You Brexit, You Buy It

I suppose the term "Anglophile" fits me pretty well, what with so many of my favorite writers, musicians, and other folks hailing from the Sceptred Isle. I've certainly spent time there, though not in recent years; there was the 1982 trip with my parents, when my dad attended the NATO Defense College in Latimer, and the family went as far as Loch Ness; there was my junior year of college (1983-84) spent at the University of Manchester; there was my 1986 honeymoon, when Kelly and I toured everywhere from Windsor Castle to Llangollen to the Isle of Skye; and there was my summer running Woodberry's Oxford Program at Brasenose College, which was followed by several weeks of touring Bath, London, and Folkestone, among other spots. At some point, I've been in almost every county of England, ith the exceptions of Essex, Norfolk, Sussex, and the Isle of Wight, and have visited a number in Scotland and a handful in Wales. I've entered Merlin's Cave in Cornwall and sifted the fine sands of Nairn along the Moray Firth. So yeah. Anglophile.

Which makes me a little concerned about this whole Brexit thing.

Mind you, I think a lot of people have reason to be concerned, what with the global economy tanking. And franklyI'm never happy when large groups of people begin complaining about other (typically smaller) groups of people in their country. We Americans have a really, really bad record on this kind of thing, but we also have a tendency to assume that our racism is connected to our overall sense of exceptionalism, which makes our xenophobia the biggest, most powerful, and most blatant xenophobia on earth.

Alas, such is not the case. The most openly racist student I've ever taught was a South Korean, whose in-class treatment of a classmate (a German of Chinese descent) was so bad the other Koreans felt they had to bring the matter to my attention. A lot of his slurs were being shared with the other Korean speakers, rather than put into our common tongue, but the very fact that he was constantly excluding and dismissing the Sino-German kid was apparent even to me.

Another student of mine, a Jamaican of Indian descent, once loudly proclaimed to his schoolmates that homosexuals ought to be taken out and shot in the street. I was driving a minibus at the time, and I actually pulled over to pointedly tell this young man that his belief was not sanctioned by God, Christ, the law, or any form of humanity, and that any further advocacy on this topic was going to result in demerits at the very least. I doubt I had any real influence on a boy whose hatred was clearly baked in from early in his life, but I think I very definitely got the attention of the rest of the kids on the bus.

And then there was the very nice, very generous, elderly Englishwoman who spoke to me after dinner one evening, asking, "So, Pete, what are you Americans doing about the Black Question?"

I stammered something to the effect that we'd had a war over it, followed by decades of civil unrest, and that I hoped it was closer to being answered now than it had been, but to this day, I couldn't tell you whether my response made a lick of sense. Hell, I doubt I could tell you what the Black Question even was. ("Were black people enslaved for several hundred years?" "Yes, ma'am.")

In short, I am unsurprised that a movement built on xenophobia could find enough support in Britain to produce a widespread cry for isolationism. The place is an island, let's not forget, and there are plenty of people on it who are glad they don't share a land border with the Continent. I am, however, rather disappointed to see that cry drown out the voices of those who want to stay engaged with their neighbors.

I'm also concerned about what this means for some of my favorite places in the U.K., particularly given the very real possibility that the K. may stop being U. Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, and given the relatively close vote on Scottish independence in 2014, the Brexit vote may inspire Scotland to join Europe while abandoning England. Northern Ireland was also in favor of Remain, and they too might see reason to leave England behind, particularly given the number of Unionists there who'd love to join up with Ireland instead. The next time I fly to Heathrow, then, it's conceivable that I'd have to go through customs to get back to see the beauties of the Road to the Isles or the Great Glen.

But I'll remain watchful over the next few months. There is apparently some belief that the treaties giving Scotland and Northern Ireland partial autonomy might actually give the two some kind of veto power over the UK's departure from the EU. Given the immediate negative economic consequences of the Brexit vote, not to mention the late but open admission by numerous Leave supporters that the departure will not provide the promised 350 million pounds to the National Health Services, I can see plenty of reasons (not least the cheap, ironic amusement) for hope that the smaller kingdoms of the UK can bring their fellows back in line. And since the referendum was non-binding, it's certainly possible that two or three percent of the MPs might opt to move to the Remain column; it might well cost them their seats, but it might preserve England, the UK, Europe, and the global economy.

But when I think of this last, I think of Paul Ryan, John McCain, Chris Christie... all lately lined up behind America's short-fingered, tangelo-skinned mascot for the Dunning-Kruger effect... and I know which way I'd have to bet.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on June 26, 2016 9:29 AM.

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