Early morning, June 24th, Great Britain did what few polls, and politicians, predicted it was capable of doing: stand up for itself. "The result," as Brits call scores in sporting matches, was roughly 52% for leaving the European Union (EU) and 48% for remaining. Over 72% of eligible British voters turned out to vote in the mother of all electoral matches.
There are many bureaucratic details to sort out. The UK has, per Article 50 of EU treaties, two years to unwind its formal relationship with the Union. Moreover, there will be near-term economic fallout, as the pound plunges to its lowest level against the U.S. dollar in years.
The externalities will be manifold: hurting U.S. and European export-based industries, strengthening exports of UK-based companies, creating doubt as to whether London will remain a hub of global banking (a fear that might be overstated) and the financial gateway for Chinese firms seeking to do business with Europe.
In an odd twist, Brexit might boost real estate values in the suddenly popular Republic of Ireland - and marriage prospects of Irish passport-holders) - which, unlike Northern Ireland, will remain part of the EU. Can the long-awaited marriage of Northern Ireland (which voted overwhelmingly to Remain) and Ireland be far behind?
Moreover, with the crashing pound sterling, expect more visits from us ugly Americans looking to re-live our post-punk youth (too bad about John Peel, but is Monochrome Set still around?).
At some inchoate level, Leave proponents must feel like Benjamin Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) in The Graduate. Having gone for love, instead of status quo safety, they are last seen staring blankly at the back of a bus, wondering, "What have we wrought?"
On the Remain side, folks are not feeling very shagadelic, especially young voters (75% of whom voted to Remain). In fact, Remain backers the world over are likely shedding muffled British tears of disbelief, as the sundry implications of Brexit sink in.
The closest U.S. parallel I can think of is the dumbfounded shock rational Americans felt when a shamefully incompetent and racially biased Los Angeles jury found the egregious O.J. Simpson innocent of the brutal murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald Goldman. Or the dismay and humiliation many Americans felt when George W. Bush invaded Iraq, even though all reliable evidence suggested that Iraq President Saddam Hussein had nothing to do with 9/11 and had no weapons of mass destruction.
These were undeniable tragedies in American history, with inexplicable causalities that only became clear over time. Now we are told that the O.J. verdict was payback by mostly black jurors for years of real or perceived black mistreatment by the LAPD. And the deceitfully sold Iraq War is now spun as a desperate attempt by a frightened nation to lash out at a familiar Mideast bogeyman after the attacks of 9/11.
However tragic Brexit might seem to Remain voters, and for the European Project as a whole, the long-term upside might be bright, once the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat wears off and the task of re-nationalizing thousands of laws - from food safety to consumer protection - is complete. And bright not only for the lawyers who stand to gain mightily from this monumental rewriting of the British legal code.
By standing up against EU paternalism, Great Britain, in a nod to Austin Powers, might have just gotten its emotional and psychological mojo back. Can a World Cup championship be close behind?! No.
While the Leave Campaign's stereotype of "faceless Brussels bureaucrats" was likely belied in general practice by diligent civil servants working to streamline regulations for the benefit of all members, there is something to be said for one's own people making those decisions, especially in highly sensitive matters like immigration and national defense. For better or worse, Britain now gets to make those decisions regarding border control (a huge flashpoint that affected the Brexit vote), trade, taxes, royalties, treaties, regulations, customs, defense, and more.
Moreover, Britain will be free from some of the more absurd Brussels edicts in a range of areas. Per EU mandate, eggs can't be sold by the dozen, but only by the kilo; diabetics are banned from driving (turns out EU experts decided they were a danger); prunes and prune juice cannot be marketed as laxatives, nor can bottled water be pitched as a solution to dehydration. Moreover, bananas "must be free of abnormal curvature," and it is illegal to sell strawberries with "misshapen calyxes."
While some of these EU edicts have been killed or modified, it's from such over-meddling micro-insults that macro revolutions are born (see: Tunisian street vendor and Arab Spring).
Indeed, there is now an increased likelihood of a robust trade agreement, maybe even a free trade zone, between the suddenly independent UK and the USA. It makes sense. The two nations enjoy a shared language, measurement system, and long historic military, political and economic ties. Moreover, we Yanks accept misshapen calyxes and regularly buy eggs by the dozen. And we don't give a toss if your bananas bend like Beckham.
