DALLAS — It’s been a few days since my home nation decided to leave the European Union, and I’ve had time to process my disbelief over Brexit.
As a born-and-bred Brit, I’m left feeling empty and shaking my head at how this happened. Even though I moved to the United States for college when I was almost 20 and have ended up settling here, my British citizenship is still my only citizenship. I have never lost my connection to home.
As I grew more politically educated in the United States, I made an effort to stay informed about my home country, too. Just because my feet aren’t on the soil for more than a few weeks a year, I never let it be an excuse for being ignorant about my homeland. The Brexit decision affects my entire family, who still live in Britain, and I’ve never lost the thought that some day I might live there again, too. When I go to the U.K., I am going “home,” and it will always be that way.
Still, I am dismayed by the Brexit results. The fact that “What is the EU?” and “What happens if we leave the EU?” led U.K. Google searches the day after the vote is deeply frustrating. It’s like opening the textbook to study the morning after you took the midterm. Votes were cast by people who did not have any idea what they were really voting for. In my opinion, this should never have been a referendum vote anyway: We elect leaders to make decisions for us on things like this that are far more complicated than the average citizen can appreciate.
That said, I was unequivocally sure Thursday morning that Britain would remain in the EU. I knew it would be a close vote, but I was certain cooler heads would prevail and that we wouldn’t run the risk of ruining the global future of younger generations. I was certain that the Nigel Farage-led, right-wing bigots did not represent the majority of the country. I trusted that Daily Mail and Sun readers wouldn’t let their fear and prejudice get the better of them. However, as the votes rolled in Thursday night, I started to get a pit in my stomach. And it got worse and worse. When the call was made that Britain would no longer be part of the European Union, I was dumbfounded.
Leave vote represents fear among older population
Voters 45 and older made the decision that Britain needed to leave the EU, while the majority of those under 45 voted to stay. The people who wanted to stay in the EU are staring down the barrel of decades and decades of dealing with the fallout of this decision that wasn’t made by them.
Brexit and the triumph of Monty Python politics by Andrew Kierig
It was a decision based on misinformation, vague promises and xenophobia; a decision based on fear of a morphing culture, nostalgia for a sepia-tinged past and a story that Britain is being overrun by greedy, dangerous, foreign layabouts feeding off socialized services while giving nothing back and forcing their religion upon our children.
There were certainly other issues that played into the vote (EU regulations on products, financial outgoings, lack of control over decisions that affect the country), but let’s none of us pretend that this vote wasn’t in large part motivated by a fear of brown people (immigrant or refugee) changing what it means to be British. Seventeen and a-half million voters decided that rather than collaborate, negotiate or compromise on challenging immigration issues, the best choice was to throw a hissy fit, stamp our feet and leave.
Brexit outcome mirrors Trump’s rise
I’m not going to claim that the influx of refugees and immigrants hasn’t put a strain on social services, health care and jobs. I also won’t pretend that it isn’t unsettling to hear that Sharia law is being practiced in small pockets of Britain. And I certainly won’t pretend that I personally don’t have some conflicts about British culture changing over time. But, just because I’m nostalgic for my heady teenage years during the 1990s doesn’t mean that’s how it should always be.
Nostalgia is dangerous and powerful because it blurs the edges of reality and erases less palatable truths. Things have to change in order for us to improve and progress as a nation. Technology today means we are global citizens, not localized ones. I think that younger generations have a greater sense of this because we grew up in a time of increased tolerance of others, greater access to international culture, and the internet. It seems we approach life more globally, respectfully and with collaboration in mind more than older generations do.
Frighteningly, this mirrors the rise of Trump in the United States. Trump is also running on a platform of fear, nostalgia and xenophobia. He has gone from the “This is hilarious!” candidate to the “This won’t last much longer, right?” candidate to the “Who the hell let it get this far?” candidate.
Thankfully, it looks fairly certain we will dodge the Trump bullet, but the fact he got this far is genuinely worrisome because of what it says about the current American climate. It boggles my mind that there’s enough people who agree with him that he became the probable Republican presidential nominee. And it boggles my mind that more than half of the voters in the U.K. really thought we would be better going it alone than with a union of compatriots we could work with.
‘The wrong side of history’
I lived in Oklahoma for five years before moving to Massachusetts and then Texas. I’ve had to defend people’s stereotypical assumptions about Oklahoma more times than I care to count, and I champion Oklahoma City and Tulsa — and the people of Oklahoma in general — to anyone who will listen. But, I’m also pretty embarrassed by the newsmakers of Oklahoma and the steady stream of mortifying headlines that the state’s leaders provide to national news media.
At the moment, I feel the same way about Britain.
For the first time since leaving England in 2003, I’m not feeling that Britain is a social model to aspire to. The Leave contingent of leaders is now backtracking, has no plan whatsoever for what happens next, and my fear is that Britain is left on the wrong side of history. Britain is like the toddler who has thrown his tantrum, then calmed down and is now waiting for someone to put their arms around him and tell him everything is okay.
But no one is going to do that this time. The temper tantrum is over, the point has been made and Britain stands alone.