Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexit, Trump and the Power of Fear

The vote by those living in the United Kingdom to leave or stay in the European Union (EU) occurred this past week.   I have read a number of stories about the "Brexit" vote, most of them from the media of the United Kingdom.  A few interesting facts:

Turnout was 71% of eligible voters, the highest percentage for a nationwide vote in almost 35 years. That is over 30 million people!

Younger voters voted overwhelmingly to Remain, while a majority of older voters opted to Leave.   Unfortunately for the disappointed younger voters, those in the 18-24 year old voting bloc stayed home in droves, while older voters chose to participate in their country's future.  Strange, considering that it is the younger generation who will need to live with the consequences, good and bad, of this historic decision.  More than one pundit put the blame for Leave squarely on younger voters using math to demonstrate that had 70% of young voters managed to inconvenience themselves and go to a polling station, Remain may have won the day.

Of the four countries that comprise the United Kingdom, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, voters in two of the countries voted for Leave, England and Wales, while voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain.   The fact that the voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to Remain but, by their inclusion in the United Kingdom are compelled to Leave, has sparked new discussions of an independent Scotland vote (one was just recently held in which voters chose to stay in the UK), and talks of a reunification of Northern Ireland with Southern Ireland which is not a part of the UK.

For more information about the ramifications of this decision, which will effect every aspect of life in the UK as you will see by the breadth of the article, cut and past the following link (from BBC, of course), into your browser.


Some of the articles I read in American newspapers, linked the popularity of Donald Trump with the result of the Brexit voting.  While there were a number of reasons proffered for leaving the EU, with saving the money which the UK contributes to the EU for homeland needs, and less onerous EU regulations for business among them, many consider Europe's continuing immigration dilemma to be the driving force behind those who voted to Leave, as one of the tenets of membership in the EU is the free movement of people between member countries. By leaving the EU, Leave proponents promised that the UK would better be able to control immigration and secure its borders from those not welcome.

Which brings us to The Donald.

It seems clear from exiting polls and the various national surveys, that Trump's popularity is limited to white males.  As has been the case for the Republican Party in recent times, many in the white majority vote for GOP candidates based on a negative perception of women, Latinos, African Americans, the LGBT community, and any other minority.  This viewpoint, stoked by the GOP, inflames the fires of its white base by blaming the ills of America on those minorities.  While the GOP establishment may react with outrage at the more openly prejudiced and outlandish of Trump's statements, the path towards an all white party has been laid brick by brick these last 50 years.  At least Trump has the courage to state it out loud, and not pretend, which is why his following is so loyal.  He says what they think, or have been taught to think, about women, blacks, Mexicans and gays, while the politicians who have conspired with the extreme right wing pundits to encourage those biases, downplay them in public to win the votes of those just slightly right or left of center, especially the independents.

Getting back to Brexit, the money which will be "saved" by eliminating the membership fees in the EU, is significant, perhaps 5 to 10 billion pounds.  However, considering that the 2016 spending budget for the UK was 716 billion pounds, we are talking about a 1% savings.

(By the way, if you want to see that budget, revenue and expenses, cut and paste the following link.  You might want to sort expenses in descending order and note where defense falls)


And, as for the business community, most favored Remain, as it enables the free movement of goods across the borders of 27 other countries.  While it is not the best comparison, there was a day when all the states of America levied tariffs on goods which crossed their borders,even from other states. Now, of course, that idea seems ridiculous, but at the time, legislators and businessmen felt the need to protect the business community of their individual state from the dumping of cheap goods from other states.  Membership in the EU grants the UK business community the luxury of exporting its goods to other countries with less monetary obstacles which explains their disappointment in the vote.  Of course, there is some hope that a future trade agreement between the UK and the EU might be forged that will maintain that favored status, but in the meantime, there is uncertainty, and it is uncertainly that the business community abhors, hence the temporary plunge in stocks across the globe.

Which seems to point to the immigration issue as the main reason for Leave votes.  Yet, like the rhetoric of Trump, is this issue driven more by fear than facts?

"Most of them are criminals and rapists" appeals to an already existing prejudice and gut feelings about people with a different skin color and culture.  Yet, most studies indicate that illegals are less likely to be involved in crime for fear of being deported.

"Ban all Muslims", or "Ban all immigration from countries who are our enemies", or any other such phrase gets loud applause at Trump rallies, but has he visited one of the hundreds of refugee camps in Turkey or Greece and seen that upwards of two thirds of these unfortunate people are women and children who have been forced from the homes due to violence and instability?  And what about the fact that most of the 911 terrorists were from Saudi Arabia?  Also, if the next domestic act of violence is committed by a 2nd generation American from Germany, will Trump add Germany to his banned list (after all, they were our enemy in the worst wars in history)?  Or how about France; we don't like them and they don't like us right?

Certainly, immigration, illegal or otherwise, is a difficult issue.  But there are two sides to immigration, the side that admits that when you allow millions of people to enter your country, there will be some bad apples, and the contrasting viewpoint that immigration is good for a country by providing new ideas, new cultures, a new source of labor.  Do we paint all people of a certain nationality or religion with one broad brush or acknowledge that most immigrants are everyday people trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children?  And, with that acknowledgement, fashion immigration policy that recognizes that a structure to identify and remove those with evil intent must include a path for those, like our own ancestors, who are good people in search of work and safety.  Just as all Italians were not deported when the Italian Mafia plagued some of our bigger cities, all Muslims or Mexicans need not be barred from America because of the actions of the minority.

Unfortunately, as long as there are politicians and news organizations that prosper from populist movements that rely on fear mongering, decisions to retreat into a shell, to blame anyone not like us, and to vote with out regard to facts, will remain with us.  


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