As a matter of personal experience, I have long struggled with thinking of the proud and inimitable UK as part of the collectivist EU. It felt like an odd, if beautifully idealistic, cultural mismatch from the get-go, despite their geographic proximity.
However, underneath the immediate discussion of how Brexit will affect financial markets, international affairs, and consumer life, flow deeper currents that merit mention in relation to the upcoming U.S. general election. These lessons need to be learned by those who hope to avoid a similar result on this side of the pond come November.
First, polls show that Leave voters were nonplussed by claims of economic hardship. You might say they voted, as most economists warned, against their immediate economic interest.
However, what the Remain campaign did not grasp about these voters - just as U.S. Democrats do not grasp about the under-reported, and often silent, Trump voter - is that when citizens are sufficiently vexed, they often vote against their economic interest. See how often Central American, South American, Asian, and African voters elect leftist demagogues, who, once in office, quickly tank the economy.
Despite this fact, the Remain camp kept touting the economic benefits of staying in the EU, calling on various politicians and celebrities - including Tony Blair, Danny Boyle, Richard Curtis, Jude Law, Keira Knightley, and many others who can afford London's stratospheric cost-of-living - to make that case. But that's like touting the economic benefits of remaining married to a wealthy spouse who's cheated on you, made major unilateral decisions without fully consulting you and isn't altogether in love with you. In other words, as in relationships on an individual level, so too with those on a multinational level. Some principles are higher than getting Romanian workers to do one's dirty work for cheap.
Moreover, economic benefit as a selling point rings hollow when Brits perceive that many parts of London are owned by foreigners, and corrupt Russian and Middle Eastern "oil-i-garchs" at that.
And some of that flowery rhetoric of European unity went out the window when Germany - in a noble, if inappropriate, attempt to expiate some of its lingering WWII guilt - unilaterally decided, against enormous opposition, to take in one million refugees, even though this decision, within the context of a common economic zone in which citizens travel easily between member states, could adversely affect Britain.
You might say that well intentioned German Chancellor Angela Merkel - with an assist from an overreaching Barack Obama (we'll get to that later) - helped snatch defeat from the jaws of Remain victory. After all, nothing is more sacrosanct, and more essential to nationhood, than the freedom to manage one's borders.
This is especially felt in Britain against the backdrop of disturbing terrorist attacks in neighboring France and Belgium, whose perpetrators were only a short Chunnel ride away from London. Thus, with the Union's mission creep into massive refugee resettlement, many older Brits felt that the EU had gone far beyond its original economic mandate.
As a prominent member of London's investment banking community told me on Friday, it wasn't as if the British oppose immigration. Many Brits had simply grown resistant to the new crop of immigrants, "who didn't speak English and didn't embrace English values." As my friend described the sentiments of such Leave proponents, "These new immigrants accept our hospitality, but do not integrate into our communities, and appear to disdain us. As a result, unlike immigrants of the past, they are fundamentally changing the character of our communities."
The same complaints can be heard in the U.S. Many Americans also say they "want their country back," even if they have to pay more for lettuce, lawn maintenance and housecleaning. This should be a red flag for Democratic elites, who ignore this 3AM wake-up call at their peril.
Secondly, anecdotal reports suggest that Leave voters were particularly dismayed by Professor Obama's lecture to them about the economic consequences of leaving the EU. President Obama actually had the temerity to say that Britain will go to the "back of the queue" in trade.
It is hard to believe that any American who understood the long-standing American-British "special relationship" would say something so patronizing and daft. Nevertheless, that's par for the course for many liberal American elites who think they know best when it comes to your taxes, security, health care, sovereignty, and values. And it's especially par for the course for globalists who are not all that invested in the idea of a special relationship, let alone British or American exceptionalism.
Having lived and studied in England from 1979-1980 (at the then leftist University of Sussex in Falmer), and visited the UK and continental Europe many times since, I can assure you that the British do not take kindly to being lectured by their American "cousins," even if those cousins might occasionally be correct. President Obama should have known that, though, to his credit, he wisely walked his comments back after the surprising Brexit result.
