucky. But you won’t hear a single Republican making the comparisons between the situation in Europe today, eight years after the crash of 2008, and our situation because such a comparison would be admitting that Obama was right. And naturally, in Republican World, that simply cannot happen. Ever. Under any circumstances. So as the Daily Kos article points out, we may have Obama to thank for preventing Trump from becoming President. (As an aside, I would point out that The Donald was crowing about how the people’s will had prevailed in Great Britain, pontificating with his feet planted on Scottish soil - he was trumpeting the re-opening of one of his golf courses – seeming to be unaware that the Scots people voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU.) Note also that despite yesterday's 600 point drop in the US Stock market - far less than Asian and European indexes - there was a massive infusion of monies into U.S. treasuries, bonds and other less risky investments.
Great Britain’s EU membership was always less than fully committed. The British pound is GB’s official currency since it did not adopt the Euro and the British Isles are not members of the Schengen agreement where EU members can travel among all EU nation’s without the need for separate travel documents. I suspect that we here in the U.S. are going to suffer volatile stock swings for a few weeks but as for real and practical impacts I don’t see any long term ones. Except for the immigration after effects that Trump will loudly latch onto as proof that he knows what’s best for all of us. And who knows, maybe like in Great Britain this will be the issue that wins for his side to the detriment of the rest of us.
PS: It's looking as if the forever rebellious Scots might have another referendum about exiting Great Britain. If they do, you can call it finally taking revenge on the English following Queen Elizabeth's beheading of Mary Queen of Scots back in 1587. We Scots have long memories.