The day after 52 percent of United Kingdom citizens voted to leave the European Union, Google was deluged with questions. The most common – what is the European Union? That suggests that the people who voted to leave the European Union didn’t even know what it was. They didn’t know that financial institutions, headquartered in London, might shut down their offices because they would lose the advantage they had by considering London a European banking center. They didn’t know that thousands of jobs now based in London might migrate to Paris or Brussels, because international banks wanted European centers of commerce, not simply British centers. They didn’t expect that the value of the pound would plummet. They didn’t know.
Instead, they responded emotionally to those who encouraged them to vote to leave the EU. They responded to the notion that immigration was their enemy, and that immigrants were “taking their jobs.” They responded to an ugly divisiveness, and they voted, they thought, to protect themselves. They didn’t know that their protectionism might leave them more vulnerable than ever. Now they know. The European Union has asked the U.K. to speed up the inevitable separation, even as more than 2 million Brits are, by petition, asking for a “do over,” a second referendum. Few have patience for the remorseful second-guessing after the unnecessary “Brexit” vote. Prime Minister Cameron, after all, chose to sell a bunch of wolf tickets when he called for the referendum. His egotism has had an ugly outcome, and an unnecessary one. The vote need not have taken place.
Brexit has implication in the United States. The callous excoriation of immigrants made it possible for too many Brits to vote against their own self-interest. Now, we see too many in the U.S. leaning toward Donald Trump, because he says he will “Make America Great Again.” Great for whom? Great how? In going back to the past is Mr. Trump harking to the “Leave it to Beaver”-1950s days when independent women were invisible, and people of color hardly showed up. I’d love someone to remind me of any episode where Leave it to Beaver had a Black actor. Ha! When we go back to our nation’s “old greatness,” we go back to times when women and people of color were, at best, invisible.
Thanks to Brexit, the world will experience more financial instability than it has experienced in the last decade or so. The stock market will fluctuate, and then settle, and some folks will find their 401k accounts dropping, and then recovering in a month or so. Interest rates will fall, but that really only matters in the short run, and with those who are managing stock markets. While it is impossible to predict the outcomes of the Brexit vote, it is surely possible to speak to the financial instability that is a byproduct of the Brexit vote. The short-term implications don’t specifically affect United States shareholders (although those invested in the U.K. will see more immediate losses). In the longer run, the fracturing of the EU collective has financial implications for all world stakeholders.
There is a parallel between that which has happened in the U.K. and that which has happened in the U.S. Voters in the U.K. were goaded into voting “leave” even though too many knew that staying was the better choice. In the U.S., we have a demagogue who is exhorting people to “leave” our diversity reality by embracing his cause and conveying his vote. The mainstream media has been an unindicted co-conspirator on this Trump crusade, because he has garnered far more visibility than he deserves. But his message resonates, even as the “leave” message resonated in the U.K.
People aren’t asking the critical questions. Why has Trump refused to release his tax returns? Why does he promise charitable contributions that he does not honor? Why are the Trump products manufactured in China, even as he decries outsourcing?
Will we, in these United States, start Googling Trump after he is nominated? Will we wait until it is too late to ask about the Trump peccadilloes? Will asking too late provide us with the same buyer’s remorse that those in the U.K. are now experiencing? Will our protest vote express our angst and also place an ill-equipped man in the White House? Will we ask the most important questions when it is way too late?
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist based in Washington, D.C. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off? Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via www.juliannemalveaux.com or Amazon.com