But there's a pattern here. As Republicans well remember, and as Hillary Clinton (whom I backed in the 2008 Democratic primary) pointed out, the normally circumspect Obama made this mistake before. During the 2008 primary, he dismissed the values of small-town Americans as well, when he said, in an unguarded, non-TelePrompTer moment recorded by an Obama supporter: "They get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
I am a socially liberal Earth Firster, and a lapsed Catholic turned Zen Buddhist, but I too was bothered by Mr. Obama's patronizing remarks, since they were directed at God-fearing friends and family back home in Nebraska (or in Iowa, Michigan and Kansas), whom I hold dear to my heart. To this day, taking their cue from our President, intolerant American liberals all over Facebook, on CNN, MSNBC, Politico, NBC ABC and PBS publicly denigrate anyone who dares to disagree with them as "racist." They just casually drop the term, as if a person must be racist if he wants sane and rigorous enforcement of our immigration laws. As if a person must be racist if he or she opposes a policy, any policy, advocated by our nation's first African-American President. As if a person must be racist if he or she believes that cops are often unfairly demonized by Black Lives Matter protesters. As if a person must be racist if he or she believes that the lives of Rust Belt workers - whose jobs have been outsourced en masse to low-wage, non-unionized China and Mexico - matter too.
This liberal elite bias was seen most starkly in CNN's early morning Friday coverage of the Brexit vote. On this momentous occasion, the liberal network repeatedly turned to their crack foreign affairs reporter, Christiane Amanpour, outside Parliament. Over and over, Ms. Amanpour (whose husband, James Rubin, I previously interviewed for Playboy, and whose father is a Shiite Muslim from Tehran) kept invoking the terms "Islamaphobia" and "xenophobia" to explain the Leave vote, as if Leave voters were unschooled, decidedly un-posh, dirt-eating peasants who voted based on nativist bigotry.
She could not help herself. After all, her social circle likely includes multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, London-based, cocktail-swilling, kale-eating elites, many of whom attended English boarding schools like herself and who don't have a bloody clue about the nuances of how people think, feel, and live in the English hinterlands.
It's the habit of arrogant liberal elites over here - from Barack Obama to Hillary Clinton to Van Jones, Rachel Maddow and their fellow liberal group-think Clerisy in politics, government, media, tech, fashion, entertainment, and, above all, academia - to dismiss anyone who dares to question their proactively policed speech codes regarding illegal immigration, transgendered bathrooms, gun control, and leftist hate groups like F*** the Police.
If you happen to disagree with the new liberal orthodoxy, you are some imbecilic home-schooled retrograde who recently crawled out of the primordial muck and must be hectored and guilt-tripped into submission for holding to such rearguard apostasy. This public shaming, even if slightly based in fact, was clearly counterproductive in the Brexit vote.
If a voter feels publicly shamed for having legitimate concerns about, say, the cost of integrating a sudden influx of refugees, or the growing threat posed by immigrants who believe in Sharia law, or, Allah forbid, about one's country losing control over its borders and laws, let alone its national identity, that person does not feel safe to utter those views in public, let alone to pollsters. Therefore, these voters keep their trap shut and exact their revenge in the polling booth.
That seems to be precisely what happened with Brexit. London, in league with Brussels and Berlin, had become the poster child for dismissive, arrogant globalism. And English and Welsh citizens residing outside of London let them know it.
Who can blame them? Older pro-Leave voters in England's North and Midlands, who had lived through WWII and the Cold War, must have wondered what kind of surreal union was this EU, whose leaders seemed more worried about rhetorically upsetting Muslim immigrants than blocking the free and easy cross-border travel of radical Islamic terrorists. These voters must have been doubly mystified about EU member nations that seemed more interested in keeping low-cost Russian natural gas flowing than striking out against the clear and present danger posed by Russia's bellicose Vladimir Putin. Had the EU stood up to Putin in the Ukraine, maybe he wouldn't have felt emboldened to prop up Assad in Syria, furthering the refugee crisis that helped propel the Leave campaign.
In the U.S., we see the same pattern emerging. Those who do not reside in the liberal power centers of New York City and Washington, DC, and who do not give off the liberal elite signals that the new Ruling Class looks for in hiring into its media and political upper ranks (Ivy League social indoctrination, calling "illegal immigrants" by the deliberately misleading "undocumented immigrants," and incessantly talking about "diversity" as the remedy for all social ills), then you are out. Your voice is literally not heard, or, often, deliberately silenced and mocked.
I saw this most clearly in the early 2016 Republican primaries, when liberal elites like Anderson Cooper were bumfuzzled that voters found outsider candidates like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz so appealing. Those voters out in America's Heartland - a.k.a. Flyover Country, from where I hail - were treated like alien life forms who spoke a guttural nationalism that didn't compute in an age when the homes of the liberal elite are cleaned by Guatemalans, their meals cooked by Mexicans, and their condo buildings guarded by smiling men from El Salvador.
