When fear wins: Brexit, the vicious cautionary tale

June 24, 2016 Originally published on SFGate

This is what happens when you enflame and provoke to the point of vicious irrationality. This is what happens when you make vague and heartless, crass, openly racist, fear-based, hyper-jingoistic promises that are impossible to deliver and will actually only make things far, far worse. And quickly.

It took but a single vote. And the world swoons, shudders, cringes deep in the heart as the worst, darkest, most anxious impulses of humankind surge forth and tear an entire nation off the map, and hurl it to the floor, laughing madly.

Does that sound extreme? Hardly. Brexit, as we are right now seeing in terrifyingly real time, is what happens when hate wins, when vast swaths of older people and the working classes are convinced they are victims of oppression and numb disenfranchisement, when flames of xenophobia and neo-nationalism engulf a country and burn it to the ground in a single evening. It’s fear in the service of crass emotional manipulation. And when hate wins, everyone loses.

It’s a stunning and heartbreaking thing, across the board. The United Kingdom is united no more. The old just completely screwed over the young. World financial markets are reeling as everyone realizes London will no longer be a major financial hub, decades-old partnerships are dissolving in an instant, trade maps will have to be massively redrawn as England just willingly isolated itself like no first-world nation in modern history.

The most screwed of all in the UK? The young.

The most screwed of all in the UK? The young.

But while financial markets are reeling, trying to figure out how to absorb Britain’s awful decision, as as one really knows what’s going to happen or how it will all shake out, there is perhaps a far more important question: It’s about how the already anxious nations of the world will absorb this sudden explosion of fear, the shrapnel of which is bloodying the entire globe. Right now, champions of anti-immigration, of racism, of harshly divisive nationalism are all stampeding forth to shove newly invigorated agendas of their own down the planet’s throat. How will we respond?

America already has Trump, the most poisonous voice of fear and bigotry the GOP could possibly vomit forth in this generation. While Brexit isn’t exactly an example of what will happen if Trump were to win the presidency – that would be far, far worse – it is very much an example of just how destructive are the demons of hate and xenophobia Trump loves to provoke in his exceedingly choleric, paranoid voter base. Trump is essentially taunting the world: “You think Brexit is bad? Just wait until I get my tiny orange hands around the throat of America.”

It doesn’t matter now, but the point has been made – by far more astute EU watchers than me, to be sure – that even an unfair, lopsided, infuriating EU was better, more peaceful and mutually beneficial than a fractured, antagonistic, divided, war-torn Europe. No one said unity was pretty. Hell, sometimes I fantasize about seeing a few of the more inept, racist, sexist states in our own precious united cluster fall off the map, too. But that doesn’t mean we really should break apart and let our roughly manageable differences turn into unmanageable Civil War poison. Seek points of connection and shared humanity, not points of endless contention and fear, no?

One small tidbit of relief: American politics may be flawed in many ways, but we aren’t so dumb as to hold referendums, easily one of the worst ways to bring about serious change, especially regarding potentially shattering decisions about whether or not to remain a peaceful, integrated, supportive part of the world, or to flip it an old, nervous, nationalistic middle finger – only to rush to Google a day later and look up what “a middle finger” actually means.

Soon, things will stabilize… only less so. The sad thing is, global volatility and generational disaffection, neither of which needed any additional help whatsoever, just got their biggest booster shot in modern history. And as we’re seeing firsthand, all over the world, it’s a bleak drug indeed. Do we have an antidote?

The British are frantically Googling what the E.U. is, hours after voting to leave it https://t.co/h278NE4ik4

— Washington Post (@washingtonpost) June 24, 2016

Absolutely brilliant poll on Brexit by @YouGov pic.twitter.com/EPevG1MOAW

— Tancredi Palmeri (@tancredipalmeri) June 23, 2016

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Mark Morford

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