Friday, June 24, 2016

EDITORIAL >> Our election and Brexit

The reaction, in America and around the world, to British voters’ narrow decision Thursday to depart the European Union befits the England of Shakespeare "this sceptered isle, this earth of majesty, this happy breed of men, this blessed plot, this realm, this England!", not the diminished power that is Great Britain today.

But the pound and the European currency instantly collapsed and the Dow, which had soared above 18,000 Thursday on the prospect the Brits would vote to stay in the union, fell 610 points when the returns came in. Fears of deep recessions and worse spread across Europe, the USA and Asia. Had the ugly nationalism creeping over continental Europe crossed the channel to merry England? Would it ford the Atlantic, too? All this over little Great Britain?

Only Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin were thrilled. Russia sees Brexit as a hopeful sign that the western alliance is weakening. Putin’s mutual admirer Trump has not been a fan of the Atlantic alliance either. Let Europe, he says, as well as Korea, Japan and rest of the phalanx against China and Russia, defend themselves, with their own nuclear weapons if they like, but don’t keep running to us.

We frankly don’t have a clue whether the market turmoil and instant gloom that followed the vote will have a grave long-term impact on the U.S. economy or our strategic global interests, and we don’t believe anyone else does. The immediate impact is obvious, from the exchange problem if nothing else. Weak European currencies and the robust dollar will hurt U.S. exports and jobs, but the pound and Euro collapse may be very short-lived. The Federal Reserve now clearly will stay with cheap money for a while to counter the jittery investor mood. Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump must worry now that they will take office with a crumbling global economy, as Barack Obama did in January 2009. But even without Brexit, the candidates, especially Trump, need to find a way to talk sensibly and rationally about how to maintain our strength in an inevitably globalizing economy. Roaring about getting in everybody’s face except Putin’s won’t do it.

We do recognize and fear the dark omens in the British vote, the similarities of the anger quotient in Britain, the continent and, yes, the United States—wherever people are voting. When Trump landed in Scotland to gloat about the ritzy hotel and golf course at Turnberry that are now emblazoned with his name, he claimed he had encouraged and predicted the vote to dismember united Europe. People are angry in the isles just as his primary victories in the United States demonstrated a giant reservoir of anger in the United States against foreigners and the establishment. He twittered that the Scots, like him, were jubilant over the vote. Actually, the Scots voted against Brexit and now, owing to it, are likely to demand independence from Britain and fortify their union with the rest of Europe.

But Trump was not far off the mark. The polls showed a great divide among the voters. Young people—those between 18 and 35—heavily and passionately favored the union while older voters favored exit. Trump’s votes reflect the same cleavage—young voters, along with minorities and women, don’t like him but he is simpatico with older white men. Immigration is a big part of the anger in both countries, although in England it is not blacks, Hispanics or the swarthy Middle Easterners. There, the anger is with Europeans—principally, Romanians, Poles and southern Europeans, usually people with skills, who have swarmed into England and garnered jobs that Brit tradesmen thought were rightfully theirs. They resent the wage competition. Under Euro rules, there are no national boundaries for Europeans and England cannot keep them out. In the United States—well, you know, Trump will build a giant wall from the Pacific to the Gulf of Mexico and round up and deport 13 million aliens. He has flip-flopped on everything else, but not on getting rid of all the Latinos who don’t have papers.

President Trump will not build the wall, because the president does not have the power, and only a few Republican congressmen would ever vote to give him the money and authority to do it. He won’t deport 13 million aliens, most of whom have lived and worked here for many years. Nearly everyone knows that, but millions admire him for expressing it and so rudely, noisily and uncompromisingly. They like the bluster when every other politician they know pussyfoots around delicate matters. And then they like it that he treats every other question and everyone of a different mind with contempt and insults. They are crooks, liars, weaklings, weenies. Someone is finally telling it like it is.

According to the prints, many Brits who voted their frustration Thursday regretted it when they actually won and now must face the country’s uncertain future. It is equally clear that for millions of Americans, the presidential election, like the Brits’ Brexit vote, is a chance just to register a protest, long held inchoate in their breasts, against the world as it exists. While the electoral map makes a President Trump look nigh impossible, it does not consider the irrational—that millions may vote their frustrations rather than their knowledge of what the sane course ought to be. It is something that ought to weigh heavily on the Republican delegates who gather in Cleveland as well as on the Democratic nominee for president, who still relies on old political instincts that have not proved too reliable for her in the past.