God help liberal Establishment poster woman, Hillary Clinton - who has fed at the trough of wealthy liberal benefactors, and a few foreign dictators, for years - should the erratic Donald Trump start running a measured, disciplined campaign that is quickly responsive to those who want to help it. If this happens, then Brexit could indeed be a bellwether of the upcoming U.S. election.
You see, many voters in the U.S. hinterlands of Michigan, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Ohio and Pennsylvania (in the latter two states, Trump is virtually tied with Clinton, despite a disastrous two months for the gaffe-prone real estate tycoon), like those in the pro-Brexit strongholds of Wales and non-London England, have been ground down by the wage-deflating, job-destroying effects of globalization and open borders. Because of this, secret Trump voters, like secret Leave voters in the UK, might already be lying to pollsters.
This should be worrying news for Mrs. Clinton and her liberal Democrat backers, who continue to run by the 2012 playbook they used against the decent, if hapless, Mitt Romney. If they just demonize Trump enough, goes conventional Democratic wisdom, they can bury all the bad news about Secretary Clinton's private email server, the Clinton Foundation cash for influence allegations, the lies about Benghazi, and all her other failures, personal and professional.
That strategy worked swimmingly for Obama in 2012 because gentleman Romney tried to remain above the fray against a Democratic party that had learned well from Lee Atwater, Karl Rove and other GOP strategists to launch white lies that could destroy an opponent on his most appealing quality (in this case, Romney's stellar business record and generous, self-effacing nature). Moreover, by engaging in misleading caricature (e.g., deliberately taking Romney's "binders of women" comment out of context), they could shift the discussion from President Obama's policy failings.
However, in 2016, Trump has played vicious hardball right out of the gladiator gate. He learned the lessons of Romney's loss and, as evidenced by Mr. Trump's scathing, if fact-challenged, June 22 speech in New York's Soho, is deploying a scorched earth strategy against Mrs. Clinton, dumping the entire GOP corruption dossier on her.
Meanwhile, by sticking to their 2008 and 2012 playbook of race-baiting, gender-pandering, telling tall tales about the opponent, and digging up and blowing out of proportion any kind of misstep, the Dems are playing right into Trump's low-brow, low-blow Twitter-happy wheelhouse.
This gutter strategy might work again. But, given the unequivocal message of Brexit, it seems more "prudent," as Mrs. Clinton might intone, to champion policies that actually bring manufacturing jobs back to the Rust Belt and that empirically protect our porous southern border from the current invasion of human traffickers, horrific drugs, potential terrorists, dangerous diseases, and, yes, those kind, hard-working, law-abiding illegal immigrants.
But there are other issues the Democrats faces that might "Trump" even a suddenly chastened and centrist Mrs. Clinton.
First, the Dems have a flawed standard-bearer, who still might be recommended for indictment by the FBI.
Secondly, American voters are fed up in ways they never were in 2012. Over 70%, in a string of polls, believe that the country is headed in the wrong direction.
Thirdly, these voters already know the myriad negatives of the narcissistic, self-aggrandizing, and incurious Mr. Trump (I've written about his boorish defects in this very space). As one Nebraska customer service representative recently told me by phone, "I hate Trump. He's just horrible." When I asked her if she is going to vote for him, she replied, "Of course!"
That sentiment reminds of my late Great Aunt Elsa English, a violist for the Omaha Symphony, who cursed at the TV when watching the TV show Match Game. Aunt Elsa was visibly upset at what she considered the "pervy" salacious behavior of grabby British-American host Richard Dawson. However, that didn't stop her from watching Match Game every single day.
In other words, there are millions of voters out there so angry with the arrogant, paternalistic status quo that they are willing to vote against their economic interests in the hope of getting their borders and jobs back, and their country confident, strong, respected and, yes, feared again.
It's a long way between now and November. The economic headwinds that the UK now faces could dissuade many Americans from voting for the protectionist Trump. But the warning from Brexit is clear: unless Democrats start talking directly to voters harmed by open borders, bad trade deals, and globalization, and stop lecturing Trump voters about how stupid and racist they are, they could meet the same fate as the Remain camp, no matter what kind of unhinged policy lightweight Donald Trump is.